Swinging into Christmas

Local musicians play a relaxed, holiday duo concert at Jazz Central Studios.

by Danylo Loutchko

Vocalist Jennifer Grimm and guitarist Joe Cruz mix and match musical genres to create a collage of music during their performances.
Both their careers span eclectic musical styles, but jazz is the name of the game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Jazz Central Studios, where they will play an intimate Christmas concert. 
The performance will showcase some of Cruz’s original guitar work from his new solo album and several of Grimm’s original holiday songs, some of which she hasn’t recorded.
“We may hit some standard holiday tunes and some regular jazz stuff as well,” Grimm said. “Stuff that we don’t get to do in other venues, like maybe ‘Body and Soul’ and other more tender ballads that don’t work in a bustling restaurant.” 
Grimm got her start at a young age singing in her family’s show band as they toured the country. Throughout her career, she worked in New York — where she played
Carnegie Hall — the Caribbean and Minnesota. Now, she lives in White Bear Lake, Minn., with her two kids and has a regular gig on Sunday nights at a local pub, the Station. 
“Both Joe Cruz and I have made a living out of being versatile,” Grimm said. “I’ve played in R&B bands, funk bands, jazz groups, musical theater, oldies, country and everything. Joe has done the same.” 
Cruz’s music defies easy categorization. In addition to both electric and acoustic guitar, he plays the mandolin for bluegrass, and both Cuban tres and Puerto Rican cuatro for
Latin music. The tres and the cuatro are both variations on the guitar, each carrying a distinct musical flavor. 
Since moving to the Twin Cities in 1980, Cruz played in nearly every kind of band that accommodates a stringed instrument. He’s played in an `80s funk-fusion band, in the bluegrass band Brian Wicklund & The Barley Jacks on mandolin, in various jazz groups and with blues pianist Scottie “Bones” Miller. 
In the early 2000s he began doing theater work as well and returned to the Twin Cities several weeks ago from six months playing at the Oregon
Shakespeare festival, where he performed original music on Puerto Rican cuatro in a play called “The Happiest Song Plays Last.”
However, the show at Jazz Central will be exclusively guitar. 
“In the land of guitar, there’s many palettes,” Cruz said. “With [Grimm], at Jazz Central, I’ll bring a jazz guitar for swing stuff and then a nylon string guitar for the Latin stuff. It’s like a tool of the trade. If you want to sound a certain way you grab a certain tool.” 
The relaxed, attentive environment at Jazz Central is ideal for the kind of music Grimm and Cruz love to play.
“It’s really just a nice break for us to have a nice jazz listening room,” Grimm said. “We’re used to playing in many different venues where people aren’t necessarily focused on
the music. … The venue allows you to be an artist.”
Jennifer Grimm and Joe Cruz Holiday Concert
Where Jazz Central Studios, 407 Central Ave. SE, Minneapolis
When 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Cost $10