Saturday Night Jazz at kj's hideaway

The Lead Sheet: January Jazz in the Twin Cities

TCJF Twin Cities
Cecile McLorin Salvant returns to The Dakota on January 28th

The end of 2023  was so busy with music that I forgot to start the Lead Sheet in time for New Year’s Day!

Will Kjeer

Looking Back! My December highlights included a stunning set from former resident vocalist Bruce Henry with a stellar trio of veterans “Stablemates” (Dale Alexander, Gary Raynor and Jay Epstein) in the Dunsmore Room; the at-least-annual homecoming gig from vocalist Karrin Allyson on the Main Stage at Crooners with Jeff Bailey, Dave Schmalenberger, and special guest, guitarist Rod Fleeman; a too-rare appearance by Laura Caviani with her trio in the Dunsmore Room; the always fun and musically satisfying Peterson Family “Twas the Jam Before Christmas” at The Dakota, this year featuring “fourth generation” musicians still in their teens; a quick glimpse of the “next generation” of Twin Cities native jazz stars at Jazz Central, a band led by pianist Lasse Corson (student at William Paterson) with Juilliard sax student and bandleader Sophia Kickhofel, precocious trumpeter Cyrus Wilson, and the “veteran” 20-somethings Chet Carlson (bass) and Ben Ehrlich (drums); and a cross-generation trio melding international and local heroes Billy Peterson (bass) and Kenny Horst (drums), with Kenny’s nephew and future headliner Will Kjeer (piano), briefly home from graduate studies at Juilliard to perform in the Dunsmore Room.

Other homecomings included vocalist, South High alum Jose James with amazing pianist Christian Sands in an evening of mostly holiday gems at The Dakota; the inventive original music of the young “veteran” quintet SPACE at kj’s, and the annual Christmas week series with The Bad Plus at The Dakota. Pianist Jon Weber returns so often that it seems right to refer to these gigs as “homecomings.” His annual “Dunsmore Lodge” holiday gigs with Connie Evingson are among my favorite holiday shows. Joined this year by bassist Steve Pikal, they not only gave us winter-themed fare but paid tribute in song to the giants lost in 2023. Connie singing Tina Turner? You Betcha!

The Phil Hey Quartet at kj’s

Actually that is the tip of the iceberg of holiday gigs in the Twin Cities. Finally, a very special night of music at kj’s  previewed the in-progress documentary of the life of the Artists Quarter, looking at its three venues from the 70s til its 2013 closing, with interviews and video clips of musicians, fans, and of course owner Kenny Horst and and “doorman” Davis Wilson. The film is the creation of filmmakers Kelle Green (Kenny’s sister) and Bill Kersey, and the preview night included a return of How Birds Work(ed) with Will Kjeer ably replacing the late Peter Schimke; the Phil Hey Quartet; and the Dave Brattain Quartet. Briefly, the AQ was live again.

So much music, so little time. I missed a lot!

Craig Taborn at The Icehouse

I’ve give up trying to name my favorite jazz performances of the year. I remember the past few months much better than the beginnings of 2023, mostly a function of age rather than preferences. And I always miss some events that I know would have blown my ears (in a good way).  So just a quick mention of musicians/ensembles that impressed in 2023:  Will Kjeer – this young (27) pianist has impressed me since our first encounter more than a decade ago, and his current level of musical dexterity and versatility only predicts an outstanding future as performer and composer. I heard my now-favorite, abstract version of “Skylark” when Will performed with a trio at Jazz Central this fall.  Hiromi returned to The Dakota , and not only was the pianist as dazzling as ever, but her young trumpeter—Adam O’Farrill—nearly stole the show. They make a great combination that hopefully will continue. At the Walker, Cecile McLorin Salvant presented her multi-media one-woman extravaganza, “Ogresse,” reaffirming  that she is one of the most creative artists working in any genre today. (She returns to the Dakota later this month.)  This fall we had a rare homecoming from pianist Craig Taborn, this time solo at the Icehouse. Craig doesn’t need a band—the piano is his orchestra and he pulls the best of every instrument out of those 88 keys. And the Twin Cities Jazz Festival  is always a memorable treasure trove of stars and upcoming stars, all the more special this year as it marked the 25th anniversary of the festival as well as the swan song for fest founding Executive Director Steve Heckler.

Live Jazz in January.  My usual reminder, these are my recommendations based on what I know at press time, and not an exhaustive list of jazz events in the Twin Cities.

Crooners Lounge, 6161 Highway 65 NE, Fridley; Crooners keeps adding events, so do check their website frequently and, better yet, visit the website and sign up for their email list. The Belvedere Tent is closed for the season but plenty of music is scheduled on the Main Stage and in the intimate Dunsmore Room. Full kitchen service.

January 4, Acme Jazz Company with Arne Fogel (Main Stage, 7:30 pm). The Twin Cities jazz community is known for a long list of stellar big bands, and count Acme Jazz Company as one of the best. Led by saxophonist Bob Parsons, this band of Twin Cities heavyweights is augmented by veteran vocalist Arne Fogel .

January 11, Marimbista (Dunsmore Room, 6 pm). And now for something a little different:  Jazz, Latin and original fare from an all-star quartet led by acclaimed marimbist Jenny Klukken. Playing a five-octave marimba, Jenny is joined by local jazz stars Chris Bates (bass), Chris Olson (guitar) and David Schmalenberger (drums).

Charmin Michelle

January 18, Charmin Michelle “Charm Songs” (Dunsmore Room, 6 pm).  One of the veteran and most recognizable voices in Twin Cities jazz, Charmin is never anything less than enchanting, and tonight’s support from Rick Carlson and Keith Boyles adds to the charm.

January 19-21, Marilyn Maye (Main Stage 7:30 pm, Sunday 4 and 7:30 pm).  Although now in her mid 90s, Marilyn manages touring and performing that seems to shave off 50 years. And she loves this stage, returning annually. She hasn’t lost her charm, her banter, or her voice!

January 21, Jennifer Grimm and Joe Cruz (Dunsmore Room, 6 pm).  Enjoy this intimate voice/guitar duo playing standards and original songs. Their rapport (and love) takes their stellar music to another level.

January 27, Maud Hixson/Rick Carlson “Roaring 20s” (Dunsmore Room, 6:30 pm). Maud and Rick salute the music of the 20s—last century’s 20s. Whenever this duo performs, you are guaranteed not only a night of great music, but an educational experience as well. Maud always finds the stories to enhance the songs.

January 28, Jazz Women All Stars with Lucia Newell (Main Stage, 8 pm). Patty Peterson’s Jazz Women All Stars tonight goes to Brasil, featuring Lucia Newell. Joining Patty and Lucia tonight will be Mary Louise Knutson (piano), Joan Griffith (guitar), Clea Galhano (recorder), Sophia Kaufman (bass), and Beth Varela (drums.)

There’s more throughout January at Crooners, including several nights each week of piano/voice duos in Maggie’s Lounge. Visit


Tim Sparks

The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapols ( The Dakota features live music (often top international jazz acts) and full kitchen seven nights per week.

January 3, Tim Sparks CD Release “Lost and Found,” 7 pm. Local guitar hero Tim Sparks celebrates this eclectic release covering Lennon-McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jerry Reed, Paul Desmondm Kris Kristofferson and original fare. He’s joined by another local guitar guru Ben Abrahamson and talented bassist Ted Olsen.

January 7,  Larry Schaefer Memorial Orchestra (7 pm). This large ensemble plays improvised music, sometimes with minimal structures. Incorporating elements of free jazz, soul jazz, and Afrobeat, they are inspired by electric period Miles Davis, early Weather Report, Can, James Brown and Fela Kuti, among others. Assorted local heroes including Bryan Nichols, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Erik Fratzke, Chris Thomson, Peter Goggin, Jake Baldwin, Martin Dosh and more.

January 19, Vijay Iyer Trio (7 pm). Rescheduled from fall 2022, monster pianist/composer (and MacArthur Genius Grantee) Vijay Iyer brings his trio (with Harish Raghaven on bass, Jeremy Dutton on drums) celebrating the upcoming release of their album, Compassion.

Immanuel Wilkins (Blue Note Quintet)

January 27, Blue Note Records 85th Anniversary Tour, 6:30 & 9 pm. The Blue Note Quintet features five of the most celebrated jazz artists of 2024: Gerald Clayton (piano), Joel Ross (vibes), Immanuel Wilkins(sax), Matt Brewer (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums).

January 28, Cecile McLorin Salvant (6 & 8 pm). A Dakota favorite since she burst onto the jazz scene over a decade ago as winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition, followed by three “Best Jazz Album” Grammies, MacArthur and Doris Duke grants and more, Cecile also presented her concert length, multi-media “Ogresse” at the Walker last spring, proving she is far more than one of the most exciting voices in jazz history.

There’s more jazz and more music at the Dakota in January – visit


Happy Apple

Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Av, Minneapolis ( A cool venue (really an old icehouse) in Uptown Minneapolis, the Icehouse typically has curated jazz on Monday nights and a smattering of jazz ensembles throughout the week. Ocassionally national acts! (Note that Monday night schedule is not yet listed on the Icehouse website.)

January 3, Luke Peterson Quartet + Jake Baldwin Quintet, 8 pm. Drummer and astrodynamics doctoral student Luke Peterson is briefly home, and has assembled an enviable band of improvisers—Patrick Adkins on Rhodes, Adam Linz on bass, and Bryan Murray on sax. For the second set, add acclaimed trumpeter Jake Baldwin for a high-flying Quintet.

January 12-13, Happy Apple, 8 pm. One of the longest-running jazz bands in the Twin Cities, Happy Apple (Mike Lewis, Erik Fratzke, Dave King) performs internationally and occasionally here at home with their unique brand of improvisation.

January 19, Abinnet Berhanu’s Ahdenet/Kevin Washington’s RA Spirit (8 pm). Two distinct drummer-led ensembles featuring the music of East and West Africa + the Diaspora. Led by drummer Abinnet Berhanu, Ahdenet features Ethiopian vocalist Genet Abate, paying respect to the long legacy of Ethiopian folk, pop, and instrumental music. RA Spirit takes Kevin Washington’s music to a new level, incorporating Afro-Latin, hip hop, and R&B beats to jazz from the past.


Jazz Central Studios, 407 Central Av SE, Minneapolis (  This nonprofit basement jazz space offers a slice of New York near downtown and the U of M. Run by and for musicians, Jazz Central offers music most nights Tuesday-Saturday, usually featuring rising stars as well as veterans and occasional visiting talents. Tickets usually $15, book ahead or at the door.

Tuesday Night Big Bands (8 pm). A unique way to appreciate the workings of a big band, Jazz Central presents “rehearsals” and performances weekly: Bill Simenson Orchestra (January 2); Cedar Avenue Big Band (January 9); Explosion Big Band (January 16); Colonel Mustard’s Mechanical Orchestra (January 30).

January 5, Toivo Band (8 pm).  Led by guitar wizard Toivo Hannigan, this band includes such young talents as Peter Goggin (sax), Alma Engebretson (bass), Tarek Abdelqader (drums), and visiting trumpeter, Chicago-based Will Mallard.

Park Evans

January 12, Park Evans Trio (8 pm). We were treated last month to a “homecoming” for Seattle-based, ex-Twin Cities guitarist Park Evans, and now he returns to lead a trio with local giants, bassist Ted Olsen and drummer Joey Van Phillips.

January 17, JC@JCS (8 pm). Every third Wednesday, trombonist/composer JC Sanford invites guests to join him in an evening of improvised music.

January 20, Alex Meffert Quartet (8 pm). Saxophonist Alex Meffert has assembled a band of young veterans—Patrick Adkins on piano, Ted Olsen on bass, and Ben Ehrlich on drums.


kj’s hide-a-way, 408 St Peter Street, St Paul ( In the space once occupied by the Artists Quarter, kj’s features jazz at least every Saturday Night via Steve Kenny’s Saturday Night Jazz series. Steve ensures stellar performances, hiring bands with a book of original music.  Sometimes 2 bands, often one band plays two sets.

January 6, Lasse Corson Quintet (8 pm). Young Titans night! Led by pianist/William Paterson student Lasse Corson, this band includes some of the most accomplished musicians under 25 in (or at least from) this area—with Henry Berberi on sax, Cyrus Wilson on trumpet, Chet Carlson on bass, and the lone 30-something Miguel Hurtado on drums.

Asuka Kakitani directs the Inatnas Orchestra

January 13, Inatnas Orchestra (8 pm). You might remember this remarkable jazz orchestra squeezing into the “large” room at the Black Dog some years ago. Back in action, led by Asuka Kakitani and JC Sanford, Inatnas features a great cast of 17 local musicians playing stunning original compositions.

January 20, Central Standard Time (9 pm). A special evening-length performance by the  long-running, fluid personnel of Steve Kenny’s CST with Peter Goggin – Alto Saxophone, Steve Kenny – Trumpet, Joseph Strachan – Piano, Josh Granowski – Bass, and  Abinnet Berhanu- Drums. Note the later-than-usual start time.

See the website for more Saturday Night Jazz schedule!


The Lexington, 1096 Grand Av, St Paul; A landmark supper club in the heart of St Paul’s Grand Avenue district, with jazz most Friday and Saturday nights in the classy Williamsburg Room. Specify Williamsburg Room when you reserve; $5 music charge.

Joel Shapira

January 5-6, Joel Shapira Trio (7 pm). This weekend features guitar guru Joel Shapira in two configurations—with Tom Lewis and Phil Hey on Friday, and with Chris Lomheim and Tom Pieper on Saturday. All very accomplished veterans.

January 12, Mike Wolter Trio (7 pm). Talented guitarist Mike Wolter leads a trio with young keyboard whiz Joe Strachan and veteran bassist Matt Peterson.

January 20, Tim Sparks Trio (7 pm). Guitarist/composer Tim Sparks performs with masters of elegant jazz—Tom Lewis on bass and Jay Epstein on drums.

January 26-27, Zacc Harris Quartet (7 pm). Acclaimed guitarist and bandleader Zacc Harris brings 2 configurations to the Lex, with Ben Ehrlich on drums both nights; Friday features Bryan Nichols on keys and Chris Bates on bass; Saturday features Joe Strachan on piano and Dan Carpel on bass.


Metronome Brewery (Fingal’s Cave), 385 Broadway, St Paul (  Nestled in the subterranean “Fingal’s Cave” in St Paul’s Lowertown, Metronome offers nearly nightly music with plenty of first class jazz. Red Planet is featured every first Tuesday.

January 7, Paul Harper Quartet (4 pm). The Sunday Jazz Series presents a veteran ensemble led by saxophonist Paul Harper, with Dale Alexander on piano, Tom Lewis on bass, and Nathan Norman on drums. Full-on postbop fun.


January 11, Stablemates (7 pm). Every second Thursday, MetroNome presents this seriously engaging trio of Dale Alexander (piano), Gary Raynor (bass) and Jay Epstein (drums).

January 18, Peter Kogan Presents (7 pm). Every third Thursday, master drummer Peter Kogan presents the history of jazz , featuring different ensembles each show.

January 24, Minnesota Jazz Student Mentorship Performance Series (7 pm). Hosted by drummer Jesse Simon via a Minnesota Regional Arts Council grant, young jazz artists take the stage every month. Hear the future of Minnesota jazz!

January 28, Duo Corda (music education fundraiser), 6:30 pm. Duo Corda brings together guitarist Pavel Jany (Ticket to Brasil) and cellist Jacqueline Ultan, raising funds for music education.


Smack Shack, 3801 Minnesota Drive, Bloomington;  A new music venue in the south burbs, with bookings by the former booker at The Lex. Music in the “funky little shack” room.

January 5, Jason Weismann Quartet (7 pm).  An evening of music from the saxman/vocalist.

January 12-13, Zacc Harris Quartet (7 pm). Guitarist Zacc is busy leading a long list of bands. His most recent gig at Smack Shack included Bryan Nichols on keys, Dan Carpel on bass and JT Bates on drums.

Katia Cardenas

January 19-20, Pete Snell Quartet (7 pm). Veteran saxophonist Pete Snell was at Smack Shack last November with simpatico artists Dale Alexander (piano), Tom Lewis (bass) and Kenne Thomas (drums).

January 26. Katia Cardenas Quartet (7 pm). Yes, they do have vocals at Smack Shack! Popular jazz vocalist Katia Cardenas always brings a stellar band, tonight with pianist Joe Strachan, drummer Nathan Norman, and more.


Volstead’s Emporium, 711 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis (  Right out of the 1920s, this is a true speakeasy complete with back entrance. Listening is not always on the menu but the small stage always presents the best musicians in the area. Weekend evenings usually start late, but Sunday brunch allows for a daylight walk-up. And a perfect omelette. Check the website as Volstead’s tends to post the month’s music after the month is underway–thanks Jay Epstein for posting a few upcoming gigs.

January 5, Robb Henry, Matt Senjem, Jay Epstein (9:30 pm). Sounds like some gypsy swing coming!

January 14,  Dale Alexander, Ted Olsen, Jay Epstein (8 pm). Two-thirds of Stablemates with one of the area’s premiere bassists.


And more in January! Seems there is no end to the venues where you can find top jazz artists in the Twin Cities. A few more gigs around town:

January 5, Alma Brasileira at University Club St Paul, Noon – 1 pm (420 Summit Av, St Paul; reserve at 651-222-1751). Seldom performing these days, this engaging trio released a recording over a decade ago. A great midday treat for your ears with Lucia Newell (vocals), Joan Griffith (guitar, mandoline, cavaquinho) and Clea Galhano (recorders).

January 5, Swing Dance Residency with Katia Cardenas and the Upswing at the Eagles Club #34, 7 pm (2507 E. 25th Street, Minneapolis, . The versatile vocalist will be in residence first Fridays of odd months starting in January.

January 6, Laura Caviani Solo Recital, Kracum Hall (Weitz Center for the Arts), 3 pm (Carleton College, Northfield). One of our most accomplished pianists/composers/educators unveils a new set of etudes and more.

January 7, Mary Scott/Nelson Devereaux: Cloudland Jazz Matinee Series, , 2:30 pm (Cloudland Theater m 3533 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis; A new venue on the East Side of Minneapolis. Each set features saxophone and electronics.

Kavyesh Kaviraj

January 13, Kavyesh Kaviraj at Walker West (Rondo Community Music Series), 7 pm (760 Dale St, St Paul;  Brilliant young pianist/composer/educator Kavy presents his take on Ahmad Jamal with “friends.”

January 21, Steve Kenny/Jake Baldwin Duo; 56 Belvedere at Cloudland Theater; 2:30 pm (3533 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis; ). A new Sunday series curated by Noah Ophoven-Baldwin, this matinee features a head-to-head with two of the region’s top trumpeters, followed by a set led by guitar hero Dean Granros with Pat Keen and Dave Power.


And a sneak peak at February!  Just to mention a few things on the horizon:

February 3, Steve Kenny’s Coltrane Show, 8 pm at kj’s hideaway (St Paul). The trumpeter salutes Coltrane with a special evening-length performance by the Steve Kenny Quintet, with Kenny on trumpet, Dave Brattain on saxes, Kavyesh Kaviraj on piano, Josh Granowski on bass, and Kevin Washington on drums.

February 6, Joshua Redman Group, 6:30/8:30 pm at The Dakota (Minneapolis). World renowned saxophonist Redman joins forces on his new recording and on tour with vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.

Dave Hagedorn

February 23, Dan Cavanagh/Dave Hagedorn, 7 pm in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners (Fridley). It’s been more than a decade since pianist Dan and vibraphonist Dave released their acclaimed duo album. With Dan teaching in Texas and Dave recently retired in Northfield, their opportunities for live interactions are limited. It’s about time they returned to a local stage.

February 24, Twin Cities Winter Jazz Fest at Park Square Theater/kj’s hideaway, Hamm Building (St Paul).  A one-day jazz extravaganza under the leadership of new Exec Director Dayna Martinez. Park Square Main Stage features headliner Jorge Pacheco Trio and Abinnet Berhanu’s Ahndenet; kj’s hideaway will feature Stablemates, Steve Kenny Quintet and Lila Ammons; and the Boss Stage at Park Square features “emerging artists” (Callum Schultz Quartet, Hannah Harder Quintet, and the Blue Ox Orchestra led by Jack Schabert). In true jazz fest fashion, there will be an after-hours jam at kj’s led by Graydon Peterson. VIP tickets sold out; general admission available online (

Happy jazzin’!