Vocalist Connie Evingson made her Dunsmore Room debut a few months ago at a special “New Year’s Eve Eve.” Now she’s back for another special “eve” on Wednesday, March 30 — special because 1) any night with Connie is special, 2) the Dunsmore Room and it’s amazing Bosendorfer grand create a special ambience, and 3) Connie will be joined by former Twin Citian Tanner Taylor on that Bosendorfer and Connie’s frequent cohort, local saxophone legend Dave Karr. The Dunsmore Room is an intimate listening and dining room in Crooners’ Lounge in Fridley; two shows, 7 and 9 pm.
A native of Hibbing in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Connie Evingson grew up listening to her father’s records of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and later Peggy Lee and Shirley Horn. Influenced by these early muses as well as the musical icons of her generation (the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Sting, Bonnie Raitt), Connie’s eclectic tastes were soon evident, from her first club gig at the old Night Train in St. Paul to a brief stint with the Minnesota Vocal Jazz Ensemble before she joined Moore By Four in 1986. With Moore by Four, Connie performed and toured the world throughout the late 80s and 90s, often opening for the biggest stars in music. In the past decade, her career as a soloist has included nine CDs for Minnehaha Music, most releases charting on Jazzweek’s Top 50 for extended periods. Long regarded as among the top echelon of jazz artists in the Midwest, recipient of two McKnight Artist Fellowships, and nominated as Jazz Week’s Vocalist of the Year in 2005, Connie’s back-to-back recordings of hot club swing (Gypsy in My Soul, Stockholm Sweetnin’) brought renewed attention to the genre and led to performances at Jazz Alley in Seattle, Blues Alley in Washington, DC and appearances in Europe.
But Connie Evingson has never been one to rest on the laurels of a popular style, and even while Gypsy in My Soul was climbing the charts in 2005, she was delving into a new project, the songs of Dave Frishberg. Little Did I Dream was arguably one of Connie’s most successful recordings, gaining accolades from local and national press. “Little did I dream that one day I’d get to record an entire album of his songs—with him at the piano,” said Connie. Connie’s most recent release, Sweet Happy Life (2012), showcased her “framing and saluting [Norman] Gimbel’s work with her delightful voice, superb diction, timing and phrasing” (All About Jazz). In addition to curating Jazz at the Jungle productions over the past five years and heading a monthly Jazz in the Lounge gig at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club, Connie appears regularly at the Dakota and Vieux Carré and, in June 2013, made her Jazz at Lincoln Center debut in Michael Feinstein’s “Swinging With the Big Bands,” featuring Wynton Marsalis. Connie’s recent projects include a return to hot club repertoire with All The Cats Join In, recorded with the John Jorgenson Quartet and released at the Dakota in fall 2014, as well as several productions at the Jungle Theater with pianist Jon Weber. Connie received an Artist Initiative Grant for 2015 from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which supported concerts at the American Swedish Institute.
“I began classical training when I was about six,” notes Tanner Taylor, and shortly thereafter he started composing his own tunes. But his initial inspiration to try jazz came after seeing the Glenn Miller Story when he was 12. In addition to playing piano, Taylor took up jazz trombone, playing both instruments through high school. His music education was eclectic: “I studied most notably with Jack Oatts, Gary Dial of the Manhattan School of Music, classical instructors Chuck and Virginia Radke, and took one year of composition at the University of Northern Iowa.” Jack Oatts also created Tanner’s first professional opportunity, when at fourteen “my first pro gig was at a place in Carroll, IA with the Jack Oatts Quartet.” Oscar Peterson, to whom Taylor dedicated a tribute at the Bloomington Performing Arts Center in 2009, played a pivotal role in young Taylor’s decision to pursue mainstream jazz. Originally more interested in big band charts, he shifted his ambitions after hearing Oscar Peterson’s 1962 trio album, Affinity. A “lack of good gigs in Iowa”
motivated his move to the Twin Cities over a decade ago. He had no trouble getting gigs thereafter, finding himself a frequent first-call keyboardist for the Twin Cities’ Jazz Festivals and area clubs, backing the finest area musicians and such acclaimed touring artists as David Fathead Newman, Eric Alexander, Sean Jones, Barbara Morrison and Jeremy Pelt. He regularly led his own trio at the Dakota Jazz Club and Artists Quarter, and frequently backed vocalists Connie Evingson, Nichola Miller, Arne Fogel and more.
Tanner co-founded Jazz Central Studios with Mac Santiago in 2010, and was the pianist for the first edition of the Jazz Central All-Stars, a touring sextet supported by the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Although he relocated to the Ames, Iowa area about a year ago, Tanner continues his Twin Cities connection, serving as pianist/music director for Five by Design and occasionally come back to his old stomping grounds for a gig.
One of the real Elders of Twin Cities jazz at 86, Dave Karr can still blow just about any reed, from bari and tenor sax to clarinet and flute, and he still contributes those reeds to such ensembles as the JazzMN Orchestra, Pete Whitman X-Tet, his Dave Karr Quartet, and a variety of projects with vocalist Connie Evingson. A native Canadian who emigrated to England in early childhood before landing in New York City, Dave got hooked on jazz by listening to some of the great jazz legends, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Moving to the Twin Cities in his twenties, Karr has been a fixture on the Twin Cities jazz scene for more than 60 years, composing and producing music for radio and TV since 1970, and performing with numerous bands, symphony orchestras, Broadway shows, and recording sessions. Among highlights of the last few years, Dave has performed with vocalist Connie Evingson in her Jazz in the Lounge series at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club and her Jazz at the Jungle series, and in January made his quartet debut in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners.
Crooners Lounge is located at 6161 NE Highway 65 in Fridley, just north of I-694 and about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Minneapolis; the Dunsmore Room offers live jazz and related music usually two or three times per week. Two shows on March 30, 7 pm ($15 ticket, $40 dinner show) and 9 pm ($10 ticket); reservations strongly recommended due to limited seating. Tickets via the venue website, Brown Paper Tickets.