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The Lead Sheet: JazzMN Celebrates Women Composers

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JazzMN Orchestra performed with Bob Mintzer in the Belvedere tent at Crooners in June
Atlantis Quartet

Yes, there are bigger events than jazz gigs across the Metro this weekend, generating more ink, more hype, more COVID concerns… like the the State Fair and Immersive Van Goh. But for jazz fans, it’s hard to top the Atlantis Quartet and JazzMN Orchestra, at the Black Dog and Crooners respectively.  Atlantis, now well into a second decade of collaboration among Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig, headlines at the Black Dog on Steve Kenny’s unstoppable Saturday Night Jazz series; Kenny brings a trio together for the opening set. Over at Crooners, JazzMN caps a two-day salute to music led by women (“As Only Women Can”), with vocalist Connie Evingson with pianist Jon Weber and the long-running duo of Lori Dokken and Judi Vinar on stages Saturday, with vocalist Aja Parham saluting Sarah Vaughan and vocalist Leslie Vincent preceding JazzMN on Sunday.

JC Sanford directs JazzMN and adds his trombone

The JazzMN Orchestra—which includes a somewhat fluid cast of the best jazzers in the metro area– is finally getting into its new era under the leadership of JC Sanford, who took the artistic helm after long-time and founding director Doug Snapp stepped down after the 2019 season. CoVid pre-empted the 2020 season, with JazzMN returning to the stage at Crooners in late June for a dazzling performance with guest Bob Mintzer, part of the “Virtual Jazz Fest” with the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. The August 29th performance in the Belvedere tent at Crooners provides Sanford with an opportunity for “more creative flexibility” than usually possible with their three-concert season, scheduled again for the Chanhassan Dinner Theater.

Notes JC, “I just thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase some really fabulous composers. I originally thought I’d only perform living composers, but decided to include a few other legends (Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston) in addition to some living legends (Toshiko Akiyoshi and Maria Schneider), and some other younger emerging artists. And the problem selecting the program repertoire was not trying to find enough music to play, but deciding what to not play, since there are so many dynamite women composers out there right now, many of whom are already rather prolific. I could do 5 more shows just like this and not repeat a composer.”

Composer Maria Schneider with JazzMN (2017)

The program will also include music by rising stars Asuka Kakitani (BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Prize, 2006), Jihye Lee (BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Prize, 2018), Ayn Inserto (acclaimed Bob Brookmeyer protégé) and Montreal-based saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen.

Look around the metro for more great music this weekend—Kenne Thomas K-Tet at Jazz Central (Saturday); Dave Hagedorn/Kevin Clement/Phil Hey at Imminent Brewing in Northfield (Saturday), Bryan Nichols at the Icehouse (Saturday), and the Rosemount Jazz Festival with Salsa del Soul among others, at Rosemount Central Park (Sunday afternoon and evening).

The Atlantis Quartet performs at the Black Dog, 308 Prince Street in St Paul’s Lowertown, August 28, 9:30 pm; Steve Kenny Trio opens at 8 pm.  JazzMN Orchestra performs at the Belvedere in Crooners Lounge at 6161 Highway 65 in Fridley, August 29, 7:30 pm.

See the Minneapolis Star Tribune article by Pamela Espeland (August 28, Variety) for more about JC Sanford and wife/composer Asuka Kakitani.