Yesterday it was announced on Minnesota Public Radio that the Artists’ Quarter jazz club located in St. Paul is closing at the end of year—on New Year’s Eve to be exact. The owner and jazz drummer Kenny Horst cites a recent hike in rent as the main reason for the closing.
The club is well-known as one of the last pure jazz clubs in the Upper Midwest. Its closing highlights a growing concern among jazz artists and jazz purists: a lack of opportunities to perform and enjoy real jazz.
The AQ, as it is affectionately known by many of its fans, opened in 1977; the establishment closed in 1990, then reopened under Horst’s leadership in 1995.
Many jazz greats, up-and-coming and veterans have graced the AQ stage including Roy Haynes, Freddy Cole, Jeremy Pelt, Eric Alexander and David Hazeltine, among others. Drummer Dave King of the Bad Plus has performs there with a number of bands.
This news is particularly tough to take considering there is already a limited number of jazz clubs across the Midwest in which jazz artists can perform on a consistent basis.
If a true Midwest jazz club circuit was virtually non-existence before, it’s taken another hit now with the closing of the AQ, where the potential to present more of the best in young jazz talent was always there.
Today more and more, young and even middle aged established jazz musicians can barely piece together jazz club gigs in the Midwest, let alone on the coasts. But if you talk to some musicians they might tell you that that’s not where the money is anyway. Instead, they say it’s actually better to be booked at a performing arts venue. If this is the case, what does this mean for the changing musical presentation landscape and the ever-shrinking jazz audience?
Perhaps, it means even more competition for bookings and less variety of voices on the scene. That can’t be all good for business. But that’s another story.
Will someone swoop in and move the AQ to yet another venue location? It’s possible.
Until then, it looks as if the Twin Cities main jazz club will remain the Dakota – who at present is presenting more and more pop and blues acts these days. This seems to be a popular trend among other jazz clubs as well.
For whatever reason, it appears that booking more straight-ahead jazz musicians often and regularly is not a major priority. One look at this month’s Dakota calendar and you’ll find out about the kinds of music that is currently being offered to the jazz community.
Thirsty jazz purists can only hope that more attention will be given to the artists they champion, as they come to grips with the closing of the AQ.
Robin James welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.