Local Current Blog

A guide to Minnesota music at the 20th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival

Jazz musician Kevin Washington plays the drums during a rehearsal with his band, Kevin Washington Quartet +1, before the recording at Minnesota Public Radio in 2014. (Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News)

Jazz fans and musicians alike look forward to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival each summer. Founded in 1998, the free festival takes place every June and brings about 30,000 people to Mears Park in Lowertown every year.

The 20th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival will take place from June 21-23. Headliners for this year’s festival include saxophonists Tia Fuller, Houston Person (with the Emmet Cohen Trio), and Aurora Zealand (with pianist Tom Mcdermott) as well as singers Nayo Jones and Dee Dee Bridgewater. While many people are excited to hear the national headliners every year, with some camping out all day at the main stage to hear them play, there’s also a lot of local jazz music being showcased.

Here are just a few highlights from the more than 90 local artists and groups performing this weekend at the festival. You can find more information about the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, including the full schedule for the weekend, on its website.

Thursday, June 21

Nelson Devereaux Quartet — 7:30 pm at Hygga Lowertown

Minneapolis-based saxophonist Nelson Devereaux has been in high demand in other scenes, touring with Har Mar Superstar and Bon Iver. In the local jazz scene, Nelson Devereaux has also done a lot of work with groups like New Sound Underground, Courageous Endeavors, and the Adam Meckler Orchestra.

Mississippi — 10 p.m. at the Black Dog Cafe

Comprising saxophonist Pete Whitman, bassist Jeff Bailey, pianist Kavyesh Kaviraj, drummer Kevin Washington (drums), and occasionally Peruvian guitarist Andres Prado, Mississippi turn original tunes and standards into vehicles for challenging improvisations, and interplay.

Jazz Fest Jam Session hosted by Jon Webber — 9:30 p.m. at Vieux Carre

Every year pianist Jon Weber hosts a jam session at the end of each night. It’s a place for local musicians to jam together after a day of paying their own gigs. You might even see a headliner or two jump into a few songs too. (Also on Friday at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10:30 p.m.)

Friday, June 22

Jana Nyberg 5 — 6 p.m. at the TPT Jazz Vocal Showcase Stage

Known for her soulful and expressive approach, Jana Nyberg creates a unique blend of jazz and pop in her music. This year she’ll be be performing with her band, Jana Nyberg 5, who released their latest album,  Set On You, this past fall.

How Birds Work — 8:30 p.m. at the Black Dog Cafe

How Birds Work are drummer Kenny Horst, guitarist Dean Granros, pianist Peter Schimke, and bassist Christ Bates. All of the artists in this group are well-established musicians in the local jazz scene. They often played the the Artists’ Quarter (now the Vieux Carre) for many years and continue to play together, exploring the musical possibilities of post-bop.

Graydon Peterson — 9 p.m. at Vieux Carre

For years, Graydon Peterson has appeared with numerous singers and modern jazz groups in the Twin Cities. Recently he has branched out as a leader and composer, releasing two albums with his quartet, that he will be bringing the jazz festival this year.

Solomon Parahm presents Solomon’s Sessions —  9:30 p.m. at Hygga Lowertown

Having played on stage with several well-respected musicians like Delfeayo Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Eric Alexander, Parahm has become a seasoned musician in the Twin Cities jazz scene — and he’s always looking out for the next generation of local jazz musicians. During his Solomon’s sessions, he brings some of his best students on stage to perform with him and then opens it up for jam session afterward. Anyone is welcome to come up and play with the band, but be prepared to keep up. (Also on Saturday at 10 p.m.)

Hoaxer — 10 p.m. at the Black Dog Cafe

Made up of pianist Will Kjeer, saxophonist Peter Goggin, drummer Edmund Catlin, and bassist Charlie Lincoln, Hoaxer features some of the Twin Cities most promising jazz musicians. The band’s debut recording, Crash Test, was released last summer, and the group continues to reach new heights when they’re back together for the summer.

Saturday, June 23

Framework — 5 p.m.at Xcel Energy’s Jazz on 5th Street

For two decades, drummer Jay Epstein, bassist Chris Bates, and guitarist Chris Olson have continued to cover new ground as Framework. With an introspective sound, the band mostly plays original compositions that create a mellow and intimate experience for listeners.

Debbie Duncan — 5:30 p.m. at the TPT Jazz Vocal Showcase Stage

Debbie Duncan has established herself as one of the Twin Cities’ best jazz vocalists, and recently released her latest album, Full Circle, this past spring. On stage she never fails to captivate her audience, keeping things real through her powerful voice and funny commentary between songs.

Mary Louise Knutson — 6 p.m. at Vieux Carre

Pianist Mary Louise Knutson plays with the JazzMN Orchestra and in smaller groups around the Twin Cities. For this year’s Jazz Fest she’ll be doing a rare solo piano performance.

JC Sanford Quartet — 8:30 p.m. at the Black Dog Cafe

Since moving to the Twin Cities in 2016, JC Sanford has worked hard to immerse himself in the local jazz scene. He will be be bringing his quartet to the jazz fest and be joined by some other well-established modern jazz players in the area, guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist Chris Bates, and drummer JT Bates.

Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.