On a recent Tuesday night, I made my way across Central Avenue by the Aveda Institute to a nondescript brick building, where a painted sign directed me downstairs. I found a low-ceilinged space with folding chairs, sofas, and a floor-level performance area—as well as a 15-piece jazz ensemble in the process of warming up.
It was Bill Simenson Orchestra night at Jazz Central Studios; during two sets, a group of crackerjack players took on trumpeter Simenson’s original big-band compositions. There were more musicians playing than there were audience members, but there was a definite feeling that an experience this enjoyable can’t stay semi-secret for much longer.
Jazz Central originated in 2010 as a rehearsal and recording space for Twin Cities jazz musicians. In the years since, it’s evolved to encompass a weekly performance calendar including combos of various sizes, Latin jazz, young artist showcases, and slates of musical experimentation. It’s a small, humble space that attracts some of the best players in the Cities for the cost of a small donation. There’s no supper-club luxury, or the considerable amenities of an established club such as the Dakota, but instead there’s a sense of informal discovery.
For now all performances are weeknights, though there’s talk of adding a weekend schedule. Some nights see double bills, and there’s nothing wrong with stopping in to see just part of the show—the scene is casual and inclusive (in reverse proportion to jazz’s sometimes-snooty reputation). For my part, watching Simenson’s combo tackle his bright, complex tunes was easily a highlight of the season.