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Jazz will be everywhere in St. Paul during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival

ALSO: Kathleen Hall Jamieson at Westminster Town Hall Forum; State Fair food fun; rare book sale at fairgrounds; and more.

This year’s most anticipated artist, the preternaturally gifted 12-year-old Balinese pianist Joey Alexander – is in Mears Park.
Photo by Rebecca Meek

It’s possible that 40,000 people will head to St. Paul this weekend to hear … jazz. You know, the music that’s dead, dying, elitist, hard to understand, too serious, too intimidating, boring and no fun. They’ll set up chairs in Mears Park or spread blankets on the lawn at Union Depot, wander into the Amsterdam or the Hat Trick or Heartland Restaurant or the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel, relax and enjoy the free live music. Kids will dance in front of the stages and dogs will wag their tails.

The 18th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival happens Thursday through Saturday, and if you don’t want to hear any jazz during that time, not a single note, you might want to stay out of St. Paul. Because jazz will be everywhere.  

The main stage, with most of the headliners – trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis; pianist and Marsalis family patriarch Ellis Marsalis; guitarist, radio host and raconteur John Pizzarelli; exquisite guitarist Russell Malone; and this year’s most anticipated artist, the preternaturally gifted 12-year-old Balinese pianist Joey Alexander – is in Mears Park. Four more outdoor stages – on 6th St., at Union Depot, in Kellogg Park and Rice Park – will have their own line-ups.

Thirteen downtown indoor St. Paul stages from the Amsterdam to Vieux Carré, the Black Dog and the Bulldog will host jazz. If you wander into Episcopal Homes on University Ave. or Langford and Karls Chiropractic on Cleveland, Mancini’s Char House or Como Lakeside Pavilion, chances are you’ll hear jazz.

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It’s all part of festival executive director Steve Heckler’s evil plan to take over the world with jazz. “You’re not going to be able to escape it,” he said yesterday by phone. “We have banners up and down the streets, flags in the parks, signs everywhere. If you don’t like jazz, there are quiet suburbs you can go to. Or the country.”

Or you can give jazz a try. Jazz comes in a lot of flavors. Much of it is very audience-friendly. Jazz is loved, studied and played by smart, talented, hard-working people who actually want you to have a good time. And it doesn’t all sound the same. “One thing I like to do every year is think outside the box in the booking,” Heckler said. “I have ideas of what I like, and what other people like, but we embrace different ways of interpreting jazz.”

This year’s most outside-the-box headliner is probably Michael Franti & Spearhead. Franti is a singer-songwriter, rapper, poet, and spoken-word artist whose music is shaped by many things including jazz. “When I listen to Franti, I hear a lot of jazz,” Heckler said. “When bebop came out, people said ‘That’s not jazz!’ When Miles Davis played fusion, they said, ‘How can you call that jazz?’ Jazz is a big umbrella, a big picture. It’s about reaching out and allowing different types of interpretations to happen. What I’m hoping is people will hear someone like Franti and think – who influenced him? Let’s check them out.”

The music in Mears Park begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. Because of St. Paul city roolz, all of the outdoor stages must close by 10 p.m. But the party continues indoors at places like the Black Dog, Bedlam and Vieux Carré.

The Jazz Fest Jam Session at Vieux Carré, hosted by the charming, entertaining brainiac pianist (and longtime festival friend) Jon Weber, is where you’ll want to end the night, if you can squeeze into the former Artists’ Quarter space in the basement of the Hamm Building. Festival headliners will likely turn up there.

Over 300 Minnesota musicians and 100 young musicians will play more than 100 sets in spaces large and small, indoors and out, upstairs and down all over town. “This is truly a civic event, bringing people together,” Heckler said. Some local artists will play multiple sets; between Friday and Saturday, fans of trumpeter Adam Meckler will have six chances to see him. If you see a guy running toward you with a trumpet, step aside. It’s Meckler en route to another Jazz Fest gig.

Random notes: Ellis Marsalis isn’t scheduled to play until Friday, but he’ll be here Thursday when his son Delfeayo takes the Mears Park stage. Will he show up and sit in? Who knows? And: Joey Alexander will sign autographs for about 20 minutes after his performance Thursday. The pint-sized pianist will have extra security, since people are mobbing him like a Beatle. And: Sadly, no CHS Stadium concert this year. (Last year, Dr. John drew happy crowds.) The Saints play home games on Friday and Saturday nights. This is the moment when we say: Unless you must drive to Jazz Fest, don’t. Download a free Metro Transit pass here.

While Jazz Fest websites in previous years have made us gnash our teeth and wail, this year’s is easy to use and genuinely helpful. Here’s the schedule. You can download a schedule by venue and/or a schedule by time, and a map of all the stages. There’s lots of helpful info on the venues and the artists. And it works on your smartphone. Old school? Pick up a printed Jazz Fest program at the outdoor stages or area clubs.

Fair food!

Why do Minnesotans get so pumped when the State Fair announces the year’s new foods? It’s not as if they’re actually good for us. And yet – bring on the cheese. Bring on the sticks. Bring on the cheese on sticks!

This year’s variation: Paneer on a Spear. Paneer is Indian cheese. Hot Indian will serve it deep-fried and coated with a local craft beer batter, on sticks, with a side of tomato garlic chutney. Let’s give this Best New Food Name because it’s sure to inspire future delicacies like Lettuce on a Lance, Pickle on a Pike and Fig on a Twig.

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Second Best New Food Name: Sheep Dog. Heh. A lamb dog in a bun with garlic sautéed kale, raw fermented sauerkraut, quinoa and honey mustard. At the Lamb Shoppe, baa. Not saying we’d eat one, just that we like the name.

Worst New Food Name: Burnt Butt Ends. Pork seasoned with a BBQ rub, smoked over oak, served with onions and jalapenos by RC’s BBQ. It will doubtless be tasty, but can you imagine saying, “Hey, Mom! Want to try a Burnt Butt End”?

Trending, for good or ill: candied bacon and SPAM. Minnesota Wine Country will have Candied Bacon Donut Sliders: sliced glazed donut holes with thick candied bacon and a chocolate red wine ganache. At the Blue Barn, you’ll find a Candied Bacon BLT, with rancher’s slaw and green tomato spread on a sweet egg bun. Way to overcomplicate a basic food group. And yet, sounds delish.

SPAM will show up in sushi – with rice fried egg and wasabi, rolled in nori – at Sushi Rolls. And cheese-flavored SPAM will be offered curd-style at (where else) SPAM, cubed, battered and deep-fried, with a side of ranch dressing and a nitroglycerin pill (kidding).

We’re corn-dog traditionalists – give us the deep-fried, corn-coated frank on a stick, with a squiggly line of bright yellow mustard – but we’re intrigued by the Minnesota Corn Dog invented by Gass Station Grill. Custom ground sausage made with blueberries, apples, wild rice, maple syrup and cayenne, dipped in a homemade corndog batter and deep-fried. We can’t figure out if there’s meat in it or not. Guess we’ll have to try one.

Thumbs up for the Rabbit Hole’s Carpe Diem, a fish-shaped (thankfully not fish-flavored) buttermilk miso waffle cone filled with balsamic-roasted strawberry compote and topped with vanilla ice cream, graham cracker crumble and a strawberry. For the Blue Moon’s Cheesy French Onion Monkey Bread, a pull-apart loaf filled with caramelized onions, cheese and beef broth. For the return of the La La Palooza Sundae, the reason we all went to Bridgeman’s back in the day: eight scoops of ice cream, three toppings, nuts, cherries, banana and whipped cream. You don’t have to share. You can eat the whole thing yourself, then head for the Mighty Midway and ride the Equinox.

Thumbs down for Texas Steak Out’s Deep Fried Nachos Supreme. Basically cheese cubes coated with cheese, deep-friend and covered with more cheese. Also crushed chips, taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream. More cheese, please? For Café Caribe’s Cajun Peel-N-Eat Shrimp: Only because we don’t like peeling shrimp. For Minnesnowii Shave Ice’s Maple Bacon Shave Ice topped with bacon bits and maple syrup, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Because that’s too sweet, even for the Fair.

Here’s the whole list. And here’s a link to those Zubaz pants you’re going to need.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, June 22) at a movie bigaplex near you: “Tosca.” A Met: Live in HD Summer Encore. Originally broadcast live on Nov. 9, 2013, with Patricia Racette as Tosca, Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi and George Gagnidze as Scarpia. 7 p.m. FMI and theater finder (click “Buy Tickets,” then enter your ZIP.) Ticket prices vary.

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Thursday at Westminster Town Hall Forum: Kathleen Hall Jamieson: “Campaign-Speak: What the Candidates Are Really Saying.” Jamieson, a Minneapolis native, is an author and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which is committed to examining the accuracy of U.S. political campaign advertisements, a tough job if there ever was one. At Westminster Presbyterian Church. 7 p.m. Free.

Friday and Saturday at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds: 26th Annual Twin Cities Antiquarian and Rare Book Fair. Over 50 dealers from across the country plus interesting events: a visual lecture on chapbooks by Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer, a multimedia talk by Erin Hart on the inspiration for her latest novel (hint: it was an old book), free letterpress bookmarks printed on the spot by members of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ Artists’ Co-op, and free expert appraisals (limit four books). In the Progress Center. Friday 3-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. FMI. Free.

Monday at The Museum of Russian Art: “The Seagull.” A reading in the gallery of Chekhov’s first masterpiece. The stellar cast includes Barbra Berlovitz, Nathan Christopher, Terry Hempleman and Jim Lichtscheidl. Doors at 6:30 p.m., program at 7. FMI and tickets ($20/$18 members).