Saturday Night Jazz at kj's hideaway

June EP: Epilogue and Prologue —Comings and Goings in Twin Cities Jazz

Featured TCJF Twin Cities
2024 Twin Cities Jazz Festival runs June 21-22 at Mears Park


Spring jazz in the Twin Cities is typically both abundant and fabulous—perhaps, intentionally or not, a great build-up to our annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, this year June 21-22. More about the festival in the Prologue.

Epilogue: Favorite Jazz Performances in May

Selecting some standout gigs for May is not easy, but I’ll mention some that I attended, noting there were many I missed and many more that are worthy of mention.

Laura Caviani

May started out with another First Wednesday Solo Piano night at Jazz Central Studios. This series launched a few months ago to put the spotlight on the club’s new Steinway as well as on our deep pool of keyboard talents. The piano moves to center stage, giving the audience an “up close and personal” experience. May 1 featured Laura Caviani, a long-time performer, composer, bandleader and educator now based in Northfield. It was a rare treat to hear Laura solo and performing a night of her own compositions, adding some vocals along the way. (Up next: Joe Strachan on June 5.)

Dan Weiss

Although its future is still in limbo, the Icehouse continues to offer a full calendar of music, and one of its finest presentations in recent years was Dan Weiss’ Even Odds Trio with sax star Miguel Zenon and inventive pianist Matt Mitchell (May 2-3). All original compositions featured on the trio’s just-released album, the music ranged from wandering dreamscape to full-throttle adventures. Zenon was far more untethered than I have heard in previous settings; more than anyone else I’ve heard lately, Mitchell reminds me of Craig Taborn in his quick shifts of mood and attack; and Weiss is creative master of the drumset.

May 4th was my birthday, and many times over the past 20 years I have been able to celebrate with Charmin Michelle who shares the date (not the year!), often at Fireside Pizza when she was appearing weekly with Denny Malmberg. This year on May 4th, Charmin teamed up with guitar whiz Sam Miltich in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners, a joyous way to start my evening.  My night ended at the Dakota with drummer Nate Smith’s trio with Kiefer (aka Kiefer Shackelford) on keys and Carrtoons (Ben Carr) on bass.  I had been somewhat reluctant to check this out, fearing it was going to be a really loud evening, but the volume stayed within my tolerance and the music was some of the most exciting I’ve heard this year. Kiefer is a monster at the piano, giving us what is now my favorite version of “Body and Soul.” It had plenty of both. Thanks for the birthday party!

Christian Sands

I had heard pianist Christian Sands with Christian McBride, but not leading his own trio. His May 13th gig at The Dakota was simply a stunning performance, enhanced by brother Ryan Sands on drums and Jonathon Cotton-Muir on bass.  Great music and great voices added up to a lot of fun at Crooners (May 15) as vocalist Connie Raye presented her revue, “Girl Singers of the Hit Parade” with sister Debbie Okeefe and daughter Jennifer Grimm. A child of the 50s and 60s, I particularly enjoyed this nostalgia trip, hearing the songs of the era’s “Girl Singers” (Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Doris Day, Connie Francis, Peggy Lee).  And just the next night in the Dunsmore Room, vocalist/educator Vicky Mountain offered a diverse set of songs saluting spring, crossing genres and decades, and bringing on guest Maryann Sullivan for a couple tunes.

I finally got to the Berlin in the North Loop, a new and classy hang for mostly jazz already loved by musicians—a good sound system, Steinway grand and good seating area. May 24-25 featured a reunion of the Bryan Nichols Quintet, with some of the top jazzers in the Metro—Michael Lewis and Brandon Wozniak on saxes, Jeff Bailey on bass, and JT Bates on drums. Saturday’s sets highlighted Bryan’s compositions including some new tunes, and the two-sax harmonies were highlights of the evening. Sold out on a holiday weekend! (Advice—for weekend gigs at Berlin, use valet parking at several nearby restaurants if you don’t find street parking, and you probably won’t.)

Crooners keeps expanding its music menu, and with the seasonal Belvedere tent now open and more music scheduled on Wednesday nights, there’s literally too much to choose from. Among many, a highlight this past month was the return of former Music Director Andrew Walesch (May 30) for an intimate, Vegas-style solo show, complete with Andrew’s joyful and interactive patter, and guest turns from bassist Billy Peterson and up-and-coming alto sax star Peter Goggin. Most of the tunes were audience requests, critiqued by Andrew before he demonstrated nearly flawless recall of lyrics without resorting to online assistance.

This is the tip of the iceberg of great jazz moments in May. And due to schedule conflicts and my Art-a-Whirl commitments, I totally missed Lynne Arriale at Metronome and Dave Hazeltine at Crooners, which I hear were stand-outs.


Prologue: Twin Cities Jazz in June

Joe Lovano

It’s Jazz Fest month, and under new leadership (Executive Director Dayna Martinez) and a handful of new venues, the 2024 Twin Cities Jazz Festival  (June 21-22) promises to continue the long tradition of one of the musical best and most accessible jazz festivals in the Midwest, and beyond. It’s still free, and this year the official fest venues extend way beyond St. Paul’s Lowertown, including officially designated (free) festival gigs at Crooners in Fridley and the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, a co-sponsored jazz /art exhibit at the Dow Gallery, and workshops and master classes at Saint City, the former Creator’s Space in Lowertown.  There are a number of festival sponsored, not always free preview gigs on Thursday (June 20), and of course the Jazz 88  Main Stage and United Healthcare Fifth Street Stage at Mears Park. The list of headliners is drool-worthy, with short-time resident, Peruvian bandleader Claudia Medina, one of the Twin Cities’ favorite vocalists, Karrin Allyson, and one of the world’s finest vibes masters, Stefon Harris, leading the cast on Friday night; on Saturday night, local piano hero Kavyesh Kavairaj, acclaimed vocalist/pianist Kandace Springs (replacing ailing Regina Carter) and living legend saxophonist Joe Lovano will bring crowds to Mears Park. Note Lovano’s quartet includes world-renowned pianist Kenny Werner and one-time jazz fest artistic director, drummer Francisco Mela. Throughout the festival, a long list of veteran and new performers fill out the schedule. Schedules, bios and details at

Ravi Coltrane

And yes, there is more to the jazz line-up in June beyond the festival: Catch second general jazz royalty with the Ravi Coltrane Quartet (featuring trombone master Robin Eubanks) at the Dakota (June 3), quickly followed there by guitar superstar Bill Frisell with Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston (June 5).  Also June 5, enjoy an evening of intimate piano with Joe Strachan for Jazz Central’s monthly solo piano night. I’ve known Joe since his Northfield High School and Dakota Combo days, and he is seldom in the spotlight as a soloist.

The Icehouse is still going strong, and in June, young saxophone sensation Sophia Kickhofel will present three Mondays of jazz, June 10, 17 and 24. Check the Icehouse website for details, but expect some explosive and original music featuring some of the stars of the next generation.

Sophia Kickhofel

June 9th brings to The Dakota one of my personal favorites, pianist Fred Hersch, in a long-awaited solo evening. It’s been a long time since Fred appeared in the Twin Cities (2019 with Julian Lage), and he is touring now with the release of his brand new solo album Silent Listening. Which hopefully describes the audience for June 9th.

Fred Hersch

There’s always great music at The Berlin and hard to pick a few recommendations, but note the always-worth-the-ticket Atlantis Quartet on June 14, and Will Kjeer Trio on June 28th. Will just completed his Master’s degree studies at Juilliard and likely won’t be around much this summer. His cohorts will be Ted Olsen on bass and Abinnet Berhanu on drums—a formidable ensemble.

Officially part of the festival with a reasonable ticket charge, note the return of Patty Peterson’s intimate “In the Moment” series in the Dunsmore Room (June 22) with long-time festival guest pianist Jon Weber. This series finds Patty interviewing a pianist and presents the music in solo and duo formats. With Jon, it can only be high entertainment.

There’s some post-fest magic happening at Crooners (June 23) when the Count Basie Orchestra (led by Scotty Barnhart) fills the Belvedere tent with classic big band sounds and the stellar voice of Carmen Bradford. (I heard her years ago at the Iowa City Jazz Festival and am eager to hear her again.) Go early and help Arne Fogel celebrate his 75th birthday in the Dunsmore Room.


And looking ahead to July

Iowa City Jazz Festival

My annual recommendation—the Iowa City Jazz Festival, a bit later than usual this year with a midweek July 4. ICJF takes place in the heart of downtown Iowa City July 5-7, with Lakecia Benjamin and Phoenix headlining, along with Fareed Haque,  Matt Wilson and his Good Trouble ensemble and Ingrid Jensen with the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra. An easy 5-hour drive from the Twin Cities, and like our festival, it’s free. Also note Benny Green solo piano at The Dakota  (July 8)

It was sure hard to narrow it down this month. Do check out your favorite venues to see a lot more options for June. Hope to see you at Jazz Fest!