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 Friday, 27 November 2015
Festival Diary- From Cool to Boiling: The 2004 Hot Summer Jazz Festival PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Wednesday, 30 June 2004
Article Index
Festival Diary- From Cool to Boiling: The 2004 Hot Summer Jazz Festival
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Photos courtesy of Andrea Canter
Mulligan Stew

    Festival Diary

From downtown St. Paul to the suburban stages of Hopkins and Plymouth, from Minneapolis' Uptown to multiple bandstands in the heart of downtown, the annual Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival reached the boiling point in June 2004! Fast becoming one of the most sizzling, mostly outdoor, mostly free festivals in the country, this year's multi-venue event proved you don't need hot summer nights to cook on the pavement. Ira SUllivanIn fact the unseasonably cool breezy weather only made the music more enjoyable—instead of swatting mosquitoes and gasping for shade, local and visiting fans were able to concentrate on the sizzling vibes, from Trad to Rad, from Dixieland big band to pyrotechnic trio, from veteran icons to adolescent upstarts. In short, the Hot Summer Jazz Festival presented the history, and the future, of jazz in its coat of many colors.

Really, I tried, but I couldn't do it all! Ten days of music in the park and plaza, art gallery crawls, Jazz Night Out, special club shows…. Fortunately, KBEM broadcast much of the festival either live or on tape, so even if you were stuck at home or work, between venues, or just too tired to venture out one more time, the band played on. But the point of a jazz festival is to be there, to see as well as hear, to become part of the unique mix of music, downtown traffic, concession banter, and chattering human diversity that spells “f-e-s-t-i-v-a-l.” The following are personal reflections, and any omissions should not be regarded as evaluative but merely the limitations posed by an event of extraordinary proportions.

See more photos at -ed

Live at the Dakota

An active sponsor of the festival, the Dakota proved to be the perfect setting for those seeking the better acoustics, elegant ambience, and incomparable menu of one of the nation's (or world's) premier jazz clubs.

The festival kicked off Friday (June 18th) with the Doug Little Quartet taking the Dakota stage and showcasing the talents of visiting Italian pianist Giacomo Aula. A past collaborator with saxophonist Doug Little on tour in Europe and the US, Aula is a dynamic player who added zing and melodic intervals to the always swinging and soulful Little and company. With heavyweights Jeff Bailey on bass and Kevin Washington on drums, the group used the Dakota gig as a warm-up to a recording session set for the following week before Aula returns to Europe. If the first set was the warm-up, I am more than eager to get my hands on this recording! Favorites from Little's debut recording, including “Little Pearl” and “Charade” (with a gorgeous bass clarinet) were interspersed with newer compositions and a rousing version of “Frévo.” Throughout the set, Kevin Washington was particularly impressive—he swings hard and fast, but can also provide the subtle shadings and shimmers that set him apart from much of the pool of competent drummers of his generation.

Dubbed the “Great Lady of Soul,” Bettye Lavette might also be the greatest comeback story in the industry. After scoring R&B hits in the 1960s as a teenager, Lavette's profile sank below the American horizon for nearly 40 years despite continuous work on Broadway (Bubbling Brown Sugar) and an enthusiastic following in Europe. “Rediscovered” just a few years ago and with American releases of both old and new recordings, Lavette finally is receiving deserved acclaim, including a 2004 W.C. Handy Blues Award. Bringing blues and soul to the Dakota stage June 21-23 helped extend the reach of the festival to a wider and very appreciative audience. From her heart-wrenching “Souvenirs” that literally welled up from stage floor where she sat, to “A Woman Like Me” crooned as she moved from one table to another through the bar, to producer Dennis Walker's assertive “Serves Him Right,” Lavette moaned, groaned, howled, and sobbed through two unique sets with her talented supporting band. And although the Dakota has a well-established no-smoking policy, I swear I saw smoke rising from the stage during her incendiary “Damn Your Eyes.” Lowell Pickett better check his stage for scorch marks.

Cooler—but in the jazziest sense—describes Soul Café, the imaginative collaboration of Laura Caviani (piano), Steve Blons (guitar), and Brad Holden (alto sax). Ending the second festival weekend on a relaxed note, the trio joined forces with one of the local treasures of jazz vocals, Lucia Newell, presenting a highly original, intriguing program meshing the poems of Pablo Neruda with the standards of Rogers and Hart. And it worked. The choices of poems (drawn from the poet's collections, One Hundred Love Sonnets, Odes to Elementals, and Common Things) were well matched by the tunes that followed, and Newell's voice has warmth and clarity that lent considerable elegance to the lines of both poetry and song. She engaged in playful scat countering Blons' guitar on “My Romance” and gave a mildly Brazilian lilt to “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” while the entire ensemble took “I Didn't Know What Time It Was” into bossa territory. Throughout, Brad Holden's alto sang nearly as much as Newell, and Caviani provided her typically swinging vamps and inventive solos. I'm not sure what to do first—pick up a copy of Soul Café's self-titled debut CD or a book of Neruda's sonnets?

Closing out the Hot Summer Jazz Festival on the second of a two-night stand, trumpet prophet Terrell Stafford and his quintet appropriately combined cool and hot, up-tempo and ballad. And even more appropriately, they opened the second night with Bill Cunliffe's “Minnesota.” On trumpet, Stafford's tone is warm, crisp, and clean. On flugelhorn, Stafford's lyrical reading of “Blame It On My Youth” showed off his soft, round vibrato most effectively. What might otherwise be another ballad, “The Touch of Your Lips” got surprising barn-burner treatment, particularly showcasing the dexterity of pianist Bruce Barth and alto virtuoso Dick Oatts. The set closed with Stafford's tribute to his wife, “Berda's Bounce,” and indeed it bounced, featuring some soulful, rolling blues from Barth, an intricately plotted walking solo from young bassist Derrick Hodge, and some burning percussion from drummer Dana Hall. I'll be eager to see another round of this energetic quintet this weekend at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

A lot more music appeared at the Dakota in the past week—pianist/vocalist Ray Coussins, perennial favorites Patty Peterson and Carei Thomas, the J-Train Student Jam, and a very special opening weekend appearance by the legendary Arturo Sandoval. And while the official summer jazz festival might be over, the Dakota will just go on and on. It's a festival there every night.

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