Jeff Whitmill knows how to assemble a crowd-pleasing jazz series. He’s curated the Jazz @ St. Barney’s concert series through nine seasons already, now bringing back crowd favorites to fill in most of the schedule while leaving room for some new experiences. The opening concert this Saturday, September 10, features one of the most beloved ensembles to play at St. Barneys (aka St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in Plymouth). Not only is the Mary Louise Knutson Trio led by one of the region’s most accomplished jazz pianists and composers, but her cohorts include bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Phil Hey, two more area veterans who have performed with a long list of top local as well as international stars.
A modern mainstream artist who honors melody without being confined by it, Lawrence Conservatory graduate Mary Louise Knutson cut her performance teeth with such notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby McFerrin, Dianne Reeves, Slide Hampton, Richie Cole, Greg Abate, Von Freeman, and Billy Hart; and toured with Smoky Robinson, the Osmond Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck, comedians such as Phyllis Diller, and internationally with Synergy (formerly Rupert’s Orchestra). Her highly acclaimed first recording, Call Me When You Get There, was released in 2001 on Meridian Jazz and later in Japan, hitting the jazz charts “Top 50” in the U.S. and Canada for eight consecutive weeks following its debut. Said Jazz Times, “Call Me When You Get There is…state-of-the-art piano trio finery.” If Call Me When You Get There was “piano trio finery,” then Mary Louise’s second release, In the Bubble (2011) was easily “piano trio majesty,” remaining on the Top 50 charts for 19 weeks.
Deservedly, Knutson has earned considerable recognition as a composer, including two awards from Billboard magazine for her compositions, “How Will I Know?” and “Meridian.” One of five finalists in the first-ever Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Piano Competition at Kennedy Center in 2005, Knutson was a Minnesota Music Awards nominee for both Jazz Artist of the Year and Pianist of the Year in 2006. A former instructor at Carleton College, Mary Louise conducts master classes and private lessons when not busy performing. Among her current gigs, she has performed for the past ten seasons with the JazzMN Orchestra, and for the past five years has joined Doc Severinsen’s Big Band fall and spring tours; more recently she has toured with Doc when he plays a guest-star role with other orchestras.
Gordy Johnson graduated from the Eastman School of Music where he majored in flute. As a bassist, he toured with Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen, and the Paul Winter Consort, has appeared on over 50 recordings, and has kept time for most local and many visiting artists. He has released five albums (so far!) featuring trios with different combinations of pianists and drummers (Trios, Volumes 1, 2 and 3.0; GJ4; Trios No.5). Recently he toured with acclaimed vocalist Stacy Kent, including performances at the Dakota and Manhattan’s Birdland. He currently performs regularly with the Chris Lomheim Trio, appears weekly with pianist Benny Weinbeck and drummer Phil Hey at Parma 8200 in Bloomington, and plays with Jay Epstein in the Andrew Walesch Trio. When he is not holding down rhythm sections with his bass lines, Johnson can often be found inside the piano, tuning it up at the top clubs and concert halls in the Twin Cities.
A former student of Ed Blackwell and Marv Dahlgren, native Philadelphian Phil Hey is one of the most esteemed drummers in the Midwest. In addition to twenty years of touring with the late Dewey Redman, he has backed a long list of touring artists, local vocalists, and small ensembles. For several years, Phil (along with bassist Gordy Johnson) toured with British vocalist Stacey Kent, including gigs at Birdland in New York. He also manages percussion duties for the Pete Whitman X-Tet, Benny Weinbeck Trio, Good Vibes Trio, and Dean Sorenson Sextet, as well as his own quartet, and teaches at the University of Minnesota, St. Olaf College, and MacPhail Center for Music. His recordings include a volcanic duo with trumpeter Kelly Rossum, Conflict, and sideman duties for Mary Louise Knutson on In the Bubble. He also contributed to Von Freeman’s Live at the Dakota, rating four stars from Down Beat. City Pages named Phil’s Subduction as its Jazz Recording of the Year for 2006. His quartet was recently featured at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.
Jazz@ St Barneys is held at least once per month, September – June, in the St. Barnabas Center for the Arts at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, 1500 Old Rockford Road in Plymouth. Concerts at 7 pm, $10 at the door, light refreshments available. Ten more concerts fill out the season – next concert will feature guitarist Joan Griffith on October 1. Full schedule at www.stbarnabaslutheran.org/connect/sbca/jazz/