“We have so many gifted women who are singers and musicians in the Twin Cities that this could be the start of something big! ” — Patty Peterson
A project initiated and directed by Twin Cities’ vocalist Patty Peterson, The Jazz Women All-Stars debuted at the 2016 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, opening music on the AARP Main Stage at Mears Park on June 24th. With a cast of local (or formerly local) jazz women–Mary Louise Knutson on piano, Joan Griffith on bass, Sheila Earley on drums, Mary Petrick on saxes, Linda Peterson on both keys and vocals, and Patty Peterson and Debbie Duncan on vocals, it was a stellar set that bares repeating. The Dakota hosts the reprise–and hopefully first of many area gigs–on Saturday, September 24, with two sets at 7 and 9 pm.
Launching the Jazz Women All Stars
Patty Peterson had been percolating the idea of an all women’s ensemble for a couple years. “if you look at jazz festivals in general,” she notes, “whether we’re looking at smooth jazz festivals or straight-ahead jazz festivals, really there are virtually no women. There is an appearance by a woman here and there, not necessarily all women on the stage at once. It’s important that we take command of the fact that women play such great jazz and they’re such great artists that why not just feature them?” Patty sold the idea to festival director Steve Heckler, who put the Jazz Women All Stars on the AARP Main Stage to open activities on Friday. And Patty had no trouble finding “all-star” jazz women currently, or previously living and working in Minnesota. The set was so well received, Heckler wants to make it an annual part of the festival.
But Patty wasn’t going to stop there. Performing once a year at JazzFest isn’t enough. “We’ve got some great instrumentalists. We know we have fabulous singers. We just need the opportunities to pull them together to be able to create, so people can sit in the audience and go, ‘oh yeah,’ and God forbid, say something like ‘she plays just like a man,’ like they used to say to my mom, Jeanne Arland Peterson.” Now the JWAS will be heard in Minnesota’s premiere jazz club, the Dakota. Patty sees the personnel as somewhat fluid depending on availability and desired instrumentation. Drummer Sheila Earley spends a good part of each year away from the Twin Cities; Saxophonist Mary Petrick now resides in Arizona and may not always be able to make the trip back to Minnesota. Fortunately there are far more women jazz artists in town than we typically see in local clubs. Many teach in high schools and colleges; many also perform in area big bands. Pippi Ardennia, area vocalist, songwriter and educator, has also organized a “Women in Jazz” project that brings together veterans like Faye Washington and Marilyn Parker with student musicians from area high schools and colleges. Women in Jazz also performed during the 2016 Jazz Festival, and has performed with Pippi at The Bedlam.
The All Stars, at the Dakota
The same ensemble that performed at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival will be on stage at the Dakota:
A modern mainstream pianist who honors melody without being confined by it, Lawrence Conservatory graduate Mary Louise Knutson is the pianist for the JazzMN Orchestra, tours with Doc Severinsen, and leads her acclaimed trio in the Twin Cities and beyond. Her highly acclaimed first recording, Call Me When You Get There, landed in the jazz charts “Top 50” in the U.S. and Canada for eight consecutive weeks following its debut, and her second release, In the Bubble (2011), remained on the Top 50 charts for 19 weeks. Mary Louise has won two Billboard awards for original compositions and was one of five finalists in the first Mary Lou Williams Wome in Jazz Piano Competition at Kennedy Center in 2005.
A noted teacher, composer and performer, Joan Griffith has toured and recorded as a classical and jazz guitarist, bassist, and mandolinist. Now head of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of St. Thomas, Joan is also a guitar and bass instructor at St. Catherine’s University and director of the MacJazz Workshop at Macalester College. She also appears frequently with the Minnesota Orchestra as a classical mandolinist. Her recent recordings include Sambanova! with Laura Caviani and Circle of the Dance with Clea Galhano and Lucia Newell.
Sheila Earley is a drummer, percussionist, composer, and instructor. She earned a BA in Business Management at Bethel College, and has more than fifteen years experience as an executive recruiter in the New York City area. Sheila has performed with long list of jazz artists, including Tom Harrell, Byron Stripling, Marlena Shaw, Carol Sloane, Norman Simmons, and Virginia Mayhew, and as part of the Duke Ellington Legacy Band. Sheila has taught privately and performed primarily in the NYC area since 1999.
Saxophonist Mary Petrick has enjoyed an impressive career that has ranged from modern classical to big band to the avant garde. A former Twin Cities resident now based in Phoenix, Mary leads her quartet OpenHand, which released a well-received recording in 2015, Murmuration, described as a “brilliant, original modern jazz foray… Petrich’s tenor and soprano saxophone leads are sparse but profound as she speaks volumes through each solo” (CD Baby).
From Minnesota’s “First Family of Music,” Linda Peterson couldn’t help but be drawn to music at an early age. Her singing career dates back to age two when she began performing around the Twin Cities on radio and television, as well as singing in commercials. Her career reached international proportions with the release of her original jazz composition, “Too Late to Leave Early,” recorded in Copenhagen. Based in Los Angeles for many years, Linda has performed at jazz festivals, concerts and in clubs throughout the U.S. and abroad, including appearances at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and with the Peterson Family for holiday and other special concerts at the Dakota and area theaters. After relocating (part time) to the Twin Cities, Linda has been heard at Parma 8200, Lexington, Crooners’ Lounge, School II Bistro, Vieux Carré and other venues. Chan Parker, widow of bebop legend Charlie Parker, noted that “she has an innate jazz feel, impeccable pitch, excellent choice of material, her own unique sound, and the best musicians to accompany her.”
Linda’s sister Patty Peterson has been singing in clubs, theaters, and commercials since she was a youngster. Currently she heads the Patty Peterson and Friends ensemble, performing on stages at the Dakota, Bunkers, Crooners Lounge and other venues, as well as appearing in clubs in southern California. She also hosts The Playroom, every Sunday night on KBEM radio. A 7-time winner of a Minnesota Music Award and Midwest Music Hall of Fame inductee, Patty released her fourth solo recording (The Very Thought of You) in 2013. Patty has performed often at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and recently hosted KBEM’s Minnesota Jazz Legends: The Elders.
Born in Memphis, Debbie Duncan grew up in Detroit and studied flute and voice at Wayne State University. She recorded back-up vocals for Mitch Ryder and Bob Segar before moving to Los Angeles, where she had a seven-year stint at the Hungry Tiger. What was to be a six-week job at Rupert’s Night Club in 1984 brought Debbie to the Twin Cities, and that gig lasted seven years. Forming a quartet with Don Stille, Gary Raynor and Phil Hey, Debbie soon became known as the “Working-est Singer” in the Twin Cities, winning many Minnesota Music Awards as well as the MMA’s first award as “Perpetually Outstanding Performer.” She has opened for Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, released five recordings to date, was a founding member of the vocal quartet The Girls, and has appeared in music theater productions as well as at every major club venue in the Twin Cities. She’s also a frequent performer at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
Such an all-star cast just happens to be filled with women, and really, it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the talents here in the Twin Cities. Hear for yourself just how powerful a band full of jazz women can be! Sets at 7 and 9 pm, ticketed show, at the Dakota on Saturday night, September 24.
Tickets are available for the Jazz Women All Stars at www.dakotacooks.com or call the box office at 612-332-5299. The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.