The other day a friend and I dropped in at the Vieux Carree, the subterranean jazz club in downtown St. Paul, to hear pianist Chris Lomheim play a solo set. The evening light was beautiful, glancing off the Landmark Center and the St. Paul Hotel, and the club was all but deserted.
It was Happy Hour. We ordered a plate of Basque olives ($5) and some Reuda for $3 a glass while we examined the menu. When our waitress returned I ordered a mufalleta that was good but dense and took a long time to eat, while Tim took a chance on the gumbo. Flavorful, though lacking in "hot" spice.
While we ate, the pianist delivered a succession of pensive ballads including Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" and a string of standards including "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "Everything Happens to Me." Later Tim requested a Bill Evans number, which was also nice, though I didn't recognize it.
During his break the pianist over to our table to chat. Turns out we both have the same Jackie Byard "Live at Maybeck Hall" CD.
"Most people who do a solo set end up doing stride," I said, "just to fill in the sound, I guess. You didn't do much of that."
"I like stride ... but I wasn't doing that tonight." He excused himself to go back to his table, eat some food, and study the scores he'd brought with him.
Our waitress was attentive throughout our visit. Little wonder. Aside from a few young hipsters at the bar, we were the only people in the place. We noticed that she had a slight accent. When Tim asked her about it, she explained: "I'm from Wisconsin."
"Where abouts?" I asked.
"Amery," she replied. (That's a ninety-minute drive from Minneapolis.)
"Amery is a nice town," I said. "Lakes all around." (My dad used to rent a meat locker in Amery.)
"Yes it is," she replied. "But we lived in the country."
"Was your dad a farmer?"
"Until I was three," she said.
"What did he do after that?"
"Odd jobs. Anything. Now he's plowing roads for the city." She smiled wanly. "You should see them. They're great!"
"We'll have to get over there soon, before all his handiwork disappears!" I replied.
Later the manager stopped by to talk up the Happy Hour (it goes until 7) and emphasize the Vieux Carree's philosophy of providing a venue for good local musicians at affordable prices. A wonderful strategy, though to my ear, there's something a little artificial about the New Orleans association.
Then she said, "I'm sorry Chris Lomheim couldn't make it tonight."
"What? Who is this guy?"
"I'm not sure. I'll go find out."
"Anyway, he's good."
The man's name is Jeremy Walker. And he is good.