Artscape is going to be on break and will return June 25.
Each year in June, Steve Heckler, the founding executive director of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, turns “Jazz is dead” into “If you play it, they will come.” Some 40,000 people prove him right, overflowing Mears Park in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the festival’s center, into nearby streets, clubs, bars, and studios, which Heckler also fills with jazz. His message is clear: If you don’t want to hear jazz during Jazz Fest, you’ll just have to go somewhere else. And, by the way, it’s all free.
Now in its 21st year, Jazz Fest is always a good mix of out-of-towners and area musicians. One of this year’s headliners is both. José James grew up in Minneapolis and sang with his high-school music teacher, Denny Malmberg, at Fireside Pizza on Penn Ave. S. Today he’s an international star with five albums on Blue Note. He’s touring his latest, “Lean on Me,” a loving and personal tribute to Bill Withers. See him Friday at 8:30 in Mears Park.
These are the headliners, night-by-night.
Thursday: Grammy-winning Cuban salsa singer Mayito Rivera (backed by Twin Cities-based Charanga Tropical, led by Doug Little) and Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco.
Friday: Young alto saxophonist and singer Grace Kelly (who made her first recording at 12; she now has a dozen albums to her credit and appears regularly in the house band for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”); she’s followed by José James.
Saturday: Israeli percussionist and pianist Yogev Shetrit and his trio; the James Carter Organ Trio, fronted by Detroit-born saxophonist Carter (his former teacher, Twin Cities-based saxophonist Donald Washington, will likely be in the crowd); and North Carolina-based Nnenna Freelon, a six-time Grammy nominee with a dozen critically acclaimed recordings to her credit.
Along with Mears Park, jazz will be heard on 22 more stages, indoors and out. A few blocks from Mears, the Black Dog will pulse with jazz all weekend long. That’s trumpeter/flumpeter Steve Kenny’s home base, and he’ll fill it with music. Stop by to hear Babatunde Lea’s Rhythm’s Mama, the Zacc Harris Group, the Laura Caviani Quartet, the JT Bates Grain Trio and Rodney Ruckus, among others. A stage on 5th Street next to the park will keep the music going between the headliners with Salsa del Soul, the Jack Brass Band, the Gypsy Mania Hot Club Quartet and more.
The Larry Englund Memorial Youth Stage nearby – named in honor of lifelong music fan and booster Englund, who died earlier this year – will be filled with talented young jazz musicians. Studio Z will feature two Davu Seru-led bands, No Territory and the Motherless Dollar Quartet. TPT’s Street Space will host vocalists including Thomasina Petrus, Jana Nyberg, Bruce Henry (and his Evolution of African American Music), Rio Nido, Maud Hixson’s French 75 and Aurora Nealand. A hit at last year’s Jazz Fest, the New Orleans-based Nealand is also a clarinetist and saxophonist; she’ll appear with Tom McDermott.
Vieux Carré, which recently announced it will close its doors soon after Jazz Fest, will host the post-fest jam every night, with festival stalwart and piano genius Jon Weber at the keys.