Dakota owner Lowell Pickett is the patron saint of national jazz in these towns, fending off the IRS and frequently digging into his meager bank account to bring commercially dubious but musically rich, innovative acts to St. Paul. Like Ray Drummond's Excursions All Star Band, an ensemble that ran five headliners deep; Charles Lloyd's quartet, which visited the Dakota in May, likewise featured top-notch talent at every instrument. We get to see these acts in an intimate, acoustically simpatico venue that delivers more bang for the buck than bigger halls like Ted Mann and the State Theatre. Over the years Pickett has been able to supplement his bottom line by drawing the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, and Marian McPartland to his club, largely on the basis of his nationwide reputation for putting the music and musicians first--including the provision of a huge spread from the Dakota's estimable food-and-wine list between sets. "You think, 'Minnesota in the winter--no, no!'" Drummond says of the Dakota. "But then you think, 'But the food--yes, yes!'" Such loving care explains why Pickett has been thanked on the back of a Roy Hargrove CD and has had songs dedicated to him from the bandstand by McCoy Tyner, Christian McBride, and others. Local jazz listeners would be much the poorer without the Dakota, which for more than a decade now has delivered stirring, memorable, extended engagements from some of the best players in the business.


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