A Special Evening With Wynton Marsalis

I’m convinced that 289 Fifth Street East in St. Paul was the coolest place to be in the Twin Cities on Sunday night (9/25/22).

Earlier in the day, around 3PM or so, MetroNOME Brewery let slip on social media that trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis (who was in town with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a couple of shows with the MN Orchestra over the weekend) would be performing in their intimate music space, Fingal’s Cave.

The space is as a jazz club should be–dim lighting, exposed stone and brick walls, readily accessible alcohol–harkening back to a time when, on any given night, you could stumble into a “secret” jazz performance in the basement of a bar. The room fits, comfortably, 50-60 people, which is about what the turnout was–mostly family and friends, and some media (me). For comparison, Orchestra Hall, where Marsalis had just finished a two-night stand, seats 2,087. Here, I could see the spit fly from his horn. I could see the glare from his wristwatch.

The man behind it all is Bill Eddins. When he’s not making sure your glass is full as co-owner of MetroNOME, he’s either conducting orchestras, or performing as part of one. Eddins is an incredibly accomplished musician in his own right and opened up this brewery (along with co-founder, Matt Engstrom) earlier in the year as a way to raise money for music education in the Twin Cities (donations from this event went towards Walker West Music Academy and Hopewell Music Cooperative).

The anticipation was palpable. Here was, arguably, the most recognizable name in jazz working today, playing a little club in lowertown St. Paul. Joining Marsalis were three players barely, if even, of drinking age (the bassist was just 19)–Kavyesh Kaviraj on piano, Chet Carlson on bass, and Jack Schabert on drums. Three players whom Marsalis had never played with, let alone met, prior to this evening (arranged for by Eddins), all of which informed the music and made for a truly special and beautiful performance. Often, generational differences impede our ability to communicate with each other, but here, the music did the talking. Seeing all four players mold a song and fall in together was an extraordinary thing to witness.

Then, there was Marsalis. He speaks like he plays–words chosen as thoughtfully as notes–both of which captivated and enraptured the audience. He introduced songs with humorous anecdotes (prefacing “Body and Soul” as a tune picked “just to see if I can play it”) and historical context as only he can; and when he played his horn (at points walking amongst the audience) every face in the room was aglow with his light, wide eyed and smiling.

Perhaps most endearing were the moments in which he, himself, would just nod and smile as this young, impromptu group traded solos–and not just in approval, but in a genuine sense of admiration and impress. It was as though he was hearing the tunes for the first time, and in a way, he was–with these players. Marsalis has always been a champion for the preservation of jazz and the new generation of players taking up the reins, and nowhere was that more evident in practice than Fingal’s Cave on Sunday night.

He closed with his appreciation for the accompanying musicians, remarking on the thoughtfulness of their decision-making in the music: “It’s always great having people make decisions in the music, rather than falling into formulas.”

Suffice it to say, there was nothing formulaic about this past Sunday evening. – Andrew Diemand

What Is This Thing Called Love?
Blues in F
Happy Birthday (teaser for an audience member)
Body and Soul
All the Things You Are
Bourbon Street Parade

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