By Dan Emerson
The popular Saturday Night Jazz series in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood has found a new home in an “old” location. Uprooted by the recent closing of Lowertown’s Black Dog Cafe, the series will resume Saturday, February 5 at kj’s hideaway, which opened last year in the basement of the Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter St.
That’s been a familiar live jazz address for a number of years, as the former home of Vieux Carre, and before that, the long-running and greatly missed Artist’s Quarter jazz club.
After the abrupt closing of the Black Dog Cafe in January – reportedly a victim of COVID – after 20-some years, Saturday night series curator and
musician Steve Kenny called the owners of kj’s Jeremy Siers and his wife, Kristen. They had been customers at Vieux Carre and, six months after it closed, contacted a leasing agent about reopening the space. They spent about a year getting ready to open kj’s, which included rehiring some former Vieux Carre employers.
After exchanging emails with the kj’s owners, Kenny “put my best sales pitch together and had about a two-hour conversation with Jeremy” who agreed to stage the Saturday night series for a trial period, February and March. “There is such an opportunity here,” Kenny says.
Over 328 Saturday nights, the series was a major success for the simplest of reasons: high quality jazz played by some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities. Kenny wants to continue the same thing at kj’s. “there will be a curated jazz show to present the very best local and available national jazz artists in this tailor-made, jazz-listening venue.”
Most of the shows will start at 7:30, as double headers with an opening set ensemble and a headliner ensemble. Some of the shows will start at 9:30 and only have a headliner performance, due to prior bookings.
Maybe Frank Sinatra was wrong; Saturday night is not the loneliest night of the week, when there is good jazz being played. “Saturday is the best night to promote something like this, in a very storied venue,” Kenny says. The music sounds great in there, with a good sound system, good piano and good lighting…and good food.”
“The new ownership has a real penchant for this; they want to be the go-to spot for people to come and hear great music. They are dedicating their best night of the week to our American art form. It’s not a lounge gig; it’s a jazz concert, place for people to have their hair blown back by amazing musicians.”
The Black Dog was an example of what the arts – specifically live jazz – can do for a neighborhood, Kenny notes. He and others have credited the Black Dog, which opened in 1998 as a coffeeshop, with helping transform Lowertown from a downtrodden, overlooked neighborhood into a thriving “cultural Mecca.”
Kenny’s track record in in curating and presenting jazz, predates the Black Dog series. He has run past jazz series at Studio Z, Jazz Central Studios and Reverie/Nicollet, along with performing, band-leading, and playing the trumpet.
His company, Illicit Productions, has produced several recordings including “Twin Cities Jazz Sampler” volumes 1-3, sonic portraits of jazz in the moment. He leads several bands, the Illicit Sextet, Steve Kenny’s Group 47, Steve Kenny Quartet, Central Standard Time, the River Falls Cultural Project, What Would Monk Do? and the Steve Kenny Trio, often playing his original compositions. Since 2016, he has owned and managed the Jazz Police website, which covers the local and national scene and maintains a syndicated events calendar.
In 2019, the Jazz Journalists Association named Kenny a Jazz Hero, one of 22 “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” in 20 cities across the United States.
The schedule for the first eight weeks of the series: (two of the dates will have one show at 9:30, due to pre-existing bookings)
February 5 7:30pm Phil Hey Quartet with an opening set by the Steve Kenny Quartet
February 12 9:30pm Charlie Lincoln Quartet
February 19 7:30pm Rodney Ruckus New Year’s Resolution Tour With Opening set by the Hannah Harder Quintet
February 26 7:30pm Framework with an opening set by the Henry Berberi group
March 5 7:30pm Dean Granros ’58 Belvedere with opening set by the Blue Ox Trio and special guest
March 12 7:30pm Fat Kid Wednesdays with opening set by the Steve Kenny Trio
March 19 9:30pm Will Kjeer Quintet
March 26 9:30pm Red Planet with Bill Carrothers
Tickets for these shows are available at https://kjshideaway.com/
In addition to the ticket price, there will be donation opportunities to ‘pay more’ at the venue to help support the series which will need this type of additional fundraising to really thrive and continue to pay the musicians what they deserve without putting a financial burden on the venue, Kenny says.