Photo by Katherine Harris
Listen to jazz musicians who have been around town a while, and you’ll often hear the lament that there aren’t as many venues for them to play these days. So many of the old haunts—Jitters, The Times, D’Amico Kitchen, Pardon My French, Café Un Deux Trois, The Artist’s Quarter, The Turf Club’s Clown Lounge—have closed that it can seem as if the cultural shift toward electronic music and earbuds has wiped out all that was once good and true about the jazz scene.
Amid the tears, it can be easy to overlook the fact that plenty of venues still cater to jazz, and new ones are opening all the time. The Dakota is still the premier room in the Twin Cities, of course, but Hell’s Kitchen, Studio Z, Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, Ingredients Café, Jazz Central Studios, The Aster Café, Barbette, Red Stag Supper Club, and Parma 8200 all feature jazz as all or part of their musical menu.
In each era, however, there are special places that tap the zeitgeist a bit deeper than the rest—and those venues need to be recognized and appreciated. Now. Because great things may be happening there today, but if history is any guide, there’s no guarantee they’ll be happening tomorrow.
One such room is Icehouse. Located in south Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue, Icehouse has been open for a couple of years, and has been hosting live music since day one. In the past six months or so, however, Icehouse’s musical roster and aesthetic have matured to the point where it has become one of those rare golden music spots: a place where one can go almost any night of the week, with no idea who is playing, and be reliably blown away.
For sure, there is no better place to be on a Monday night. That’s when JT’s Jazz Implosion hits the stage, a weekly showcase of local jazz curated by ubiquitous local drummer JT Bates. Bates already anchors many of the most adventurous groups around—Fat Kid Wednesdays, Alpha Consumer, The Pines, Marijuana Deathsquad, and Dead Man Winter among them. On Monday nights at Icehouse, he partners up with an eclectic range of players (most of them friends or members of his other bands) for his weekly flights of improvisational voodoo. Bates used to host a similar gig at the Turf Club’s Clown Lounge, but now he has a bigger stage and, most of the time, a larger audience.
When Bates himself isn’t providing the fireworks, a rotating lineup of local luminaries fills in. Bassist Chris Bates (JT’s brother), pianist Bryan Nichols, saxophonists Mike Lewis and Brandon Wozniak, bassist James Buckley, and guitarist Jake Hanson all play regularly, in various combinations, or with a guest artist who is travelling through. In September, Buckley will be joining forces with fingerpicking guitar wizard Tim Sparks for two shows. Most of these shows don’t even have a cover charge, which makes them just about the best deal in town.
Icehouse is first and foremost a restaurant, so there is usually a mellower dinner set and a more raucous late-night set. And it’s not all jazz. Icehouse is also fast becoming the place for musical explorers of all types—synth-pop, folk, blues, chamber pop, indie-rock, Americana, gypsy-rock, dubstep—to do some serious sonic spelunking.
Anyone interested in jazz or other types of brainy new music being produced in the Twin Cities should make a point of hitting a late-night show at Icehouse. My advice is don’t even look at the calendar: just pick a night and go. Chances are you won’t regret it—and if you’re lucky, you might remember it for the rest or your life.