Saturday, August 24, 2019


Jeremy Walker continues his jazz mission
Larger view
Jeremy Walker had to close his St. Paul jazz club, Brilliant Corners, but continues his love affair with jazz music by creating the Jazz is NOW! Orchestra. "We want to bring jazz more into a central part of the art landscape," he says. (MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke)
Jeremy Walker is back. It's been a little over a year since his downtown St. Paul jazz club, Brilliant Corners, closed its doors. The short-lived club became a home for local musicians to gather and play, and also a place that attracted big-name artists like Wynton Marsalis. Now Walker, a saxophonist, is continuing his mission of developing jazz in the Twin Cities with the new Jazz is NOW! Orchestra.

Minneapolis, Minn. — When Jeremy Walker started Brilliant Corners, he saw the club as way to help create a stimulating environment for jazz in the Twin Cities. Although the club is no more, its spirit continues with the Jazz is NOW! Orchestra.

"Jazz has labored in basements and the fringes of the art and music world for a long time," Walker says. "We want to bring jazz more into a central part of the art landscape."

Jeremy Walker's Jazz is NOW! Orchestra isn't really an orchestra, but a nine-piece ensemble that began as the house band at Brilliant Corners. The group is made up of some of the Twin Cities' finest jazz musicians, and is dedicated to playing original compositions, much of it written by the band's members.

The name Jazz is NOW! comes from the days when Walker was struggling to get Brilliant Corners off the ground.

"It was really a difficult process. It seemed like a lot of things were against us. We didn't have a heater or air conditioning that functioned," says Walker. "We got kind of militant and we would sign all of our e-mails 'Jazz is now!'" There's also an Ornette Coleman record that I truly love called 'New York is Now.' We drew inspiration from those two things for the name of the band and organization."

The Jazz is NOW! Orchestra has an educational affiliation with Jazz at Lincoln Center that Jeremy Walker has carried over from Brilliant Corners. The group made its debut in March, with a concert featuring Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra saxophonist Wessell Anderson.

Friday night another Lincoln Center saxophonist, Ted Nash, joins the group during the Jazz is NOW! collaboration with the Zenon Dance Company. Walker says he established relationships with Nash, Anderson, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis by simply walking up and talking to them.

"I met Wynton Marsalis because I went up to him at a music clinic and said, 'You're one of the reasons I play the music.' He gave me his phone number immediately. It wasn't any more complicated than that."

Walker isn't shy about introducing himself to famous jazz musicians. Saxophonist Ted Nash met Walker at a coffee shop, following a Lincoln Center Jazz orchestra performance in Iowa City.

"He just started coming to different gigs and became somebody we all knew," Nash explains. "You see somebody who likes playing and being around musicians, and when those kinds of people enter your life, you embrace them and say, 'Yeah, this is somebody who is serious about music.' We began a friendship because of that."

Ted Nash believes the work Jeremy Walker is doing with his Jazz is NOW! organization will help bring Twin Cities jazz musicians together and build audiences for their music.

"Hopefully more people will come to like jazz, and organizations and clubs will open up and there will be more opportunities for musicians," Nash says. "I think that's what Jeremy Walker is doing with Jazz is NOW! He's getting everybody together."

With the efforts Walker put into the ill-fated Brilliant Corners jazz club and his work establishing the new Jazz is NOW! group, it's obvious he has a passion for the music and a strong desire to see it thrive in the Twin Cities. He says the thing he's proudest of is being a jazz musician.

"I don't know how to do anything else," Walker says. "I have a part-time day job as a bicycle mechanic, which is a really wonderful thing and I have a lot of respect for it, but I hear this call."

The smaller Jazz is NOW! Composers' Ensemble performs with the Zenon Dance Company April 29 through May 8 at the Illusion Theater. Those performances include a new work by Ted Nash, jointly commissioned by Jazz is NOW! and Zenon Dance Company.