© Andrea Canter
“We all listen to what’s happening moment to moment and try to contribute a part that no one else would think of. When we open it up, it’s like, whoa. It might not be obvious to listeners where the top or the bridge of the tune is. But we always come back.” – Peter Schimke (Mpls-St Paul Magazine)
In about 2003, the artist-friendly setting of the Artists Quarter was the genesis of How Birds Work, a collaboration of four well-known area musicians—guitarist Dean Granros, keyboard specialist Peter Schimke, bassist Billy Peterson, and drummer/AQ owner Kenny Horst. The band released an acclaimed CD in 2004 (Live at the Artists Quarter) and was profiled in Minneapolis-St Paul Magazine in January 2007. HBW has continued to hone its craft, often with Chris Bates handling bass duties, although performances have been less frequent in the past few years since the closing of the AQ. The quartet takes a rare flight on the Saturday Night Jazz at The Black Dog series this weekend, June 17, promising a fitting warm up to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. The opening set –the monthly JazzINK Youth Showcase, features a new trio of Jordan Anderson, Tyler Wagner and Simon Petrick, dubbed PAW.
JazzINK Youth Showcase, PAW (7 pm)
Organized by Simon Petrick, PAW features three busy collegians pursuing jazz degrees: Simon Petrick (drums) officially graduated from high school this spring although he has attended the U of Minnesota via the Post Secondary Education Options program for the past two years, studying with Phil Hey and JT Bates and performing with the U of M Jazz Ensemble as well as the past year with Adam Linz and the Dakota Combo. He will move on to the University of North Texas in the fall. Pianist Jordan Anderson graduated a year ago from Nova Classical Academy in St Paul, after performing for two years with the Dakota Combo as well as with the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band, Walker West Music Academy ensembles, and leading his own groups. He just completed his first year at the University of Michigan where he studies with acclaimed pianist Benny Green. Tyler Wagner graduated from Eden Prairie High School where he performed in school jazz ensembles and the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band, and has completed two years of jazz bass studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
How Birds Work, 8:30 pm
For this weekend’s gig, HBW features Dean Granros on guitar, Peter Schimke on piano, Chris Bates on bass, and Kenny Horst on drums. Each of these artists has established his reputation through diverse routes:
Dean Granros studied music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota for in 1970-1972, and studied composition with John Gessner at MacPhail Center for Music in 1973. Concurrent with those academic studies, he served a lengthy apprenticeship in jazz and blues, playing nightclubs such as the old Blue Note in North Minneapolis, the Extraordinaire, and the Downtowner. He was a co-founder of one of the Twin Cities seminal experimental jazz groups, “The Whole Earth Rainbow Band” in 1970, and in 1974 he created and wrote for “Lapis,” an ensemble dedicated to exploring composition with structured improvisation. From 1985 through 1993, Dean joined former Weather Report drummer, Eric Kamau Gravatt, in the high energy post-bop band, Kamanari. He co-founded the progressive and virtuosic improvising trio F*K*G in 1995, with saxophonist Scott Fultz and drummer Dave King. In 2002, he joined George Cartwright’s band Curlew and was featured on Curlew’s much lauded 2003 Cuneiform release, Mercury. Granros continues to perform locally with groups such as Starry Eyed Lovelies (with Mike Lewis, Anthony Cox and Dave King), FKG and How Birds Work and with his double guitar quartet. In early 2015, Dean and Joel Shapira released Jazz Guitar Duets: Live From the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, recorded in June 2014 at the Black Dog.
Pianist Peter Schimke is a popular performer and one of the busiest keyboardists in the Twin Cities. He first worked in his brother’s blues band and launched his pro career with the New Psychenauts. Know first for his keyboarding in rock bands, Peter studied jazz piano with Brazilian pianist Manfredo Fest, Jim McNeely and Harold Mabern. A member of How Birds Work, What Would Monk Do, and the PipJazz Band, leader of his own trio, long-time member of Bruce Henry’s ensembles, and frequently collaborating with Billy Peterson, Kenny Horst, and Irv Williams, Schimke is a favorite of local and visiting vocalists and instrumentalists. Other projects have included tours with the Andres Prado Quintet, Estaire Godinez, Chris Morrissey and a soon-to-be released DVD project with Jerry Bergonzi. Currently Peter is working on a solo recording and teaches at McNally Smith College of Music. He’s also performed regularly this spring at the Bad Waitress in Minneapolis and The Lexington in St Paul.
Bassist Chris Bates is one of the busiest musicians in the metro, performing with the Atlantis Quartet, Red Planet, Framework, How Birds Work, Tall Tales, Bill Simenson Orchestra, Adam Meckler Orchestra, Leisure Valley, Fall of the House of Usher, Enormous Quartet (rebranded as Colossus), and many other cutting edge ensembles. In the past few years he has stepped out front as leader of the Good Vibes Trio and Red Five, both of which released debut albums in the past three years. He recently launched the Inventions and Dimensions Trio with Joe Strachan and Matthew Buckner (now replaced by Miguel Hurtado after Buckner relocated out of state), and curates a monthly improvisation series at Jazz Central. Chris studied at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and later with Anthony Cox, was an original member of the Motion Poets, and a 1999 McKnight Composer Fellow. He was one of four jazz artists to be awarded a composition commission from Zeitgeist, which was premiered at the 2014 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. This past year Chris has served as a Visiting Artist at the University of Minnesota Morris.
Kenny Horst owned and managed the Artists’ Quarter for 18 years before the club closed at the end of 2013. He also tended the drum kit with many of the AQ’s visiting and local artists, and anchored the Tuesday Night Band during its 15-year, weekly run at the AQ. With more time now, Kenny has performed at Jazz Central, the Black Dog, The Nicollet and the Lexington, in HBW, What Would Monk Do, and other configurations. Says Don Berryman (Jazz Police), “Great hard-bop, soul jazz, and fusion chops and the sweetest guy you could meet.” He served double duty on the HBW recording as both drummer and producer.
So what happens when this quartet gathers for a night out? Sophisticated, often subtle, How Birds Work offers multiple layers of intrigue to the listener. Their Live at the AQ is an ambitious recording, including well-known classics of master composers, Coltrane’s “Equinox,” Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” and Shorter’s “Footprints.” These have been performed many times by legendary artists—with the bar set so high, this could be a dangerous play list, but these guys are up to the challenge, and throw in three originals to boot. And according to CD Baby, “It’s jazz. Some of it is out there, some if isn’t. Some of it has a little bit of a rock tinge. A lot of it doesn’t.” I agree, and I would also add “it is simultaneously accessible and challenging” for the listener.
How Birds Work follows in some large “footprints” of modern jazz, often teetering toward the outer limits but nevertheless always within reach. Catch their inventive musings Saturday night at the Black Dog. You can never be too sure what will happen.
Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog is curated by Steve Kenny; no cover but tips ($10-20) appreciated to pay the musicians and support the series. The Black Dog is located at 308 E. Prince Street (E. 4th Street at Broadway) in St. Paul’s Lowertown arts district. Schedule at www.saturdaynightjazzattheblackdog.info; see the Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule for three consecutive nights of jazz, curated by Steve Kenny, June 22-24.