Saturday Night Jazz at kj's hideaway

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz in December

TCJF Twin Cities
Pete Whitman conducts the JazzMn Orchestra, coming to Chanhassen Dinner Theater December 11th

Looking Back–November

Joyce Lyons at Crooners

November was busy on the Twin Cities jazz scene although for various reasons, I got to fewer gigs than usual. My highlights included JT Bates Quartet (The Dakota, November 1);  Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson’s “Pre-Songbook ” show (Dunsmore Room, November 4); Bobby Commodore’s Classic Quartet (The Dakota, November 13); Joyce Lyons’ tribute to Carmen McRae (Dunsmore Room, November 16); The Zacc Harris Group (Dunsmore Room, November 19); The Pat Mallinger Quartet annual  home-for-the-holiday gig with young gun Will Kjeer on piano, his uncle Kenny Horst on drums, and Chris Bates on bass (kj’s hideaway, November 24). On to December!

Reminder: The Lead Sheet is not intended to be an exhaustive, complete listing of Twin Cities jazz. That would take a book-length article and inevitably leave out worthy gigs. I am limited here by what I know, what has been promoted, and my personal preferences. Always check the websites and social media posts of your favorite artists and venues.

Jazz in December 

The annual plethora of holiday shows dominates the calendar, and while I include some of these merry events, I am also looking for jazz gigs that just happen to come in December, in case you feel overdosed on” Jingle Bells” and “Let It Snow.”

Crooners Lounge, 6161 Highway 65, Fridley; .  The Belvedere tent is closed for the season but there’s plenty of music on the Main Stage and Dunsmore Room—more than usual in December when most nights feature one or more holiday celebrations.

December 3, Arne Fogel’s Crosby Holiday, Dunsmore Room (7:30 pm). Crooner and Crosby specialist Arne Fogel will make it a “White Christmas” no matter the weather. Partners Rick Carlson on piano and Steve Pikal on bass ensure the bling with the Bing.

December 7, Joel Shapira “We Three Strings,” Dunsmore Room (6:30 pm). A triple holiday treat as guitar hero Joel Shapira goes solo on three instruments—archtop, acoustic steel string, and nylon string guitars.

December 10, Lori Dokken Presents “Singin’ in the Kitchen,” Main Stage (4 pm). Pianist, vocalist, arranger, producer Lori Dokken rounds up some of the region’s best voices for an evening of holiday favorites in story and song—Patty Peterson, Ginger Commodore, Rachel Holder, Judi Vinar and Joyann Parker.

December 14, Laura Caviani Trio, Dunsmore Room (6:30 pm). With frequent collaborators Chris Bates (bass) and Dave Schmalenberger (drums), pianist/composer/educator Laura Caviani offers a night of great jazz, Monk arrangements, original tunes, and very likely some holiday arrangements from her album Angels We Haven’t Heard.

Karrin Allyson returns to Crooners, December 15

December 15, Karrin Allyson’s Wintery Mix, Main Stage (8 pm). Grammy nominee and long-time Twin Cities’ favorite, vocalist Karrin Allyson frequently appears at Crooners and The Dakota. Tonight, with perennial partner Rod Fleeman on guitar and local collaborators Jeff Bailey (bass) and Dave Schmalenberger (drums), Karrin takes us through a wintery mix of songs.

December 16, Maud Hixson with Rick Carlson’s Happy Holiday (Dunsmore Room, 6:30 pm). Count on vocalist Maud and pianist Rick to entertain with more than great music—we always get the stories behind the music.

December 17-18, Jennifer Grimm and Friends, “A Christmas With Family and Friends”, Dunsmore Room (6:30 pm). New music and classic fare with one of the region’s top voices and a stellar cast, including mom (vocalist) Colleen Raye, husband (guitarist) Joe Cruz, and a band of friends including Jeff Bailey, Greg Schutte, Dan Chouinard, Kenni Holmen and more. (Saturday sold out as of November 25)

December 26-27, Billy Peterson Presents Will Kjeer and Kenny Horst, Dunsmore Room (6:30 pm). Extend your holiday with this two-night homage to the Artists Quarter with former owners Billy Peterson (bass) and Kenny Horst (drums) and featuring Kenny’s nephew and rising star (from coast to coast), pianist Will Kjeer

December 28, Stablemates with Bruce Henry, Dunsmore Room (6:30 pm). A collaboration born from their connections to Brazilian pianist Manfredo Fest, Stablemates (Dale Alexander on piano, Gary Raynor on bass, and Jay Epstein on drums) welcome the velvet baritone of former Twin Cities’ resident Bruce Henry.

December 30-31, Connie Evingson with Jon Weber and Steve Pikal, Holiday at the Dunsmore Lodge (Friday 4 and 7 pm; Saturday 5 and 8 pm).  A Crooner’s tradition, Connie takes you on a vocal sleigh ride with nationally acclaimed pianist and frequent Twin Cities performer Jon Weber and local bass hero Steve Pikal. A sublime way to usher in the New Year.

Oh, this is just the tip of the iceberg for December at Crooners. See the website for the full list of holiday music and beyond.


The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; It might be hard to avoid the season at The Dakota, but what a way to celebrate!

December 2, Oleta Adams. (7 pm). Rescheduled from early November. Regardless of how you define her genre, she’s a legend. And a recent addition to the American Jazz Walk of Fame at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.

December 4, Travis Anderson Trio “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (7 pm).  Deftly swinging pianist Travis Anderson and longtime cohorts (Steve Pikal on bass, Nathan Norman on drums) present the eternal holiday music of Vince Guaraldi. If you aren’t in the holiday spirit yet, you will be.

Jose James sings in the holidays at the Dakota, December 12-13

December 12-13, Jose James with Christian Sands, “Merry Christmas” (7 pm).  Minneapolis native, South High alum Jose James has come a long way since his nights singing at Fireside Pizza! Fortunately he comes back home for a show at the Dakota almost annually, and his holiday card to us this season includes the highly regarded pianist, 5-time Grammy nominee Christian Sands.

December 15-16-17, Robert Glasper’s Sonic Paradigm (6:30 and 9 pm).  A break in the holiday fare brings 5-time Grammy winner, internationally acclaimed keyboardist, composer, arranger, producer, you-name-it Robert Glasper to the Dakota for six performances. Hard to pigeon-hole into one genre, Glasper simply is a sonic experience.

December 18-19, Peterson Family “T’was the Jam Before Christmas” (7 pm). It just would not be the holidays without the annual Peterson Family jam. From “second generation” stars—siblings Linda, Ricky, Billy, Patty and Paul—to third  (including internationally acclaimed sax and vocal star Jason Peterson DeLaire) and maybe fourth generation now, Minnesota’s “First Family of Music” has amassed 100+ gold and platinum albums and has performed numerous concerts nationally and internationally. But best of all, they still call the Twin Cities “home” and bring their holiday cheer to the Dakota stage nearly every year.

Andrew Walesch sings Sinatra at The Dakota, December 23

December 23, Andrew Walesch Big Band “Swingin’ Christmas” (3 pm and 7 pm). Andrew Walesch is a crooner in the best tradition of Sinatra, and a stellar pianist to boot. But he’s also built a strong reputation as a big band leader, and he returns to the Twin Cities for two shows that will swing through the roof. The former music director at Crooners left Minnesota earlier this year for a similar position at the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, but fortunately maintains his connections in the Twin Cities as well as his very talented big band.

December 25-29,The Bad Plus (5 pm and 7 pm on 12/25, 6:30 and 8:30 pm 12/26-28). Possibly the longest –running tradition at the Dakota, The Bad Plus has gone through several transformations since its origins as an edgy trio back at the beginning of the Millennium, but one constant has been this late December series. TBP today is a piano-less quartet featuring original members, Twin Cities natives Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums), now joined by saxman Chris Speed and guitarist Ben Monder. The sound is different of course, but the vibe remains TBP. New arrangements of favorite tunes and always lots of new compositions…. And no doubt some original commentary.

More music including New Year’s Eve with Davina and the Vagabonds —    


Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Av S., Minneapolis; . Housed in an old icehouse, this venue features an eclectic calendar of nightly music, including the Monday night jazz series curated month by a different jazz artist. December’s curator is guitarist/bandleader/composer/educator/producer Zacc Harris.

Zacc Harris, Monday Night curator in December at the Icehouse

December 4, Baldwin/Harris Hennig ; Aby Wolf’s Splāktet (8:00 pm). The opening trio features experimental journeys from Jake Baldwin, Zacc Harris and Pete Hennig; Aby Wolf’s ensemble features Wolf (vocals), Eric Meyerson (keys), Ted Olsen (bass) and Joey VanPhillips (drums).

December 11, Zacc Harris Group/Ted Olsen Quartet (8 pm).  The highly acclaimed Zacc Harris Group just played a sparkling set in the Dunsmore Room a few weeks ago—with leader Zacc on guitar, pianist Bryan Nichols, saxman Brandon Wozniak, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Pete James Johnson.  Bassist Ted Olsen’s quartet features Nelson Devereaux on saxes, Kavyesh Kaviraj on keys, and Miguel Hurtado on drums.

December 18, Atlantis Quartet /Thoughtcast (8 pm). The famed Atlantis has been together for nearly two decades: Zacc Harris on guitar, Brandon Wozniak on sax, Chris Bates on bass and Pete Hennig on drums. A newly formed ensemble focused on electronic effects, Thought cast is led by bassist Graydon Peterson, with trumpeter Jake Baldwin, pianist Joe Strachan, and drummer Ben Ehrlich.

See the full listing of music at the Icehouse –

Jazz Central, 407 Central Av SE, Minneapolis; Just what you might expect from a small subterranean nonprofit club in New York, right here in Minneapolis. Director Mac Santiago has kept JCS afloat for nearly 15 years with live music 3-4 nights per week. Donations always welcome! Tickets for most events $15. Online reservations strongly encouraged.

December 1, Davu Seru and Nathan Hanson (8 pm). This long-running duo of Davu (drums) and Nathan (saxes) is always full of surprises and cool sounds.

December 2, Dale Alexander (8 pm). Usually heard with the trio Stablemates, Dale tonight presents a rare evening of solo piano.

Ted Godbout, at Jazz Central December 9

December 9, Ted Godbout Trio (8 pm). Most often heard in a supporting role for bands and vocalists, tonight hear pianist Ted leading a high-flying trio with Kameron Markworth on bass and Abinnet Berhanu on drums.

December 15, Reid Kennedy Trio, “New Orleans Holiday” (8 pm).  Often heard in New Orleans mode with Jack Brass Band, drummer Reid Kennedy leads his own trio through holiday fare with Crescent City flavor.  Featuring Phil Aaron on piano and Graydon Peterson on bass.

December 16, Adi Yeshaya (8 pm). Another great pianist usually heard in a supporting role as pianist and arranger, tonight the spotlight is on Israeli piano monster Adi Yeshaya.

December 20, JCS@JCS (8 pm). Every third Wednesday of the month, trombonist/composer JC Sanford features a night of improvisation with various inventive collaborators. Tonight he features drummer Steve Hirsh and vocalists Aby Wolf and Queen Drea.

December 26, Sophia Kickhofel (8 pm). Starting out a series of “home for the holidays” gigs, Juilliard sax student, Apple Valley alum Sophia Kickhofel has been headlining local clubs since well before high school graduation.

December 27, Lasse Corson (8 pm). Southwest High School alum, William Paterson piano student Lasse Corson has headed his own bands around town (including gigs at JC and kjs). A true monster in the making.

December 28, Javi Santiago (8 pm). From his school days on local bandstands to Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead and studies at the Brubeck Institute, New School, and Herbie Hancock Jazz Institute, Javi has grown an international reputation as pianist and composer. Now based in LA, Javi is briefly home at Jazz Central.

See website for full calendar. Tuesday nights feature the best of area big bands; at least once per month, the Leigh Kamman Emerging Masters features young artists at the start of their careers.


kj’s hide-a-way, 408 St Peter St, St Paul; . Steve Kenny’s Saturday Night Jazz series continues to guarantee a true jazz gig every week with veteran and upcoming stars who perform original material. Sometimes two bands, sometimes one band for two sets.  Watch kj’s website for news of a ticket plus parking package!

December 2, Steve Kenny Quartet/Ella Grace Quintet (8 pm). Leave it to Steve Kenny to book his own quartet of youngish veterans as the opener and the young lions of Ella Grace Quintet as the headliner! Trumpeter Kenny brings a stellar band including vibes master Levi Schwartzberg, bassist Ted Olsen and drummer Miguel Hurtado, followed by a band led by brilliant young trumpeter Ella Grace, and featuring Matt Healy (trombone), Tyler Lustek (piano), Jack Schabert (drums), and the token veteran, Adam Tucker (bass). Ella is finishing jazz studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and promises a night of original arrangements of holiday jazz.

December 9, Blue Ox Jazz Orchestra “Holiday Special” (8 pm). Led by young drummer Jack Schabert, this 16-piece ensemble includes mostly young giants with a few “elder” vets.

December 16, Hamline University Jazz Combo/Callum Schultz Quartet (8 pm). The headliner band, according to curator Steve Kenny, “is the very best high-school age jazz band I have ever heard. The last time they appeared on this series, they were an opening set and kind of blew away the headliner…including a standing ovation from the large audience.” Hence Callum Schultz is the headliner tonight, following an opening set from Hamline’s jazz combo students under the tutelage of guitar giant Zacc Harris.

December 17, Preview: Production of Artist Quarter Film (6 pm). After a nearly 40-year run in three locations, the fabled Artists Quarter closed New Year’s Eve 2013 in this space now occupied by kj’s. Ten years in the thinking stage, a documentary film tribute to the AQ is now underway, led by Kelle Green, sister of AQ’s owner Kenny Horst. Tonight provides a film preview and overdue salute to the AQ with three bands including the Phil Hey Quartet. More details and ticket info will be posted soon.

SPACE, CD release at kj’s December 23

December 23, SPACE CD Release (8 pm). This inventive quintet launched as an opportunity for five f riends to come together during college vacations to play original music, and continues to perform and record as their busy and far-flung lives permit. SPACE (Will Schmid, Luke Peterson, Patrick Adkins, Jack Courtright, Alma Engebretson) reconvenes tonight to celebrate the physical release of The Approaching Coast, following last winter’s digital release. All original music from the band.

December 30, Kavy’s “Fabled Birthday Bash” (8 pm). Still in his 20s, pianist Kavyesh Kaviraj has quickly become one of the most sought-after and inspiring jazz pianists in the metro. “I have always found the magic of storytelling within the way I talk, I find it within my teaching and in the way I write music,” says Kavy, and tonight his “Fables” ensemble will tell its magical tales in celebration of Kavy’s birthday. He’s joined by Omar AbdulKarim on trumpet, Pete Whitman on sax, Jeff Bailey on bass, and Kevin Washington on drums.


The Lexington, 1096 Grand Av, St Paul;  A legendary St Paul restaurant offers classic chamber jazz every weekend in the Willliamsburg Room. Reservations recommended, specify the Williamsburg Room; $5 cover added to your bill.

December 1, Phil Aaron Trio (7 pm). Masterful pianist, composer and arranger, Phil with bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Nathan Norman bring swing and adventure to trio jazz repertoire.

Travis Anderson, at The Lex December 8

December 8, Travis Anderson Trio (7 pm). Another longstanding group of swinging jazzers, pianist Travis Anderson, bassist Steve Pikal and drummer Nathan Normal are likely to include some Vince Guaraldi holiday magic.

December 15-16, Katia Cardenas (7 pm). The popular vocalist Katia is joined by masterful Steven Hobert on piano and Keith Yanes on bass.

December 22-23, Zacc Harris Quartet (7 pm). One of the larger and more adventurous ensembles to play in the Williamsburg Room, this is a great opportunity for modern jazz fans to enjoy Zacc and company in an intimate setting. The quartet includes guitarist Zacc, Bryan Nichols on piano, Dan Carpel on bass, and Pete James Johnson on drums.

December 30, Joel Shapira Trio (7 pm). A monster trio with Joel Shapira (guitar), Larry McDonough (piano), and Matt Peterson (bass).

New Year’s Eve, Virgo Trio (8 pm, $10 cover). Veteran trio with Chris Lomheim (piano), Tom Pieper (bass), and Reid Kennedy (drums). Happy New Year!


Metronome Brewery, 385 Broadway, St Paul;  The music is going strong in the underground Fingal’s Cave at Metronome Brewery. The area’s best have found their way here!

December 5, Red Planet (7 pm). One of the longest-surviving jazz ensembles in the metro, Red Planet astronauts Dean Magraw, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein come to the Metronome every first Tuesday.

December 10, Ella Grace Xmas Xtet (4 pm). Young trumpet sensation Ella Grace brings her band to the Metronome for some holiday fun.

Peter Kogan, at the Metronome December 21

December 21, Peter Kogan Jazz Presents (7 pm). Drummer and bandleader Peter Kogan presents a revolving cast of jazz characters every month, exploring the history of jazz.

There’s live music most nights, check the Metronome calendar for more!


Smack Shack Edina, 3801 Minnesota Drive, Bloomington; There’s a new venue regularly presenting jazz in the metro, and although it seems to straddle Edina and Bloomington, the Smack Shack is easy to find off France on Minnesota Drive. In their “Funky Little Shack,” they are presenting some of the area’s best on weekends. Make a reservation and specify “jazz”.

December 1-2, Omar Abdulkarim (7 pm). Veteran trumpeter and his band.

Billy Peterson, at Smack Shack December 8-9

December 8-9, Billy Peterson and Friends (7 pm). The internationally renowned bassist has many stellar jazz friends!

December 22-23, Joel Shapira Quartet (7 pm). Versatile guitarist Joel Shapira and friends!

December 29-30, Will Kjeer Trio (7 pm). Home on break from studies at Juilliard, pianist Will is making waves from coast to coast as performer and composer.

More Jazz Around the Metro. Among other offerings around town in December:

December 2, Katia Cardenas (Rondo Community Music Series) at Walker West (7 pm).  Eclectic and powerful vocalist Katia Cardenas presents an evening of original music with Theo Brown (piano), Toivo Hannigan (guitar), Graydon Peterson (bass), and Beth Varela (drums). Reserve online for live or streamed concert at

December 3, Maryann and the Moneymakers at Volsted’s Emporium (11 am). Typically Volsted’s is known as an Uptown late night spot/speakeasy complete with back alley entry and “password” at the door, but it becomes a classy brunch spot on Sundays, and you can’t enjoy brunch more than when accompanied by a swinging ensemble like Maryann (Sullivan) and the Moneymakers (usually Phil Aaron, Tom Lewis and Doug Haining). The food is quite good, too!

Mary Louise Knutson and Connie Evingson, at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club December 5

December 5, Connie Evingson and Mary Louise Knutson at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club (6:30 pm).  Connie performs monthly in this intimate setting, and her December gig features frequent collaborator, pianist Mary Louise Knutson.

December 9, KBEM’s Jazz Clectic with the Jazz Woman All-Stars at Union Depot (St Paul), 1 pm. This monthly community music series sponsored by Jazz 88 FM comes to the European Christmas Market at the historic Union Depot. Led by vocalist Patty Peterson, the cast this afternoon features Mary Louise Knutson (piano),  Linda Peterson (vocals), Sue Orfield (sax), Joan Griffith (guitar and bass), and Jendeen Forberg (drums). This is a free concert!

December 10, Charles Lazarus’ “Merry and Bright” at Orchestra Hall (2 pm). Get your annual holiday dose of trumpeter Charles Lazarus, this year with vocalists Tonia Hughes Kendrick and Bruce Henry, and the Angelica Cantanti Youth Choir joining Lazarus’s swinging band.

December 11, JazzMN Orchestra Holiday Concert with Connie Evingson and Bruce Henry, Chanhassen Dinner Theater (7:30). A holiday big band extravaganza with Pete Whitman leading the 18-piece JazzMN Orchestra, featuring vocalists Connie Evingson and Bruce Henry.