This weekend is intended as a celebration at the Black Dog, as plans call for the unveiling of the renovation and expansion of the Lowertown food and music venue — just in time for summer baseball crowds, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and ongoing Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog gigs and a lot more music most every night. There’s a “celebration” night set for Friday, June 3, followed by Saturday Night Jazz with the James Wallace Group (7 pm) and Bone Chance (8:30 pm) on June 4. What’s different? A seriously renovated music space with full bar in the “old” space, with a much larger community and dining are in the expanded space running along Prince Street. Add to that a full kitchen and expanded, made-from-scratch menu with new items including a burger, Banh Mi and more. And the same great jazz every Saturday night, curated by Steve Kenny.
James Wallace Group (7 pm)
The James Wallace Group is a gathering of area veterans– Jimmy Wallace, Steve Kenny, Adam Tucker and Bill Steiger.
Tenor saxophonist James “Jimmyapolis” Wallace was destined to a life in jazz as the son of a jazz drummer growing up in Philadelphia, where he met John Coltrane and saw Miles Davis on stage. He had a long-standing gig at the Loring Café and is a often heard at the annual Freedom Jazz Festival. Jimmy has performed regularly at Heimie’s Haberdashery, Nick and Eddie’s, Loring Pasta Bar, and is a long-standing member of the Capri Big Band and No Room for Squares.
Playing the hybrid FLUMPET™, series curator Steve Kenny leads Group 47, What Would Monk Do, Central Standard Time, and several versions of the Steve Kenny Quartet, and is a founding member of the Illicit Sextet. He launched Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog nearly two years ago, and followed up with the Friday Night Jazz at The Nicollet series, now rebranded and rescheduled as Thursday Night Jazz at Reverie; he’s also curated two summer seasons of All Originals at Studio Z, and will be heading a third season this summer. Steve will also curate the first Rochester (MN) Jazz Festival in July.
Bassist Adam Tucker has been playing, recording and producing music for many years on the Twin Cities scene. He’s less known for his substantial jazz chops than as a member of groups like The Sextons, and is the driving creative and technical force behind Signature Tone recording studios, well regarded in the heavy metal community. However, many think of Adam as “the secret weapon” in jazz circles, given his work with the Adam Meckler Orchestra, the Jana Nyberg Group, No Room for Squares, and his long association with Steve Kenny (Bastids, Group 47).
Bill Stieger grew up in St. Paul and attended the University of Minnesota. An English major, he nevertheless made his living playing drums at jazz and rock venues throughout the Midwest. Bill started playing occasional Sunday jazz gigs at what would become the original Artists’ Quarter in Minneapolis and he called Eddie Berger to join him. This association of Bill and Eddie became the famed Eddie Berger All-Stars, leading to a weekly Sunday Jazz Night at the venue, and ultimately, the establishment of the Artists Quarter as a jazz club. From 1999 to 2002, Bill worked as an associate editor with St. Croix Valley Press, and was awarded “Best Feature Story” from the Minnesota Newspaper Association. He performs with No Room for Squares in his spare time.
Bone Chance (8:30 pm)
It’s not really taking a chance to hear this ensemble! The bone belongs to Dave Graf, and the rest of the quartet are all well-established artists– Peter Schimke (piano), Ron Evaniuk (bass), and Eric Gravatt (drums).
Dave Graf is one of the most versatile and talented trombonists in the Twin Cities. He’s worked in diverse musical settings, including Dixieland, swing (Twin Cities Seven), modern mainstream jazz (Source Code, X-Tet), salsa (Salsa del Soul) and Brazilian music, big bands (JazzMN Orchestra, Cedar Avenue Big Band), trombone ensembles (Locally Damaging Winds, Valve Meets Slide), pit orchestras and recordings. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton, Jack McDuff, the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, and the Woody Herman Orchestra, and has appeared on Prairie Home Companion and with the St. Paul Ragtime Orchestra, Mandala, and the Steve Wright Big Band. Dave had an eleven-year association with the late trumpeter Red Wolfe in his Port of Dixie Jazz Band and Ellington Echoes. In 2005 he released his debut recording as a leader, Just Like That (Artegra Records). One of his more recent collaborations has been as half of Valve Meets Slide, an ensemble with valve trombonist Brad Bellows. In addition to performing, Dave teaches, writes, arranges, and works as a graphic designer.
Peter Schimke was already a veteran performer on keyboards and vocals in his teens, appearing with the New Psychenauts and Swingin’ Combo on the Twin Cities rock scene. He played his first pro rock gig with the great Charlie Musselwhite, and over his career has performed with the likes of Art Farmer, Fareed Haque, Mark Murphy, Frank Morgan, Charlie Persip Big Band, Rita Coolidge and more. A frequent collaborator with Billy Peterson, Kenny Horst, Dean Magraw, and Estaire Godinez, Peter is a favorite keyboardist of many local and national artists, as well as a leader of his own trio. Peter performs with How Birds Work, the Andres Prado Quartet, What Would Monk Do, and Mississippi, as well as with his own trio; he released a duo album with local legend Irv Williams.
Bassist with the Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra (devoted to the big band music of the 20s and 30s), JazzMN Orchestra, and leader of his own quartet, Ron Evaniuk recorded with Twin Cities trumpet legend Gene Adams and has played with George Avaloz, in addition to his long-standing work with Eric Gravatt’s Source Code.
An alum of the bands of McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and Blue Mitchell as well as Weather Report, drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt essentially has had two careers in jazz with a couple decades of separation. The Philadelphia native turned down an invitation to join Miles Davis to follow Wayne Shorter into Weather Report, with whom he toured and recorded. He moved on to the fusion band Natural Life (with Bobby Peterson and Bob Rockwell), a move that brought him to the Twin Cities some 30+ years ago. Demands of family and a desire for financial stability took Gravatt out of fulltime music and into fulltime work as a guard at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes. Only after retiring from Lino Lakes did Gravatt return to his calling, touring again with McCoy Tyner, performing with his Twin Cities band, Source Code, and engaging in some more experimental improvisations with metro area musicians including Adam Linz, Brandon Wozniak, and Dean Magraw, with whom he released Fire on the Nile.
Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog brings two bands to the stage every week. No cover but tips ($10 suggested) are appreciated to support the musicians and the series. Schedule at www.saturdaynightjazzattheblackdog.info; full music calendar at the Black Dog at www.blackdogstpaul.com. The Black Dog is located at 308 Prince Street, across from CHS Field in Lowertown St. Paul.