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J. Shane Mercer, Published February 05 2009

New jazz venue opens in Fargo

The first thing guitar instructors should teach after covering the G, C and D chords is facial contortion. It would seem that Nick Fryer’s teacher did right by him in that department. The guitarist for the Simon Rowe Organ Trio distorted his countenance and moved his mouth like he was singing the melody as he pulled some sweet sounds from his F-holed Gibson at Studio 222, a new downtown jazz hangout Friday.

Since January, the Simon Rowe Trio and the Simon Rowe Organ Trio have been playing regular jazz sets on Fridays at Studio 222, which is located at the end of the hallway on the north side of Atomic Coffee on Broadway.

Rowe, who teaches and serves as the coordinator of the music industry program at Minnesota State University Moorhead, wants the studio to be a “focal point in the community that’s oriented around creating world-class jazz music.”

The feel of the joint is good. Tucked away in the back with exposed brick on the north wall, the studio has a sort of hip-warm vibe. Rowe added to the warmth Friday evening, mingling and greeting audience members before the gig. And a friendly, jazz-enthusiastic (judging from his hand-drumming and head bobbing) doorman sat collecting patrons’ cash. It’s $10 to get in; $5 for students. There’s also a cash bar.

The gigs typically feature one of Rowe’s trios, but not always. Fryer’s own trio has a couple of shows at the studio in February, for example.

In addition to giving musicians the opportunity to practice their art, the Friday performances also serve as educational events as some of Rowe’s music industry students help work the sets as part of their studies.

The trio, with Rowe manning the Hammond B-3, kicked off the first of Friday night’s two sets with Larry Young’s “Tyrone,” played a Henry Mancini bossa nova and took on Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple from the Apple.”

The crowd, which I counted at about 45 during the first set, was appreciative of the group’s efforts. One gentleman at the front center table sat there grooving happily with his eyes closed.

Renato Libman, an MSUM student who hails from Brazil, has lived in the area for two years.

“It’s pretty different from anything I’ve heard in Fargo so far,” he said, calling it “sophisticated.”

The age spread in the audience Friday was pretty striking, with a significant representation of college-aged students and older adults. Rowe says he is thrilled with that diversity.

Concordia senior Asha Saari was one of those representing the younger set.

“I love jazz. I absolutely love jazz” she said as she and fellow Cobber Brita Johnson waited for the trio to open its first set.

“It’s kind of a rare thing in Fargo to have jazz,” she said, adding that she’ll “soak up” any opportunity to hear it.

There could be more of those opportunities in the future. Rowe says he hopes to see the performance schedule grow to two per week.

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734 or smercer@forumcomm.com