Editor’s note: The planned closing of St. Paul’s Artists’ Quarter at year’s end has sent streams of jazz fans to the downtown club in recent weeks. Many local musicians are taking the stage for one last, bittersweet show. Guitarist Zacc Harris plays tonight. Here are his thoughts:
By Zacc Harris
Tonight, I’m playing my final gig at the Artists’ Quarter, at 9 p.m. It has been a great venue to play, and a great family to be a part of. I’m gonna miss the hell out of it.
The first time I played the AQ was with Atlantis Quartet in winter of 2009. It was a weekday in January, and I remember it was cold outside — ten below maybe — and we were a bit worried about getting a crowd.
In the end, it was a great crowd. Not as full as we’ve had it by any means, but there were a few dozen folks there who braved the weather.
The magic of the AQ is that the audience is so close, so focused on the music, it only takes a handful of people to make it a special show, one that you know you connected with people, and once you’re down in that basement and the band is swinging, it doesn’t matter what’s happening outside, because you’re in another world.
I’ve had a lot of good times at the AQ, not just playing, but as a listener as well. We did a live recording with Atlantis Quartet there in May 2011 right after getting back from a tour out to New York. While we were away, City Pages gave us the gracious nod of Jazz Artist of the Year, and when we did the live recording, the house was packed! Both nights. Standing room only.
Having just played something like eight shows in 10 days with those guys, the band was on fire and the energy of those two nights was electric. You could feel it buzzing in the room. But as crowded as it was, you could hear a pin drop at times. The best part is that we’ve got it all recorded, and it ended up being our third album, “Lines In the Sand.”
Losing the AQ is devastating. It’s the only club 100 percent dedicated to this music. It’s where young players get to hear real jazz artists playing serious jazz, and then cut their teeth playing it themselves. It’s where musicians connect and meet each other — and where new music and bands are born. It’s a place where a jazz fan can go and know they’re going to hear jazz, even if they’ve never heard of the band.
There’s talk of it reopening, which I am hopeful about, but I also hope people realize how important it is and support it a little more the next time around, if there is one.
The good news is that jazz is still going to happen; it’s just going to be harder to find. There are lots of restaurant style jazz gigs, where the band is in the background, but there are some places that have real jazz as the focus too.
The Dakota still has several nights a month that are jazz, and might add some more local artists to the calendar with the AQ’s closing. Icehouse has jazz on Mondays, and will be adding more weekend jazz shows in 2014. Jazz At Studio Z takes place monthly in St. Paul, and Jazz Central continues to thrive.
Hopefully, some new joint pops up and can learn from the AQ and flourish.