Straight, No Chaser
One drawback to the otherwise fine acoustics of Jeremy Walker's brand new "all-night" jazz club in downtown St. Paul, Brilliant Corners (named after a Thelonious Monk tune), is that sometimes you can really hear the espresso machine swing. "I think I just made that guy a bad latte--I didn't want to interrupt the set," Marsha the barrista admitted on a recent weeknight. Barrista? you say? That's right, barrista means all-night-jazz club without any booze. Which forced me to interview Walker, a clean-cut, 31-year-old part-time saxophonist, while drinking ginger ale. Seriously.
City Pages: First question: No booze?
Jeremy Walker: One, it's almost impossible to get a liquor license in this town. The other side of it is, when I was coming up I had to sneak into clubs to try to hear the music and try to play. And there are a lot of kids who are under 21 and they want to hear it.
CP: Do you have a little flask for a buddy?
Walker: You can bring it in. [Laughs.] Don't put that in. Actually, you can in City Pages--nobody is going to kill me. Yeah, I've got a bottle of cognac back here. There's the cliché of guys drinking hard and smoking reefer--which, hey, a lot of these cats do. But there's the other side about being dedicated to an art form.
CP: You guys are going to be open until four in the morning. Who's going to be in here? The only homeless people I know are into country or hip hop.
Walker: [Laughs.] Lot of musicians. Lot of students. If you take all the students in the jazz program at Musictech or whatever, those are 300 students. That's going to be some of it. Perpetual night owls like myself. But I'm going to open during the day selling coffee and sandwiches. Honestly, that's what pays the bills. It's my willingness to work all day so I can have jazz at night.
CP: College kids? My sister is in college and just the other day she told me, "Oh, one of my favorite songs is 'Jazz.'"
Walker: If you go back to when I was in college 12 years ago there was nothing. Nobody was playing. And nobody was listening. The University of Minnesota barely had one band when I was there. Now it has three big bands and about 10 combos. Hamline has a band. Augsburg has a band. St. Thomas. Bethel.
CP: What segment of the jazz scene will you be serving that the Artists' Quarter and the Dakota aren't?
Walker: Definitely more on the cutting edge. And I don't mean to be disparaging to either club--I've been going to both for years. Like we have a band coming in March, the Matt Wilson Quartet. Very few people know them here. But it's part of this new garage-jazz thing--people who listen to Happy Apple. I don't really see myself as a niche, but this is a place for cats to stretch out and blow. If you get to be a jazz musician long enough, you can sleepwalk through any gig. You know 1,000 tunes, you know 200,000 licks, and you can just put it on autopilot. And then there are those gigs and those places that inspire guys to reach in.
CP: What's a dream night for the club?
Walker: Basically, anytime I see guys who I really know can blow, enjoying themselves. Tonight, we're about 90 percent certain that Greg Osby, who's over at the Dakota, is going to drop by later with Jason Moran. I know a lot of the cats from out East. The jazz world is pretty small. News of this club is already all over. Guys who are more used to a New York schedule will be hanging out. Sometimes they'll play; sometimes they'll just stop by to rap. Wynton Marsalis [who's on the club's "artistic board"] has promised us a late set.
Fourth and Wabasha streets
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