Where but Minnesota can you bookend your week with jazz under the sun? Deep breath, city dwellers: We’re going to the ‘burbs.
This Sunday (Aug. 10) is the Bloomington Jazz Festival 2008. Sponsored by the city’s parks and recreation department for more than 20 years, the festival was once held on a Showmobile. Today it has a permanent home at the Normandale Lake Bandshell, a venue Norman Rockwell could have painted: a hill of green grass, families in lawn chairs, kids running around.
Recreation supervisor Mark Morrison has programmed the festival for five years. “Every year we’re trying to increase the quality of our performers, to create a destination for people in Bloomington and the metro area,” he says.
This year’s festival opens with the Dixieland sounds of the Jumpin’ Jehosaphats. Next up, the Jack Brass Band, a horn-powered hybrid of blues, funk, pop, rock, reggae, soul, and New Orleans jazz. This will be their third year at the bandshell. Sample their sound here.
The Bend in the River Big Band was formed in 1987 by graduates of Gustavus Adolphus College. Five saxophones, five trumpets, four trombones, a rhythm section and a singer make a joyful noise. For a preview, visit trumpeter John Egnell’s MySpace page and click on “Nonola” in the song list at the right.
“We’re trying to keep [the festival] well-rounded,” Morrison says. “People are interested in different types of jazz.” The day ends with a set by crowd-pleasing vocalist Connie Evingson and her band: Bryan Nichols on piano, Dave Karr on sax, Terry Burns on bass, Jay Epstein on drums.
Epstein will finish a gig at the La Crosse Jazz Festival at 3 p.m. that day, then drive well within the speed limit to reach Bloomington by 6 p.m. He’s always fun to talk with and we had a few questions for him.
MinnPost: Last week we saw you at a Dakota late-night show with Red Planet. How is it different to play jazz in the light of day?
Jay Epstein: If you close your eyes it’s all the same. I have no consideration concerning what time of the day or night music exists. Ninety-nine percent of my concentration is on what the other musicians are playing in that instant. The other 1 percent is on how I can fix the plumbing in my basement.
MP: Is it true you were voted Best Dressed at Winona Senior High?
JE: It’s true. Being best dressed at Winona Senior High was easy to do. Especially for a kid who was making more money than any other kid in school. I started playing professionally when I was 14.
MP: Any idea what you’ll play with Connie?
JE: I can never tell. I would guess there will be a few Dave Frishberg tunes because of her new CD [“Little Did I Dream”]. Maybe she’ll hand me the charts right on stage. But I’ve played most of her material before. … Connie will have a very swinging band. She’ll be her usual swinging self.
MP: Do you really think you’ll make it from La Crosse to Bloomington in time?
JE: Just barely.
Bloomington Jazz Festival 2008: Sunday, Aug. 10, 2 p.m.-7:15 p.m., Normandale Lake Bandshell, 84th St. and Chalet Rd. Free. Food vendors on site. Bring blankets or lawn chairs. Park free in the Normandale Office tower ramps along 84th St. View the schedule here.
Burnsville: A festival born in a park
Fast-forward to Saturday, Aug. 16, for the fifth-annual Burnsville Art and All That Jazz Festival. Burnsville businessman, booster and City Council Member Dan Gustafson remembers how it began.
“We were dedicating a new park [Nicollet Commons] and I was standing there thinking, ‘This would be a cool place for a jazz festival.’ We made it happen in 10 weeks, and the first festival drew 1800 people.” By 2006 that number had grown to 15,000. The 2007 fest was “monsooned out.”
Nicollet Commons Park, a 1.5-acre showpiece complete with amphitheater and kid-friendly water features, is part of Burnsville’s Heart of the City — a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly downtown area. Along with live music, the festival features a non-juried art fair (about 70 artists) and 15 food vendors. “Everything from tacos and watermelon to sesame chicken and corn roast,” Gustafson says.
The music starts at noon with the hard-bopping Phil Hey Quartet, Twin Cities favorites and Artists’ Quarter regulars. Minnesota Music Award winners Steve Clarke and the Working Stiffs follow with their signature blend of swinging jump blues and jazz. Then Davina and the Vagabonds take over, mixing blues, roots music and jazz in a sound their fans enjoy at the Dakota, the Times and Tryg’s.
The day ends with the festival’s two national acts. Lao Tizer is a contemporary jazz keyboardist and recording artist. Trumpeter Greg Adams is a founding member of the legendary horn-driven funk group Tower of Power.
I don’t know Tizer and haven’t heard Adams solo, so I visit their websites to learn more. As the music on each site plays, my smooth jazz antennae pop up and start wiggling. I might as well confess that I’m not a fan of this particular genre.
Gustafson attempts to bring me around. “Our jazz in the evening with Lao and Greg is more mainstream,” he says. “It’s not the smooth jazz you hear on the radio. A lot of these cats, when they come to festivals, they kind of take off a bit. You’re not listening to elevator music.” It’s true that I’ve heard David Sanborn live and on recordings, and it’s not the same guy.
The Burnsville festival has a purpose beyond entertainment: education. If it ever makes money, which it hasn’t to date (last year looked good until the rain fell), proceeds will go to music scholarships for teens. Meanwhile, headliner Adams will give a free clinic at the Garage Youth Center on Friday from 3-5 p.m. Interested parties, preregister online.
Burnsville 2008 Art and All That Jazz Festival: Saturday, Aug. 16, 12 p.m.-10 p.m., Nicollet Commons Park, Nicollet Ave. and 126th St. $5 (under 18 free). Food vendors on site. Bring blankets or lawn chairs. Parking available at the Heart of the City Park and Ride Ramp off Pillsbury Ave. View the schedule here.
Please note: The Freedom Jazz Festival scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 9 at Minnehaha Falls Park in Minneapolis has been canceled. The festival, a longstanding Twin Cities tradition, promises to return in 2009. We’re crossing our fingers.
Rachel Z: Little Rachel Nicolazzo was supposed to become an opera singer, like her mom. Then she heard Miles Davis. She has played with Steps Ahead, collaborated with Wayne Shorter, and toured with Peter Gabriel. The pianist/composer/singer performed here last April with her Dept. of Good and Evil project and returns with new surprises. I hope she’ll play her jazz version of the Flower Duet from the opera “Lakmé.” The Dakota, Friday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 9, 8 p.m. ($10).
Jim Marentic Quartet: Saxophonist Marentic has won three composition grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. He’ll share his chops and tunes with pianist Mikkel Romstead, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Kenny Horst. The Artists’ Quarter, Friday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 9, 9 p.m. ($15).
Lou Donaldson Quartet: Donaldson’s foursome isn’t the more customary rhythm-section-plus-horn configuration. Instead, he blends his alto sax with drums, guitar and Hammond B-3. Now in his 80s, he has performed and recorded with other jazz legends including Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. Following three nights at the relocated Jazz Showcase in Chicago, he’ll spend two here. The Dakota, Monday, Aug. 11-Tuesday, Aug. 12, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ($25/$20).
Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.