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Highlights of Twin Cities Jazz: Fifteen + in 2015

Twin Cities
2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival
2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, © Andrea Canter

Looking back on 2015, it was truly a good year for the Twin Cities jazz scene, from the overflowing crowd that paid tribute to the late Leigh Kamman back in January to the record-setting Twin Cities Jazz Festival in late June to new venues and new series of jazz and improvised music throughout the Metro. It’s risky to create a “top 10” list because there’s always #11+ so I’ll just note some (15) of the many highlights that prove jazz is alive and well in the Twin Cities*:

  • The Memorial for Leigh Kamman (January 25) at the Saint Paul Hotel packed the Ballroom for a non-stop run of sets from a Who’s Who of Twin Cities jazz artists
  • With its first Artistic Director, Francisco Mela, and hosting the first music event in the new CHS Field, the 2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival drew more people to hear more live music at more venues than ever before. Headliners Dr. John, Mela, and the Holland/Potter/ Loueke/ Harland Quartet topped the listing of over 70 bands from seasoned pros to the stars of tomorrow on the Youth Stage. And proving that it is OK to have more than one festival per year, the Twin Cities Jazz Fest brings back the Winter Festival on January 31, 2016.
  • Curated by Zacc Harris, Jazz at Studio Z completed its third season and received funding to launch a fourth in November, and held its third annual Winter Jazz Fest at Studio Z in February; the fourth fest is scheduled for February 13, 2016.
  • Firebell at the Black Dog
    Firebell at the Black Dog, © Andrea Canter

    Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog continued through the year, while curator Steve Kenny launched the Minneapolis companion series, Friday Night Jazz at The Nicollet in March, guaranteeing there will always be some great modern jazz every weekend on both sides of the Metro. Kenny also received a second grant to direct the summer All Originals series, held on ten Thursday nights at Studio Z, promoting original compositions and arrangements.

  • JT’s Jazz Implosion, which curator JT Bates carried over from the old Clown Lounge in St. Paul, continued at the Icehouse in Minneapolis on Monday nights, featuring not only the best and the brightest of local modern jazz practitioners but also some very cool visiting artists, like Tim Berne’s Snake Oil in May and Jen Shyu’s one-woman “opera” project in November.
  • Jazz in the Target Atrium completed its first full season at Orchestra Hall, and curator Jeremy Walker launched a second season in October, bringing in Wessell ‘Warmdaddy’ Anderson and Ron Miles for the fall concerts.
  • Walker West Music Academy received funding from the Knight Foundation to support the new Eight O’Clock Jump series, featuring the Ron Carter Trio, Nicole Mitchell, Eric Gravatt, Yolande Bruce and Anthony Walker in fall 2015 and continuing with 4-5 concerts in winter/spring 2016.
  • Mac Santiago and friends kept the faith at Jazz Central Studios, steering the nonprofit performance and studio space through another year of live jazz, at least five nights per week, and offering (mostly) local musicians a space to try out new music and new configurations, from small ensembles to big bands to vocalists, and especially providing a venue for our youngest jazzers to jam and soar. And perhaps even more important, these young musicians pull in the jazz audience of tomorrow, young people (musically oriented or not) who are getting a first-hand dose of modern jazz.
  • Vieux Carré opened for real in July after a series of pop-up events, turning the old Artists Quarter space into a classy bar, eatery and venue for a wide range of music, including gigs with top Twin Cities jazz artists.
  • Crooners Lounge brought live jazz (and more) to Fridley, and in December launched the Dunsmore Room with back-to-back sell-outs, perhaps the most inviting new listening space of the past few years. Or decade. Kudos to Dunsmore curator Andrew Walesch for already assembling an outstanding line-up for the first month of 2016.
  • Top international touring artists hit Twin Cities stages throughout the year, including Dianne Reeves, Charles Lloyd, Bill Frisell, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Kurt Elling, Ron Carter, Jose James, Jane Monheit, Cassandra Wilson, Jack DeJohnette, Chris Potter, Tierney Sutton, Anat Cohen, Danilo Perez, Tim Berne, Cyrus Chestnut, Terence Blanchard, Benny Green, Regina Carter, Pat Martino, Ramsey Lewis, Karrin Allyson, Rene Marie, Bill Carrothers….. and more
  • In June, Doug Little’s Charanga Tropical became the first American band to perform at the International Danzon Festival in Havana
  • Irv Williams turned 96, released another CD, and still plays happy hour at the Dakota almost every Friday night
  • The 2016 Grammy Nominations include jazz artists currently or formerly connected to the Twin Cities: Composer and bandleader Maria Schneider has a hand in three nominations; former resident and vocalist Karrin Allyson is nominated for top vocal album; South High alum José James, strangely overlooked by the Grammy process, released one of a small handful of albums designated “five-star” stunners by Downbeat Magazine (Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday).
  • KBEM Jazz 88 radio celebrated 45 years of broadcasting, which currently includes live coverage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Christian McBride’s Jazz Night in America, delayed broadcasts of Jazz in the Target Atrium, and perpetual rebroadcasts of Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, as well as local favorites and multiple opportunities for students to gain broadcast experience in a jazz context.

New Recordings in 2015
A lot of new music was released in late 2014, but 2015 was a fertile year as well, with new releases from Irv Williams, Reynold Philipsek, JT Bates, Linda Peterson, Andrew Walesch, King Fletcher Woods, Dean Sorenson, Steven Hobert, Graydon Peterson, Dean Granros, and Chris Thomson, and former residents John Raymond, Karrin Allyson, Maria Schneider, Peg Carrothers, Nancy Harms, Jose James, and The Bad Plus. (And sorry to any I have omitted here.)

Dave Karr Quartet, the Dunsmore Room
Dave Karr Quartet, the Dunsmore Room, © Andrea Canter

Coming in 2016!
There’s every reason to expect 2016 will be another strong year on the local jazz scene, as we already can anticipate:

  • Winter Jazz Fest on January 31 (Saint Paul Hotel)
  • Studio Z Winter Jazz Fest on February 27 (Studio Z)
  • Live music 2-3 nights per week in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge, including a March 23 engagement with Geoffrey Keezer and Nancy Harms CD release on April 25
  • Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog every weekend, with Dean Sorenson Sextet, Solomon Parham, Eric Gravatt’s Source Code in February
  • Friday Night Jazz at Reverie, the space formerly known as The Nicollet, rebranded but continuing great jazz every week, with Steven Hobert, Paul Harper, Davu Seru and more this winter
  • JT’s Jazz Implosion every Monday, including a February 22 evening with the Chez Smith Trio featuring Golden Valley native Craig Taborn on keys
  • Jazz Central Studios continuing five nights per week, with Irv Williams, Peter Schimke, Dave Karr, Explosion Big Band and Larry McDonough coming in February
  •  Jazz at the Dakota: Charles Lloyd Trio and Bill Frisell (February 2); John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quintet (February 8-9); Mack Ave Super Band (February 11); Bill Frisell’s Wish Upon a Star (February 20); Brian Blade Fellowship (March 2-3); SFJazz Collective (April 3-4); Lizz Wright (April 19)
  • Live music five nights per week at Vieux Carre’, including Mardi Gras with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • Rez Abassi with Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa at the McGuire Theater of Walker Art Center (February25); Steve Lehman Octet on May 7
  • Chick Corea and Bela Fleck at the Guthrie, sponsored by the Dakota (April 18)
  • Two more concerts on the Jazz in the Target Atrium season (February 25, April 28)
  • Four winter/spring concerts on the Eight O’Clock Jump series at Walker West, including Debbie Duncan (February 16) and David Binney (June 17)
  • Twin Cities Jazz Festival, June 23-25
  • Expansion of the music space, kitchen, etc. at the Black Dog

*This article is an expanded version of “Jazzeteria,” posted earlier by Andrea Canter on the Twin Cities Jazz Festival Facebook Page, and is reposted from Andrea’s blog (