Saturday Night Jazz at kj's hideaway

July EP: Twin Cities Jazz, Epilogue, Prologue

Featured Festivals TCJF Twin Cities
2024 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Mears Park, Saturday Night (Joe Lovano Quartet)

June is typically the biggest jazz month in Minnesota, with the annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, preview events, and the addition of outdoor music as we get into summer. 2024 was no exception, and it was exceptional. An extended “epilogue” follows, with an prologue to remind us that summer jazz does not end with the festival.

Epilogue: A Jazzy June. 

Although the 26th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival was surely the epicenter of June music, it was not the only highlight. But a good place to start!

Twin Cities Jazz Festival at Mears Park and Beyond.  Up front, I only was able to cover music at Mears Park, but this festival spread out not only in Lowertown St Paul but across the metro, into downtown St Paul and Minneapolis, over to Fridley, and the West Bank. (As new Executive Director Dayna Martinez, said “It is the Twin Cities Jazz festival!”) Fortunately there were many indoor, weather-friendly venues for performances and master classes. Although the forecast throughout the weekend was stormy, rain never washed out a main stage performance; there were some periods of raised umbrellas and a downpour between sets that required quick mopping to keep the schedule on track.

Le Percheron in the Dunsmore Room

Even before Dayna Martinez tossed out her first welcome  in St Paul, preview music at several venues provided good omens, if not for the weather, at least for high energy, creative jazz. In the Dunsmore Room at Crooners, Steve Kenny kicked off the evening with his quartet—that night the configuration of Kenny on trumpet, Kavyesh Kaviraj on piano, Ted Olsen on bass, and Abinnet Berhanu on drums could have filled a Mears Park headline slot, with Kenny’s original suite set for an upcoming recording session. Kavy gave us a taste of what was to come later on the main stage, and on his upcoming release (Fables, coming in July). This short set was followed by a too-rare performance by Adam Linz’s Le Percheron, with relative newcomer Bryan Murray on tenor in place of trumpeter Noah Ophoven-Baldwin, along with Linz on bass, Levi Schwartzberg on vibes and Cory Healey on drums. In sum it was an evening of creative improvisers who help define modern jazz locally, and beyond.

Claudia Medina

Friday afternoon at Mears Park got off to a damp start with some light rain. Claudia Medina’s Peruvian Jazz Project  was a celebratory opening act, with saxophonist Claudia Medina leading an ensemble of local heavyweights, including vocalist Katia Cardenas and special guest, percussionist Ivanna Cuesta. It was also a homecoming for Peru native Claudia, who spent about 18 months in the Twin Cities between her studies at Berklee and current homebase in LA. During the previous week, she led a Jazz Women Retreat at Walker West—their culminating performance coming up Saturday. There was no real need for umbrellas the rest of the evening (assuming you weren’t out after 11!).

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson brought a blazing quartet to Mears Park, oddly her first festival performance despite years of gigs at The Dakota, Crooners, and more. With the release of her third Brazilian album (A Kiss for Brazil) earlier this month, it was no surprise that Karrin offered mostly Brazilian fare, closing with crowd favorite “Patout.” Without the festival’s usual grand piano on stage (acoustic replaced with keyboard due to the wet forecast), Karrin nevertheless pulled the music from the keyboard for part of her set, with pianist Vitor Goncalves otherwise on accordion. Marty Jaffe (bass) and Jerome Jennings (drums) skillfully rounded out the band. It was everything we expect from Karrin—playful energy, ear-pleasing music, covers and originals. And a strong supporting cast.

Stefon Harris

Vibe master Stefon Harris and his long-running Blackout ensemble closed out the evening at Mears with a high flying, crowd-pleasing set. Alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw added his energy to the mix, as did the dream rhythm section of Victor Gould (piano), Ben Williams (bass) and Terreon Gulley (drums), along with vocalist Alicia Olatuja.

Saturday at Mears Park started with two phenomenal student ensemble from Walker West and MacPhail,  the both groups performing a few with tunes Joe Lovano.

Kavyesh Kaviraj

Amid some periods of light rain, we next heard a young pianist who has taught at both Walker West and MacPhail while building his rep as one of our local powerhouse performers, as well as a deep-thinking composer. Pianst Kavyesh Kaviraj  enlisted saxophonist Pete Whitman, trumpeter Omar Abdulkarim, bassist Jeff Bailey and drummer Kevin Washington previewed  Kavy’s upcoming release Fables. Sure enough, his composition “Rain” was an omen, the cloud burst that ended the set scattered the audience across the park for the next hour, drying up in time for Salsa del Soul on the  5th Street Stage, followed on the main stage by the Walker West Jazzwomen Collective—an ensemble of young stars-in-the-making including bandleaders/composers Ella Grace and Sophia Kickhofel.

Walker West Jazzwomen’s Collective

A replacement for Regina Carter (who is dealing with a stress injury), pianist/vocalist Kandace Springs ably filled the early evening headliner slot.

Kandace Springs

Not well known locally (although she has appeared at The Dakota), this Nashville-based artist won over the crowd with her soulful vocals, skillful keys, and a backing from two strong jazzwomen—Caylen Bryant on bass and vocals, and Camille Gainer-Jones on drums–a fitting theme throughout this festival. Springs engaged audience participation with Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and appealed to broad tastes with some jazz standards and a soulful “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Flack again), and some showy imitations of the likes of Norah Jones and Nina Simone. For me, the highlight was last-minute guest appearance of Juilliard student Sophia Kickhofel who truly tore that alto sax apart. It was a big fest for Sophia, who led her own band at Dark Horse and appeared with the Walker West Jazzwomen Collective.

Joe Lovano

Closing the main stage was an all-star quartet led by sax legend  Joe Lovano , with such heady company as Kenny Werner (keys), John Lockwood (bass), and Francisco Mela (drums). Lovano has headlined here before, notably with Esperanza Spalding and the Us Five quintet (2010), and a Crooner’s festival preview co-leading Soundprints with Dave Douglas (2022). Werner led his trio here a decade ago (2013), and Mela served the fest for several years as Artistic Director. Mostly original fare, this quartet soared as expected; and despite the electric keyboard, Werner gave us his trademark elegance.

I think there were another 100 sets of music across the metro area.

Ravi Coltrane

More Jazz in June. As always, it’s hard to point to my favorites of the month: Kicking off a full calendar of music at The Dakota, Ravi Coltrane and his quartet (June 3) will likely go down as one of my favorite gigs of the year. Without a bass, he instead brought in trombone master Robin Eubanks, along with a young rhythm team of  Gadi Lehavi on piano/keys and Ele Howell on drums. Although unavoidably compared to his legendary father, Ravi stands well on his own as well as when digging into dad’s repertoire. It was a night of soaring music that touched the jazz stratosphere.

Sophia Kickhofel

Young artists brought talent and hutzpa to local stages, not only at Jazz Fest this past month but also on the pre- and post-festival scene.. I caught alto saxophonist Sophia Kickhofel with her quartet at Jazz Central (June 13). Heading into her senior year at Juilliard, Sophia gathered together an ensemble of 20-something peers with chops to burn—Jackson Wheeler on guitar, Chet Carlson on bass,  along with the “old guy” Miguel Hurtado (30-something) on drums. Making his Dakota (and Twin Cities) debut (June 16), tenor saxophonist Isaiah Collier brought the energy and dexterity of Coltrane to the stage with his quartet, which for this evening included the much-heralded local pianist, Kaveyesh Kaviraj. Kavy provided intervals of relief from Collier’s nonstop storms of notes, which by themselves were unstoppable pillars of sound. Just the next night at The Dakota, pianist Connie Han brought her own brand of spiraling energy  that is at once visually entertaining and totally musical. And at Berlin (June 28), pianist Will Kjeer celebrated completing his Master’s program at Juilliard with a knockout evening of reimagined standards (and one gorgeous original) with a talented cast featuring trumpeter Omar Abdulkarim (with dad Ahmed on “Song for My Father”, veteran bassist Tom Lewis (a last minute sub for an ailing Ted Olsen), and another young lion, Abinnet Berhanu on drums. Will returned to New York  but we will hopefully hear from him now and then on family visits.


Arne Fogel

Birthday celebrations can be entrancing salutes or sleepy trips down memory lane, but Arne Fogel celebrated his 75th by inviting a long list of past collaborators to share the main stage at Crooners (June 23). Thus in addition to hearing favorites from the ageless crooner himself, we also enjoyed Connie Evingson, Maud Hixson, Jennifer Eckes, Jennifer Grimm; Arne’s daughter Rebecca, and even a tap dance from Crooner’s own Erin. And of course there was cake.

Returning to the Dakota after only 3 months, Stanley Jordan (June 29) again brought a clever mix of his trademark classical interpretations (Mozart, Beethoven), pop covers (a fragile “Fragile” on guitar/piano/and voice), jazz standards (making “All the Things You Are” wholly original), and original fare that at times bent Hendrix inside-out.  Jordan generally defies words—you have to be there.  But he is at no loss for words, offering informative commentary as he went along and then, as he did in April, holding a post-performance Q and A that always proves insightful,l if also veering into technical and esoteric reflections on the originals and development of his music.


Prologue: Jazz in July

Iowa City Jazz Festival

June will be a tough act to follow but I am optimistic. Expected highlights include the Iowa City Jazz Festival, a five-hour drive south July 5-7. Like our fest, it’s all free. And it’s a much smaller event, one stage at a time within a three-block area adjacent to the University of Iowa’s famed Pentacrest. Headliners this year include saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and Phoenix; Matt Wilson’s Good Trouble; Ingrid Jensen leading the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra; and Fareed Haque and His Funk Brothers. Significant Twin Cities connections include pianist Javier Santiago, appearing with his Hancock Institute cohort Emiliano Lasanky on the Main Stage, and vibes master Dave Hagedorn, appearing on the Main Stage with the Blake Shaw Bigish Band. In-between the main acts, the Side Stage boasts performances by college and community ensembles. The annual fireworks take place on Friday night.


Jennifer Grimm

I’ll miss it but if you are in town over the holiday weekend, check out Jennifer Grimm’s Judy Garland show at Crooners (July 7). I’ve seen the show in several other venues and it’s well sung, well done with a band of the area’s best backing one of the area’s best voice, and the one perhaps best suited to channel Judy Garland.


Benny Green

I made sure I was to be back in town by the evening of July 8 to hear Benny Green solo at The Dakota. There are few contemporary pianists with Benny’s energy, touch, and pure love for the piano. Another piano night at The Dakota (July 12), mentioned above—pianists/composer Kavyesh Kaviraj performs music from his first release, Fables, an album of original music that tells his story from growing up in Oman, studying briefly in his parents’ native India, and moving to the U.S. to follow his dreams in music (at McNally Smith and Berklee).

Laura Caviani Trio

Yet another small town jazz festival of note—the return of the Northfield Jazz Festival (July 14) under the leadership of JC Sanford. (It’s billed as the inaugural fest, but years ago there was the “first” fest featuring the late Butch Thompson.) Free, the fest  I based in Way Park, and features a number of jazzers based in Northfield, and friends from the Twin Cities area: JC’s Imminent Standards Trio (JC, Anthony Cox, Phil Hey); the quartet Maintime (Chris Olson, guitar; Kevin Clements, bass; Jay Epstein, drums; Dave Hagedorn, vibes; and the Laura Caviani Trio (with Chris Bates and Dave Schmalenberger). There will be an after-fest gathering at Iminent Brewing featuring the Blue Ox Trio led by drummer Jack Schabert.

I’ve been highlighting some of our younger jazz artists, many who appear for the summer on break from studies coast-to-coast. Catch pianist Lasse Corson at Jazz Central (July 19), on break from jazz studies at William Paterson. Lasse recently finished a two-week residency with Betty Carter’s famed Jazz Ahead program, culminating in two nights of performance at Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Minneapolis Strings Project

One of my favorite bands of the past few years, the Minneapolis Strings Project performs at the Icehouse (July 22). With violinist Ernest Bisong, cellist/bassist Greg Byers, and guitarist David Feily (who serves as the Monday Night Jazz Curator for the Icehouse in July), this ensemble takes classical, jazz and pop inflected fare and makes it seem like totally new music.

I am omitting a long list of expectedly terrific jazz gigs this month—do check out websites and social media pages of your favorite musicians and venues as there is so much more happening in July, indoors and out!