The Twin Cities Jazz Festival takes several big steps toward maturity in this year's 12th annual incarnation, adding a second free stage at its hub in Lowertown's Mears Park and beefing up its lineup of stellar artists. As usual, St. Paul's downtown clubs will be bursting with activity during the fest's Thursday to Saturday run, presenting some of the finest local talent, including pianists Butch Thompson and Mary Louise Knutson, vocalist Joann Funk and the Atlantis Quartet hot jazz outfit, and the funky Jack Brass Band. Check out the complete schedule at www.twincitiesjazzfestival.com. Back in the park, Friday's lineup will be highlighted by rising trumpeter Sean Jones, sax titan Joe Lovano, and, on the Sixth Street stage, the eclectic sound of Aakash Mittal (pictured). Jones, a former member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, has burgeoning dual careers as a bandleader and educator. Equally adept as a sleek, high-flying balladeer and blazing, post-bop barnburner, Jones, whose gospel, R&B, and pop inclinations marble his work, will lead his regular band: saxophonists Brian Hogans and Walter Smith, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Obed Calvaire. Lovano's long and illustrious career has been distinguished by a tireless quest for freshly expressing classic jazz ideas in dozens of contexts, while his own reed work glows. He'll lead Us Five, the lithe, youthful, equally stellar band that appeared on last year's Folk Art. Mittal is a Colorado-based multi-reed player whose talented quartet plays a heady mix of bop, avant-garde jazz, East Indian trad stuff, and funk. On Saturday, veteran alto saxophonist Bobby Watson will take the main stage in the late afternoon, showing off his muscular sound, which sports a bluesy taste of his native Kansas City as well as the bustling bop of mentor Art Blakey. The rest of the evening will have a New Orleans flavor, although quirky even by Crescent City standards. New York-based saxophonist John Ellis creates contemporary jazz interpretations of New Orleans traditions with his NOLA-based Double-Wide band, which includes drummer Jason Marsalis, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, and organist Brian Coogan. Their recent Puppet Mischief is a delightful mash-up of twisted NOLA-isms. Next up will be iconic jazz guitarist John Scofield and his Piety Street Band, which features three more New Orleanians: Meters bass monster George Porter Jr., pianist Jon Cleary, and drummer Terence Higgins of Dirty Dozen fame. Their 2009 CD was a phenomenal interpretation of gospel standards via NOLA R&B and jazz, and their performance should close things down with style.
Thu., June 17, 6-9 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 4-10 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 12-10 p.m., 2010