2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival — maximum star wattage for free

Most loyal music lovers would pay good money to enjoy high-quality music made by top-flight artists from the jazz world.

Now, for a limited time, they can have that experience for free. All that’s required is spending a little time in the Twin Cities area for the next three days as it evolves into the center of the jazz universe. Sound like a win-win?

The 2015 17th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival (free and open to the public) — one of the Midwest’s largest gatherings of jazz artists and jazz supporters in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area — takes place Thursday-Saturday, June 25-27 in and around Mears Park in Saint Paul’s historic Lowertown neighborhood.

Taking a nod from the Crescent City’s undeniable ability to party and have a good time, this year’s TC Jazz Fest hopes to channel that spirited one-of-a-kind Big Easy festival experience and capitalize on that exuberant theme.

An estimated 30,000 people of all ages and walks of life will have the chance to experience a wide and colorful spectrum of world-class jazz on four outdoor stages, and more than 20 indoor venues throughout the downtown Saint Paul area and beyond.

The newly named Artistic Director/Drummer/Composer Francisco Mela and Jazz Festival Executive Director Steve Heckler have assembled a line-up of festival worthy international acts, and an eclectic mix of local and regional artists.

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton

This year’s festival headliners include 74-year-old, multi-Grammy-winning/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, New Orleans piano and singer-songwriting icon Dr. John and the Nite Trippers; a newly assembled super-quartet featuring Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland; a new ensemble from Mela with special guest, Grammy-winning New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton; the return of the Araya-Orta Quartet with well-known steel pan artist Othello Molineaux; and 2014 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition winner and Chicago native Marquis Hill and his Blacktet.

The first-time collaboration between Mela and Payton is just one of the highly anticipated performances by both local musicians and hard-core jazz lovers. Mela, a member of saxophonist Melissa Aldana’s Crash Trio, performed in front of an adoring crowd at last year’s TC Jazz Fest. (For more info, check out Mela’s interview about the TC Jazz Fest with City Pages).

Payton is a featured guest on Dr. John’s new Concord album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, a refreshingly vibrant tribute to the legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong. (Here’s a video clip of Dr. John’s “What a Wonderful World” featuring Nicholas Payton).

Debbie Duncan
Debbie Duncan

In addition, pianist Jon Weber returns to the fest, along with and the London-based Cloudmakers Trio, and local artists includes the JazzMN Orchestra, Atlantis Quartet, Laura Caviani, the Illicit Sextet, Pippi Ardennia, Patty Peterson, Debbie Duncan, Charmin Michelle, Lucia Newell, Yolande Bruce, Kevin Washington, Wenso Ashby, Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson among others.

The festival begins on Thursday night (June 25) with the annual Jazz Night Out, a night full of music throughout Lowertown and beyond, from Pippi Ardennia on the Mears Park Stage to clubs, bars, restaurants and other venues offering live music near West 7th Street and the Green Line.

The TC Jazz Fest kicks it up a notch on Saturday by presenting the first concert at the new St. Paul Saints’ CHS Field stadium. The locally based Jack Brass Band will open at 2:15 pm for Dr. John and the Nite Trippers (3:30 pm), providing a first-ever afternoon experience full of New Orleans funk and R&B played in a spectacular ballpark setting, thus making it an must-attend event.

Considering the origins of word jazz with its connection to baseball, it also makes a lot of sense. When was the last time a jazz concert was presented at a ballpark? And what could be more American than baseball, apple pie and jazz? Think Ken Burns and his special PBS series Jazz, and Baseball.

Dr. John’s set requires tickets (free) reserved online, with the opportunity to purchase priority seating in the reserved VIP area.

Festival-goers will also have access to a number of food options in and around Mears Park, and Metro Transit will provide free bus and light rail rides with a pass. Also, KBEM Jazz 88 will broadcast from the festival June 25-27.

A free shuttle will run from 8 pm to midnight Thursday through Saturday between these venues: Bedlam Lowertown, Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, the Bulldog, Golden Deli, Hat Trick Lounge, Heartland Restaurant, SW Craft Bar, Amsterdam Bar and Hall, Camp Bar, the Saint Paul Hotel and Vieux Carre.

Support for the 2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival is provided by the Knight Foundation through its Knight Arts Challenge, Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Access grant, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and City of Saint Paul Cultural Star.

For complete festival information, visit hotsummerjazz.com.


Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com. You can also find James on Twitter at @Robin_James1.