The Jazz Cities

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Chan Poling's My North

Musician performing at the Dakota Jazz Club
A musician performs at the Dakota Jazz Club, photo by George Roedler

Chan Poling is best known for his pioneering, Minneapolis-based new wave punk band, The Suburbs—but these days you’re just as likely to find him slinging soulful jazz riffs with his band The New Standards. Poling’s not alone, either—the Twin Cities is a hotbed for jazz. While the “Minneapolis sound” that The Suburbs (and fellow locals like The Replacements, Husker Du and Prince) popularized is what put our humble music scene on the map, our modern jazz scene can hang with the best of them. Here are five Twin Cities jazz joints any hep cat will dig.

Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis

Originally opened in 1985, in St. Paul’s Bandana Square, before relocating to its more famous (and current) spot on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, Lowell Pickett’s jazz club was then—and is still—the gold standard in local jazz. A favorite haunt and stage of Prince in his later years, the two-story jazz sanctuary regularly hosts some of the most iconic names in jazz and blues—from Booker T. Jones, to the Blind Boys of Alabama, to Mavis Staples.

Vieux Carre, St. Paul

External photograph of Vieux Carre jazz club
Vieux Carre in downtown St. Paul, photo by Jeffrey Newcomer

One of the Twin Cities’ newest jazz clubs is also one of its most visionary. Located in the basement of the Historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul, in a space that used to house the legendary Artists’ Quarter jazz club, you can think of Vieux Carre like the speakeasy-ish St. Paul sister shop of The Dakota—but with a distinctly New Orleans twist. Jazz fans can look forward to multiple shows (and early and a late) from two different artists on the docket almost every night of the week.

Jazz Central Studios, Minneapolis

Every fan of the genre has dreamed about sitting in on a group of jazz musicians while they casually practice, record, tinker, improvise and jam in the safe space of their studio, but for jazz fans in the Twin Cities it’s not a dream—it’s Jazz Central Studios. A non-profit located in Northeast Minneapolis, Jazz Central Studios is a fully-fledged recording studio and performance space that encourages collaboration and education among musicians, and provides a non-commercial listening space for fans. Established in 2010, the 1800-square foot studio can seat up to 50 people and has evolved into one of the most unique jazz education and performance spaces around.

Crooners Lounge & Supper Club, Fridley

An unabashed throwback to a simpler time, when Sinatra ruled the airwaves and martinis ruled the bar, Crooners focuses as much on its American supper club fare (think Duck à l’Orange and Steak Diane) as the rotating cull of, well, crooners that take their stage on a nightly basis. Although not strictly a jazz club, Crooners regularly features local jazz legends ranging from the Steeles, to Connie Evingson, to Patty Peterson, to Wee Willie Walker.

Icehouse, Minneapolis

When this cavernous, former ice storage warehouse on Eat Street was first remodeled into a chic industrial eatery and venue, it didn’t set out to become the area’s next hot jazz club. And although Icehouse doesn’t exclusively cater to the jazz crowd, it didn’t take long for the club to find a groove with the Twin Cities jazz elite. Today it seems like any given day there’s jazz to bend your ear—like at the Revival Brunch, featuring a rotating stable of jazz musicians, or jazz residencies like J.T.’s Jazz Implosion every Monday night, or shows by Icehouse mainstays like stand-up bassist James Buckley.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Chan Poling's story, view it here.

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