Led by contrasting headliners Joey Alexander and Ellis Marsalis, the 2016 Twin Cities Jazz Fest remains a multi-day extravaganza deep in talent and stylistic versatility (read about those two here). What follows is one person’s pick of the remaining bounty of performances. But don’t be afraid to set your own schedule, by whatever method you choose. During the TCJF, curiosity is rewarded and serendipity is in the air.
Before Alexander’s highly anticipated set on Thursday, show up early for trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, the most underrated member of the Marsalis clan. He’s confident and capable enough to re-orchestrate Duke Ellington, cover well-known standards with genteel aplomb, or dig into bop and hard bop like his biggest trombone influence, J.J. Johnson. He’ll play in a quartet with pianist Jon Weber, drummer Francisco Mela and bassist Graydon Peterson. (6 p.m. Fri., AARP Main Stage at Mears Park)
After the 8 p.m. Alexander show, if you’re ready to start the weekend early, head over to Vieux Carre, site of the old Artists Quarter, where Weber continues the scintillating tradition of the late night jam session in the stylish nook downstairs, beginning at 10 p.m. each night of TCJF. Designed to encourage founts of improvisation, these jams are where jazz earns its sobriquet as “the sound of surprise.”
On Friday, come early for the all-female band backing vocalist Patty Peterson, an ensemble that transcends gender gimmicks or the ghetto of its weekday 4 p.m. time slot on the AARP Stage at Mears Park. Otherwise, the venerable elegance of Ellis Marsalis is surrounded by a boatload of raucous, party-time grooves. Up at the Securian Stage along Kellogg Park, the band Hornucopia will deliver a tribute to Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire at 6 p.m., followed by the Stax-meets-Motown funk-and-soul of Sonny Knight and the Lakers at 8 p.m. You can slide over to the Amsterdam Bar & Hall for the well-named McNasty Brass Band at 9:30, then finish off with the “Smooth and Groove Jam Session” that Solomon Parham will be holding nightly beginning at 10:30 p.m. throughout the fest.
Or, if your partying careens toward the “hot club” swing style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, there’s the Gypsy Mania Hot Club Quartet at Heartland Restaurant at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. sandwiched around a 7:15 p.m. set by the Clearwater Hot Club on the HealthPartners Sixth Street Stage in Mears Park.
Saturday is the busiest and best day of TCJF. Two different kinds of jazz guitar excellence take over the AARP Stage at Mears Park: The soulful, liquid panache of Russell Malone in a quartet featuring Willie Jones III on drums at 6:30 p.m., followed by smart interpretations of baby-boomer standards and the older Great American Songbook by John Pizzarelli and his quartet at 8:30 p.m.
Kellogg Park is again the hub of grooves as the charismatic hip-hopper and spoken-word artist Michael Franti appears with his band Spearhead at 7:30 p.m., preceded at 5 p.m. by Black Market Brass. The Custom House Stage at Union Depot is offering eight hours of youth and student ensembles beginning at 11 a.m., followed by the nifty little big-band, the Pete Whitman Xtet, this time with vocalist Lucia Newell, at 7 p.m. A large batch of kindred spirits who have transformed Jazz Central into a reliably high-caliber jazz haven the past few years are joining forces for a pair of performances beginning at 10 p.m. at Bedlam Lowertown.
Organ jazz gets two disparate treatments in the form of JT Bates’ Grain Trio (7 p.m.) and the BZ3 Organ Trio (8:30) featuring Brian Ziemniak at Amsterdam Bar & Hall. The casual gymnastics of sublime stride piano will be on display with Butch Thompson and Jon Weber at 8:15, but not before the omnipresent Weber digs in with Cuban-infused drummer Francisco Mela “and friends” on the HealthPartners Sixth Avenue Stage at Mears Park at 7:15 p.m.
And much more.
Twin Cities Jazz Festival
Where: Various indoor and outdoor venues throughout St. Paul. Free.