Summer Jazz festivals blend new and old school talents and genres


The summer festival season is upon us. Would you believe there is a complete listing for over 175 festivals?

Yes, folks, it’s the truth. Just take a look at the 2012 May issue of DownBeat magazine. Both fans and musicians are gearing up for globetrotting around the festival circuit.

If you plan on staying close to home there’s always the Hot Summer Jazz Festival, aka the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, to check out.

Saxophonist Joshua Redman is scheduled to be a featured guest with the Bad Plus at this year’s festival June 28-30 located in Mears Park downtown St. Paul. Francisco Mela and the Delfeayo Marsalis Octet, among others are also included in the lineup. This year’s free festival is expected to be the biggest ever. For more information, visit hotsummer


A special shout out to artist Chris Harrison, MSR’s own, for designing the artwork for yet another Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Keep up the fabulous work.

If you plan on a road trip to, say, Chicago, Ravinia’s Festival in Highland Park is the ticket. This year’s festival is scheduled June 9 — September 9. Fans will be treated to Ramsey Lewis’ debut of “Colors: The Ecology of Oneness.” The artist lineup also includes Esperanza Spalding, Diana Krall, Santana, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dr. John, and more.

But you may want to get to Chi-Town a day early for the Chicago Blues Festival June 8-10. Mavis Staples will headline this year’s festival. And who wouldn’t want to see artists Koko Taylor and Muddy Waters perform? For more information, visit, and

The DC Jazz Festival looks promising, too. From June 1-10, fans can expect to see Stefon Harris, Monty Alexander, Paquito D’ Rivera, Cyrus Chestnut, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves and many more artists. For more information, visit

A cool thing about summer festivals is that fans, if they are lucky, will get to see artists playing with other artists they might not otherwise have the chance to gig with during the year, or haven’t gigged with in years. And the distinctions between jazz, pop, soul and rock get blurred.

For those of you wanting to get back to Newport, get ready. This year’s festival takes place August 3-5. Jason Moran & the Bandwagon and Ambrose Akinmusire are not to be missed. For more information, visit

Speaking as someone who has attended almost every festival mentioned above, these are festivals worth checking out, not just because most are free and outdoors, but for the chance to show artists your love and support, especially if you don’t get around to see the artists at the clubs or concert halls.

I’m excited about this year’s summer festival season. I’m also excited about a number of albums out or coming out by artists that I admire such as alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and singer Melody Garbot. Kenny’s CD is Mack Avenue’s Seeds from the Underground just released in April. Melody’s new offering is The Absence out on Verve later this month. Kenny and I met in Barbados. I’ve followed his work and seen him perform live in various clubs in New York City. He is currently on the cover of the 2012 June issue of DownBeat magazine.

Melody is somewhat new to me. I dig her sound. And I welcome the chance to see her perform live. When that happens, I will let you know.

World Village has released Ahmad Jamal’s latest, Blue Moon. Ahmad’s music makes me happy.

When it comes to festivals, what sells tickets? It’s a mystery. But festival goers don’t care. They just wanna have fun. We all like to have fun.

Have fun and be safe at this year’s summer festivals!


Robin James welcomes reader responses to