© Andrea Canter
Some musical partnerships were just meant to be. Twin Cities vocalist Connie Evingson and New York-based pianist and honorary Twin Citian Jon Weber paired up during the 2012 Twin Cities Jazz Festival and on a Prairie Home Companion European cruise, where they cooked up the idea for a show for Connie’s Jazz at the Jungle series at the Jungle Theater in south Minneapolis. They have since appeared together a number of times at the Jungle, including shows devoted to the songs of Dave Frishberg, “Desert Island Picks” from the Great American Songbooks, several editions of The Best of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks, and the roots of American song in folk, blues, ragtime, country and Tin Pan Alley. Opening a new Jazz at the Jungle season on June 11 (4:00 pm and 7:30 pm), Connie and Jon team up again at “Duke’s Place,” a salute to the great Duke Ellington. They’re joined by usual cohorts, Gordy Johnson on bass and Dave Karr on reeds.
A native of Hibbing in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Connie Evingson grew up listening to her father’s records of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and later Peggy Lee and Shirley Horn. Influenced by these early muses as well as the musical icons of her generation (the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Sting, Bonnie Raitt), Connie’s eclectic tastes were soon evident, from her first club gig at the old Night Train in St. Paul to a brief stint with the Minnesota Vocal Jazz Ensemble before she joined Moore By Four in 1986. With Moore by Four, Connie performed and toured the world throughout the late 80s and 90s, often opening for the biggest stars in music. In the past decade, her career as a soloist has included nine CDs for Minnehaha Music, most releases charting on Jazzweek’s Top 50 for extended periods. Long regarded as among the top echelon of jazz artists in the Midwest, recipient of two McKnight Artist Fellowships, and nominated as Jazz Week’s Vocalist of the Year in 2005, Connie’s back-to-back recordings of hot club swing (Gypsy in My Soul, Stockholm Sweetnin’) brought renewed attention to the genre and led to performances at Jazz Alley in Seattle, Blues Alley in Washington, DC and appearances in Europe.
But Connie Evingson has never been one to rest on the laurels of a popular style, and even while Gypsy in My Soul was climbing the charts in 2005, she was delving into a new project, the songs of Dave Frishberg. Little Did I Dream (2008) was arguably one of Connie’s most successful recordings, gaining accolades from local and national press. “Little did I dream that one day I’d get to record an entire album of his songs—with him at the piano,” said Connie. Connie’s 2012 Sweet Happy Life showcased her “framing and saluting [Norman] Gimbel’s work with her delightful voice, superb diction, timing and phrasing” (All About Jazz). In addition to curating Jazz at the Jungle productions over the past five years and heading a monthly Jazz in the Lounge gig at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club, Connie appears regularly at the Dakota, Vieux Carré, and Crooners Lounge, and, in June 2013, made her Jazz at Lincoln Center debut in Michael Feinstein’s “Swinging With the Big Bands,” featuring Wynton Marsalis. Connie’s recent projects include a return to hot club repertoire with All The Cats Join In, recorded with the John Jorgenson Quartet and released at the Dakota in fall 2014, as well an ongoing series of productions at the Jungle Theater with pianist Jon Weber. She has also assembled what she has dubbed the Minnehaha Hot Club, performing regularly at Vieux Carré. Connie received an Artist Initiative Grant for 2015 from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which supported concerts at the American Swedish Institute.
As a toddler in Milwaukee playing a toy organ, Jon Weber already displayed both perfect pitch and memory. By age 6 he had memorized 2,000 songs from his grandmother’s old piano rolls. A self-taught musician, Weber took off two years from piano during his teens to develop counterpoint in his left hand by playing guitar. Returning to the piano, Jon and his quintet opened for Pat Metheny, Buddy Rich, Freddie Hubbard, and Stanley Turrentine at major summer jazz festivals. Since moving to Chicago in 1987, and then to New York a few years ago, Jon has performed around the world as well as in the recording studio. In addition to his remarkable chops, Jon Weber is well known for his incredible music knowledge. He’s been the subject of profiles by CNN, CNBC, Black Entertainment TV, Bravo/Arts, National Public Radio, and Voice of America. In New York, he has been a regular performer at the 92nd Street Y jazz series and at the Algonquin Hotel; performed last winter at the Metropolitan Room with local songbird Maud Hixson as part of a tribute to songwriter Mickey Leonard; and is the host of the Piano Jazz spin-off, Piano Jazz: New Generation on National Public Radio. He’s become a fixture of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, hosting evening jams at the Artists Quarter through 2013 and returning to host jams at the new Vieux Carré during the 2015, 2016 and upcoming 2017 festivals; Jon performed in several configurations at the 2016 festival, leading the jam sessions, performing with Delfeayo Marsalis on the Main Stage, and with Francisco Mela in a quartet on the Sixth Street Stage. He also tangled with Butch Thompson in what has become an annual Stride Night.
Duke Ellington published over 2,000 compositions during a 50-year career that spanned the Cotton Club, Swing, Big Band and Modern eras. “Duke’s Place” features familiar favorites and lesser-known gems from Ellington’s vast songbook (“Take the A-Train”, “Sophisticated Lady”, “Lucky So & So”, “I Didn’t Know About You”).
Two performances of “Duke’s Place” will be held at 4 pm & 7:30pm on Sunday, June 11 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis’ Lyn-Lake neighborhood. Tickets are $30, and are available at the Jungle Theater box office, 612-822-7063 and at www.jungletheater.com Connie and Jon also perform next week on the outdoor stage at the Village in Mendota Heights, on Wednesday, June 14 (www.villagemh.com)