Now in its 14th year, the Twin Cities Summer Jazz Festival has a downright dizzying line-up of musicians in store, on the mainstage and in satellite venues scattered throughout Downtown and Lowertown. Since 2009, when the city of St. Paul wooed the festival to relocate the performance hub to Mears Park, attendance has also blossomed: more than 30,000 are expected to turn out over the course of this week’s three-day festival.
At the top of the bill: composer and trombonist Delfaeyo Marsalis, drummer Francisco Mela and Cuban Safari, Luca Ciarla Quartet, Araya Orta Latin Jazz Quartet and a local favorite, The Bad Plus trio, who’ll be joined by acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman. And thanks to substantial support from the state’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund (last year’s grant alone was more than $30,000), organizers were able to book not just world-class headliners, but a host of local artists as well.
To help navigate the multitude of offerings and participating venues, I called in some support from the best jazz writer in town: Pamela Espeland, Minnpost’s “Artscape” columnist and proprietor of Bebopified, a hugely informative local music blog, and the exhaustive Twin Cities Live Jazz Calendar.
While there’s a smattering of avant-garde stuff here and there (mostly at Studio Z), as we look through the list, Espeland declares the roster to be dominated by swinging, “straight-ahead jazz,” accessible even to casual fans of the form. Among the artists: vocalists Pippi Ardennia and Arne Fogel, Phil Hey Quartet, Jazz Central, Zacc Harris, Twin Cities 7 with Charmin Michelle. (Largely missing from the mix is the old Clown Lounge crowd. I know I’d have liked to see more of them, maybe JT Bates and Fat Kid Wednesdays; or, what about Small City Trio?)
Espeland notes a number of Artists’ Quarter regulars (Cory Wong, Illicit Sextet) in the schedule; she also calls out pianist and host of National Public Radio’s “Piano Jazz Rising Stars,” Jon Weber, who’ll play several sets through the festival, with vocalists (Connie Evingson, Maude Hixson) and without.
For dedicated fans, Espeland recommends seeking out the Master Classes, intimate workshops led by a handful of festival headliners on Friday and Saturday afternoons at McNally Smith: “If you have an interest in the music, it’s fun to hear the musicians talk about their work and to watch them interact with the students. Even though they’re technically for students, these classes are free and open to anyone.”
She recommends hitting the festival strategically. “There’s a ton of good stuff to hear, but no real rhyme or reason to what’s been booked where. Pick out the musicians you want to see, and make your plans accordingly. The venues aren’t all that far apart, but they’re spread out enough so it’s not really practical to expect to wander from show to show on foot.”
But don’t start hoarding quarters for the parking meter quite yet; there’s a free Metro Transit bus pass available this year, just for festival-goers.