'It's kind of like home': Musicians remember the Artists' Quarter

  • Article by: PAMELA ESPELAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2013 - 2:35 PM
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Phil Hey

Phil Hey, former drummer for Ed Berger, the saxophonist who established jazz in the original AQ in Minneapolis in the late 1970s:

It had been Merimac’s prior to the [Minneapolis] College of Art and Design’s expansion and redesign. The owner thought to capitalize on the art students’ proximity, but the original clientele was loyal. Hard-drinking bunch! During one of our sets, one of the neighborhood denizens leaned unsteadily across the wooden railing that separated the band from the customers. He peered at Ed’s music stand, at Ed, at us, at the stand, etc., for several minutes before indignantly announcing to the crowd: “Hey! They’re just making it up! Anyone can do that! Hell, I can do that!” Then stormed out. Ed turned to us and said, “Finally, someone who gets this stuff.”

Scott Fultz, saxophonist:

The 26th and Nicollet location had wind instruments hanging from the ceiling by wires. One night, while Pete Christlieb was playing, local multi-instrumentalist Billy Shiell (in an enhanced state of mind) climbed onto the bar, grabbed a trumpet that was hanging from the ceiling, and blasted a few notes. Christlieb didn’t miss a beat and said from the bandstand — in perfect dry, Rodney Dangerfield delivery — “Hey, this is my gig!” The room fell out laughing and Billy got bounced.

Bill Carrothers, pianist:

When I was 15 years old, I played my first gig at the Artists’ Quarter. My dad drove me to the club because I couldn’t drive yet. … Eddie [Berger] said to me, “Bring your piano in and get set up.” I said, “I didn’t bring a piano. I thought there was one here.” So my dad drove all the way home to Excelsior and got my Wurlitzer and brought it back so I could play the second set. While he was gone, I sat at the bar and someone slid a Mickey’s Big Mouth over to me. Of course I drank it. I felt like a king, sitting in a jazz club drinking a beer. After that first gig, I felt like one of the fold, a small thread in the tapestry of jazz.

JT Bates, drummer:

First and best [memory of the AQ] was seeing [legendary drummer] Roy Haynes live for the first time. It was in the old Jackson Street location [in St. Paul’s Lowertown], next to a steakhouse and down in the basement. … I remember opening the door — the club was way down there, but it was all open air down the staircase — and just standing there because I heard and felt Roy Haynes coming out in the world at me.

Pat Courtemanche, AQ publicist/fan:

The 2006 weekend during which Roy Haynes recorded a live CD at the AQ was special for many reasons. Just the fact that a jazz icon of Haynes’ stratospheric standing chose to record at the club said so much. … The city of St. Paul declared it “Roy Haynes Weekend.” Mr. Haynes named the CD “Whereas,” a reference to the beginning of each clause in the proclamation from the city. But beyond all of the symbolic meaning, Roy Haynes smoked it all weekend long (and earned himself a Grammy nomination).

Jeremy Walker, pianist:

I talked to [trumpet legend Harry “Sweets” Edison] for a bit after his gig and asked him his secret to jazz. He said it was women, but he was more specific in his verbiage. Where are you going to learn that outside of a jazz club?

Billy Peterson, bassist who helped Horst reopen the club in St. Paul’s Lowertown in 1995:

If it were not for my brother Kenny, I never could be playing at the level that I have been so blessed to attain. Kenny kept me honest, so to speak. I would be physically gone from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for months at a time, being an entertainer on the pop circuit … and then I would return and of course, Kenny would have me hired with the greatest jazz players in the world. … He always kicked me to the curb musically and challenged my commitment to jazz in a very persuasive manner.

Laura Caviani, pianist:

Many magical moments have happened to me at the AQ. One of these moments happened when [trumpet great] Tom Harrell was here. At first, his stance and demeanor belied his sound (which was exquisite), but later in the set, the magnificent Irv Williams sat in. There, in this packed club, during the middle of Irv’s solo, Tom’s stance was suddenly transformed: He stood straight up and positively beamed at Irv. The audience’s response was palpable: Can you say “group gasp”? From then on, the musical communication between Irv and Tom set the place on fire, and it was one of the most riveting nights of music I’ve ever witnessed.

Dave King, drummer:

[In 1996] Kenny Horst took a chance on some young attitude-laden doofs named Happy Apple and gave us the holy grail at the time — a Wednesday night at the AQ! We built a real following of beautiful creative music supporters in that room over the years and it helped us become a recognized jazz group on the international stage. Incredible that it started from a feeling of being included in a scene on a lonely Wednesday night in Lowertown St. Paul.

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