Jazzin' September 2002

By Rick Forest

Not long ago I asked you to tell me where you liked to hear jazz in Louisville, A number of places came up, and one of the most frequently mentioned places in town was Artemisia on Market St. Manager Rick Towles has followed up the success he had with Twice Told Coffeehouse with a somewhat upscale restaurant inside an art gallery that happens to have some great acoustics for jazz. Sometimes it all just seems to come together, doesn't it?

Artemisia? What kind of name is that? The way Rick tells it, it's the perfect name for the place. It all started out as Twice Told Café, but when Rick sold the coffeehouse on Bardstown road, he found that he had to find a new name. He struggled with what to call the place for some time, as he wanted a name that would encompass the various facets of the place from the art on the walls to the food on the plate. One day, while perusing a book called "The Uppity Women of Ancient Times," he came across the name of Artemisia I, who was a warrior queen of 450 B.C., and who also was a great patron of the arts. About 300 years later, Artemisia II followed in her namesake's footsteps but had a passion for monumental, big art, something that gallery manager Erin Divine has been bringing into town. Ok, the art side of Artemisia is covered, but there's more. Rick the gardener also noticed that "Artemisia" is also a plant species that includes tarragon, sage and silver mound. Artemisia is also a key ingredient in absinthe, a liquor popular among the Bohemian artists of the late 19th century. So, food, gardening and art connections came together in a strange synchronicity that screamed out to be the name of this new restaurant.

The food is something of a "Continental Cuisine" but it's also a "fusion" form of cooking where you might find a standard meat and potatoes entrée alongside couscous or some other Mediterranean-influenced dish mixed in. Everything is fresh, from the vegetables to the meat, and produce is imported from various organic farms in the region. I'm no Susan Reigler, but Rick modestly considers it "some of the best food in town." But of course, he's prejudiced and more than a little spoiled by his well-trained chefs.

So we have art, and food, but what about the music? Rick's original vision for Twice Told Coffeehouse included generous helpings of jazz, blues and poetry, but the surge of popularity in folk and Americana music forced his vision to the back burner. Now the vision is back, with a music policy that gives particular emphasis to jazz and blues. The patio area offers a small stage area on which a trio can fit comfortably, but larger groups have also been known to play. It's an intimate place that reminds some of venues in New Orleans, New York or San Francisco, allowing listeners to `leave' Louisville for a bit while enjoying fine food and music. Rick Towles' dedication to jazz as the primary musical offering at Artemisia is strong. For Towles, the sound of jazz is the key. It's a good music for dining: you can pay close attention if you want, but also let it provide a good background to what else you're doing. It's "a mature music," the musicians are highly professional, and as Rick says, "jazz musicians to me are fantastic. They come in, `Hi Rick, I'm ready to play,' and the next thing you know, they're set up and playing. Nobody needs a blue jellybean. It's a wonderful thing to be around." That kind of relationship between a club owner and a performer makes for a comfortable workplace that is reflected in the quality of music that the audience enjoys.

Something special is coming up on the first Friday in September. It's the mayor's "First Friday," where the trolleys will take you down Market street to the various art galleries for free. At 8:30 that evening, the entertainment at Artemisia will feature Jeff Sherman and two of his former students, Scott Henderson and Craig Wagner, with Chris Fitzgerald on bass and Bruce Morrow on drums. Craig will be playing a seven-string guitar, so instead of a "21 String Salute," we'll end up with a "19 String Salute." What they'll be saluting, I don't know, but it should be an exciting evening of guitar jazz. Rick has other ideas percolating, but for now, know that there's a steady future for jazz at Artemisia, in the artsy corner of Market St.

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