No Surprise: Luke Peterson Curates “Our Own Festival” at Studio Z, December 26-28
Something about drummer Luke Peterson impressed me long before he completed his degree in math and physics at Northwestern, long before he started graduate studies in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado, even before he graduated from Apple Valley High School and a year with the Dakota Combo. He just wasn’t the typical teenager I had encountered working in public schools and later when sponsoring youth jazz ensembles. (And there is nothing typical about young jazz musicians!) He seemed a little more serious, a little more thoughtful, a little more focused on a bigger picture than making music and studying math. So I was not surprised when Luke first told me about his plan to create and curate a jazz festival focused on his generation, or when he booked three nights at Studio Z in St. Paul to carry out his plan. Still, I am always surprised by the depth of his commitment and the breadth of his thinking.
Our Own Festival takes place December 26-28 with three different ensembles each night, mostly featuring musicians in their 20s who have studied jazz throughout the region and nation, who have become part of a new wave of artists driving Twin Cities music in new directions. And for the first time, they have a local festival of their own, thanks to the efforts of Luke Peterson.
About Luke Peterson
Luke came by his interest in drums naturally. “My father is from Dassel, a small town in central Minnesota, and he grew up playing drums: rock bands and drumline. I sought the drums out of admiration; I thought it was cool.” Drums led Luke to jazz, as “jazz band was the only place I could play drums.” But raised on “Led Zeppelin, Rush, and more 70s rock, there wasn’t much jazz music around.” Then Luke met fellow Apple Valley student Jack Courtright, “world-champion trombonist,” who “kick-started my jazz education. From the moment we met, I looked up to him; he was way ahead of the game. Jack introduced me to the Minnesota Youth Jazz Bands (MYJB) program, led by David Mitchell, as well as [the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education/MacPhail Center for Music program] Dakota Combo, led by bassist, friend, and hero Adam Linz. MYJB and Dakota Combo especially established within me the notion that I would play music my entire life. Moreover, these ensembles introduced me to some of my closest friends and teachers, the musicians I hope to play with forever.”
Luke played in the Dakota Combo during his senior year when the band was an octet, joining forces with saxophonists Peter Goggin and Sam Roberto; trombonist Jack Courtright; trumpeter Aidan Sponheim; pianist Jordan Anderson; guitarist Adam Astrup; and bassist Charlie Lincoln–some now-familiar names on the Twin Cities jazz scene.
Luke went on to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, “an affluent, predominantly white suburb” north of Chicago, starting out as a dual-degree student in Mathematics and Jazz Studies, and briefly studying with drummer Willie Jones III.” But due to his desire to focus on math and physics, as well as “philosophical musical disagreements I had with the leadership of the program,” Luke dropped his Jazz Studies major. “I sought to find where I fit into the music, and the history of Black American Music in Chicago. The Art Ensemble of Chicago, a band I had not learned in ‘jazz college,’ became quintessential to my understanding of this music’s history.” Although Luke continued to play in bands in the area and briefly studied with saxophonist Greg Ward, he “always yearned to play with my peers back home in Minneapolis. We just had a common language and appreciation for common timeless heroes, e.g. Ornette, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Motian, Geri Allen, etc.” During winter and summer breaks from college, Luke played as often as possible with his Twin Cities pals, including recording with the sextet SPACE. He even surprised the audience on a few occasions with an original composition for solo piano –he took some lessons from local hero Bryan Nichols.
After graduating from Northwestern in spring 2019, Luke moved to Boulder, CO to pursue a doctorate in Aerospace Engineering. But his love of music moved with him. “I continue to struggle in finding my place in this music, or any music. I continue writing, and I have found myself more inspired by other artistic media than previously, especially the work of [visual artist] Sam Gilliam, [poet] Adrienne Rich, and [visual artist] Julie Mehretu. Luckily, friends [guitarist] Adam Astrup [University of Northern Colorado] and [bassist-cellist] Alma Engebretson (University of Denver] also go to school in Colorado. We played a trio show–guitar, cello, drums–at my house in Boulder. I hope to continue playing with them.” The Our Own Festival is one way he is fulfilling that wish.
Our Own Festival: The Concept
“The goal of Our Own Festival is to allow young Twin Cities musicians to play in a space where they do not need to know somebody to get in; they do not need to write any emails asking to play–they just bring in the music they love, play with their friends, and celebrate each other’s music and identities,” explains Luke.
“This idea grew out of a love of music made by young creative musicians in our town, and a frustration with venues which, with some exceptions, have gatekeepers who prevent the inevitable development of the creative music scene in this state. While community leaders including Steve Kenny, Mac Santiago, Solomon Parham, and others have opened the doors for countless young musicians, including myself, there remains a barrier to many ‘A-list jazz venues’ in the area. Over time, I grew frustrated with emailing endlessly to no avail, and I realized we were lucky to have a space in Studio Z available to rent and host creative performances. I hesitated to name this weekend anything, for fear of becoming a gatekeeper–I only want to support our community and provide opportunities when/where/how I can.”
Luke notes three goals for the festival: “As a musician, I hope to express myself and interact with whom I share the bandstand. As a curator, I hope to create a space in which performers feel safe to express themselves freely. As a listener, I hope to learn from the expressions and experiences of my heroes and peers.”
Luke carefully assembled the bands that would perform over three nights, and was also careful in announcing the schedule and performers, releasing the plan for each night on Facebook over a period of three weeks. “I intended to bring in a few groups for whom I have been writing a lot lately. These are relatively new bands: Big Heist, Friends & Neighbors, Made Major [December 26]. Each ensemble has only played a handful of shows previously, yet I desperately wish to develop them through the unique concepts and experiences I feel playing. Next, there were a couple of groups that I have wanted to put together, but I doubted whether we could work out a date, or whether my conceptions would positively come to fruition. These bands are Stolen Land and Other People [December 27]. Our Own Festival presents a singular event to realize projects I have been thinking about for quite some time, particularly with these collections of musicians and songs.”
“Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to support the identities of my peers. I thought of many, many people I wanted to ask to bring in ensembles, and I hold these four bands at the highest echelon of respect, trust, and love: Glass Bead Games [December 27], Zosha Warpeha, Big Shark, and Atomic GoatHead 2 [December 28]. From an endless set of young creative musicians, I hoped to give a stage to young folks whose creativity I am envious–bandleaders who are deeply kind. I knew that cross-generational groups would be inevitable, and they are welcomed; however, the goal remains to give a stage to young creative musicians for self-expression.”
Each night of the festival–December 26, 27 and 28–features three different bands:
- Thursday, December 26 (7 pm): Big Heist; Friends & Neighbors; Made Major
- Friday, December 27 (7:30 pm): Stolen Land; Glass Bead Games; Other People
- Saturday, December 28 (7:30 pm): Zosha Warpeha; Atomic GoatHead 2; Big Shark
“There are so many bands in the Twin Cities creative music scene, particularly young bands, that I wish could have performed in the festival,” notes Luke. “Particularly, while I am thrilled with the festival’s lineup, I regret forming a lineup that does not include more identities. I hope that folks will consider attending Julian Manzara’s Lineage: Black Music Series held monthly at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen with support from Cedar Cultural Center, as well as Great Black Music Mondays at the Icehouse presented [in December] by Mankwe Ndosi. I believe it is the responsibility of curators to be aware of presenting a variety of identities.”
“Initially, I wanted to find a way to continue working on my five ongoing projects in the Twin Cities,” explains Luke, “simply as a result of my living in Colorado. I wish I could be around more to experiment and develop these bands which I care about. I am hopeful for each of these five bands, and I believe each one has a unique message which we will try to communicate through the music. I knew that I wanted nine bands over three nights, so finding the remaining four bands was an embarrassment of riches; I had a list of about 20+ bands or musicians I wanted to ask to contribute to the festival.”
“Zosha Warpeha [violin and voice] was perhaps the first person I hoped to include in the festival, though I was unsure if she would return to Minnesota in the near future, let alone over this especially busy weekend. [Zosha is currently living in Oslo, Norway as a Fullbright student at the Norges musikkhøgskole.] After speaking with Zosha, we arranged a solo set for her to open the final night, and I am prepared to cry in awe and wonderment at her performance.”
“I reached out to Tarek Abdelqadar, a phenomenal drummer and bandleader who I have admired and been able to call a friend for several years now. Tarek was a Cedar Commissions artist in 2018-19, and his project Authenticities and Identities, which grew out of the commission, spoke directly to the goal of the festival. Not only that, but I desperately wanted to see one of Tarek’s bands perform [Atomic Goathead2, December 28].”
“I heard that Ivan Cunningham and Josh Johnson were up to something, and I wanted to find out just exactly what that something was. Their new band Big Shark is working on a record produced by David Mitchell [Director of MYJB], who has been a common teacher and produced the SPACE record Non-Trivial Problem which I was on. I have known Josh for many years, and Ivan and I have connected deeply recently, with many discussions about finding our own voice after being deeply enamored with someone else’s. I cannot wait to see what energy they bring to the festival, though I know it will be sure to excite.” [December 28]
The quartet Glass Bead Games [December 27], launched by young Peter Goggin a couple years before he graduated from the University of Michigan, is one of the truly cross-generational bands on the Our Own schedule, with long-time Twin Cities drum hero Phil Hey surrounded by young guns. “Glass Bead Games deserves to headline the Twin Cities Jazz Festival,” notes Luke. “One of my favorite bands anywhere, I want to pre-emptively thank Jordan [Anderson], Peter [Goggin], Sam [Worthington], and especially the masterful Phil Hey for bringing this project to Our Own Festival. If you have seen them, you know; if you have not seen them, come out December 27 and be witness.”
Luke himself performs with bands he has worked with previously or has been actively writing for: On opening night (December 26), he works the drums for Big Heist, Friends and Neighbors, and Made Major. On December 27, Luke gathers new ensembles Stolen Land (which includes the youngest participant, Apple Valley High School junior Sophia Kickhofel on alto sax) and Other People, with Twin Cities veteran saxophonist Brandon Wozniak.
I would not be surprised if, one day, Luke Peterson travels through space — with a jazz soundtrack.
Our Own Festival will take place at Studio Z, 275 E. 4th Street, St Paul. 7-10:30 pm December 26; 7:30 -11 pm December 27 and 28. For full line-up and ticket purchase, visit http://www.studiozstpaul.com/our-own-festival-2019.html. Tickets can be securely purchased by credit card or through your PayPal account in advance, or by cash, check, or credit card at the door. Tickets purchased online will be held at the door. Tickets are also available at door. Please consider adding a $5 donation to Studio Z with your ticket purchase. Your donation supports the operation of Studio Z and keeps it an affordable venue for artists and presenters in the Twin Cities. Studio Z is owned and operated by Zeitgeist, “a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the music of our time.”