Chicago Veteran Stu Katz Brings 6 Decades of Bebop Piano to the Dunsmore Room, May 10

Twin Cities
Stu Katz

“Katz . . . remains — along with Barry Harris, Hod O’Brien, and one or two others — among the last fully authentic purveyors of unreconstructed bebop piano in the country.” –Neil Tesser

A fixture on the Chicago jazz scene for the past six decades, pianist/vibraphonist Stu Katz has worked with everyone, from Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons to Kenny Burrell and Russell Malone, from Philly Jo Jones and Roy Haynes to Milt Jackson and Phil Woods. A regular at the Chicago Jazz Festival and Jazz Showcase, Stu makes his Twin Cities debut in the Dunsmore Room of Crooners Lounge on May 10 at 7 pm. His first set will be solo piano, followed by a trio with son Steve Katz on bass and vocals, and Jay Epstein on drums.

Stu’s son Steve Katz lives in the Twin Cities, where he moonlights on bass and vocals in a couple bands including Katz and Dogs with noted area guitarist Park Evans. Notes Steve, his dad is a self-taught musician who started out gigging on vibes, because there were too many pianists in Chicago. One of Steve’s earliest memories is of his dad lugging his vibes around the city on the EL train to sit-in at the clubs “to get more gigs.” The strategy worked as Stu was known as a vibes player for many years, often appearing at the Jazz Showcase where he had several memorable exchanges with Milt Jackson– the two swapping places between piano and vibes. Stu was also able to hear many of the great pianists of the bebop era, including Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly, and became more interested in the piano, eventually becoming a regular at the Jazz Showcase.

Now 78, Stu Katz has played piano or vibes at the Snowmass Jazz Festival, at ten different Chicago Jazz Festivals, and on six jazz-themed cruises on Norwegian Cruise Lines. In 1990, he toured Italy and Switzerland as the pianist in a quartet led by long-time collaborator, alto saxophonist Bunky Green. In 2012, Katz opened the Chicago Jazz Festival playing vibes in a duo setting with pianist Willie Pickens, another long-time musical partner, with whom Stu had performed in a Chicago festival duo 31 years earlier.

Stu Katz and Ira Sullivan CDIn August, 2010, Stu Katz played piano and (mostly) vibes in a quintet co-led by another long-time musical partner, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in Chicago, yielding a live recording titled A Family Affair – Ira Sullivan and Stu Katz – Live at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, released on the Origin label in 2011. And indeed it is a “family affair” with strong Minnesota connections, with Steve Katz on bass on one track and Twin Cities vocalist Lucia Newell on another, all recorded by her husband Steve Wiese and mixed and mastered at Wiese’s Creation Audio in Minneapolis.

Stu Katz has managed a double professional life throughout his jazz career, spending his days as an attorney. Steve Katz, too, is an attorney by day, noting “It’s in the blood… Stu is in-house at a real estate company and threatens to retire, they even had a retirement party for him but he’s  still doing 30-40 hours per week.”

Stu will do the first set in the Dunsmore Room solo on the Bosendorfer grand. For the second set, Stu will lead a trio with Steve on bass and local star Jay Epstein on drums. And it will be jazz all the way, the specifics yet undetermined. “We’ll figure it all out Monday night,” says Steve.

The Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge is located at 6161 Highway 65 NE, just north of I-694 and about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Minneapolis. Reservations recommended at www.croonersloungemn.com.