Steve Kenny Interview, Part 2: D-I-Y Jazz
Since the closing of the Artists’ Quarter at the end of last year, a few of the area’s jazz musicians have taken a do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to performing. Zacc Harris is now in the third year of Jazz at Studio Z, having started the trend of producing a series a couple of years ago. Jazz Central, which is run by musicians, has expanded its offerings to five nights a week. And now Steve Kenny is producing The All Originals Jazz Series. I posted an interview with Steve a few days ago in which he talked about one of his groups – Group 47. This portion of the interview is about his work producing a jazz series at Studio Z every Thursday this summer. Each of the featured artists have played at the Artists’ Quarter with some regularity. Tonight’s perfomance features Dean Magraw’s Red Planet as the fourth of ten performances.
LE: You are involved with many projects these days.
SK: The All Originals Jazz Series, Group 47, Illicit Sextet, What Would Monk Do, and the Steve Kenny Quartet, which is starting to get more gigs. There are 4 bands that I’m actively involved in and have projects in planning. Of the four bands I’m the only common musician – four different units. This is feast or famine. I’m so happy to be in that situation. It took a suspension of disbelief and relentless pursuits to get these bookings. On top of that, the concert series is going on.
LE: How did the All Originals Jazz Series come about?
SK: There are a couple of things. On the one hand in the Twin Cities we have a number of organizations that provide small arts grants, MRAC (The Minnesota Regional Arts Council), for one. From a strict financial side this (series) wouldn’t happen without the legislature appropriating funds and without a wider commitment to the arts. Minnesotans are putting their money where their mouth is, and supporting small-scale arts. Small grants are available that non-professional fundraisers can apply for to fund raise. That’s one thing. Kudos to them.
The second answer goes back to when I first came on scene in mind to late 80s with my band mates (Editor’s Note: the Illicit Sextet). We’d all gotten music degrees or minors at River Falls in Wisconsin. It’s a local college with strong music program. Not as big as the U of M, but definitely in the running. I’ve got a little pride in my alma mater.
LE: So many of you went to school together?
SK: We came out of school and had learned about not just jazz, but composition. It’s a real focus of the school, bringing in internationally renowned composers and exposing people to experimentation. In that fertile ground we (my band mates & I) made the decision to be a composer’s collective, giving us a reason to keep composing music. In those days that was a strange thing for a jazz band locally. There had only been one other band in the Twin Cities that was similar – Natural Life – to me they’re in running for one of the all time greatest jazz bands. I have seen unbelievable videos of that group. They were really good, played originals, but were off the scene in the late 80s. It was in that vacuum that Illicit sextet was formed, the only band playing originals for years and years.
LE: Now there are many.
SK: This jazz series is a celebration of the fact that during the years I was off the scene due to chemical dependency – 15 years – the landscape had changed considerably. Every band was doing originals. The Illicit Sextet is host of the series – we claim our place. We’re so happy that nowadays that the average band almost can’t be a jazz band without a book of originals. To underline how things have changed, in the final week we have the Adam Meckler Orchestra. We have in our midst a big band entirely focused on originals.
LE: What will you do next?
SK: On the horizon, I’m starting a partnership with Black Dog to curate a Saturday night jazz series there.
I’ve already signed up Fat Kids, the Atlantis Quartet, some of the usual bands. We have such an amazing number of established excellent bands in the city that this type of thing is possible. Little by little each group gets more of a following. Which is important, since we don’t have the drawing power of a club – where the club itself has drawing power. So we have to increase the band image of individuals and ensembles to draw sufficient numbers on a Saturday night.
Every Saturday night, there will be some serious jazz happening at the Black Dog. It will be produced in cooperation with my production company and the Black Dog, to step up marketing and compensation.
The All Originals Jazz Series Schedule takes place at 8pm every Thursday evening at Studio Z, East Fourth Street, Suite 200, in Lowertown Saint Paul – 275 . ($10)
July 31: Red Planet
Aug 7: Mississippi
Aug14: Chris Lomheim Trio
Aug 21: Steve Kenny’s Group 47
Aug 28: Atlantis Quartet
Sep 4: Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates, JT Bates
Sep 10: Adam Meckler Orchestra