Thursday through Saturday, the 19th Twin Cities Jazz Festival will take over St. Paul, centered in the Lowertown neighborhood with a main stage situated in the spectacular urban setting of Mears Park, its babbling brook and leafy canopy nicely situated among vintage brick buildings.
Internationally renowned artists and a deep roster of musicians from the thriving local jazz scene will command outdoor venues and multiple clubs scattered throughout the capital city. The combination of high-caliber talent and free access to the outdoor stages -- including two at Mears and another a block away at Union Station -- make the TC Fest easily one of the best jazz bargains anywhere.
The peak of this year’s headliners is a rare collaboration on Saturday between a genuine jazz giant, pianist McCoy Tyner, and acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman, who’s a generation younger but well on his way to establishing his own legend. Tyner, 78, initially renowned as a member of the groundbreaking John Coltrane Quartet in the 1960s, has influenced legions of contemporary jazz pianists over his long career, distinguished by his percussive ferocity, chordal grandeur and harmonic intrigue. Redman, like Tyner a formidable improviser, has been a maverick, bop to beyond, throughout his quarter-century career, stretching from straight-ahead jazz to experiments with electronics, rock, and classical.
This year’s de rigueur New Orleans rep (on Thursday) is Terence Blanchard, a hard bop trumpeter and the composer of dozens of film scores, most prominently for Spike Lee. His latest is for the Robert De Niro movie The Comedian, which bombed, but the music is first-rate progressive jazz, also featuring Ravi Coltrane and Kenny Barron. Blanchard also has recently veered into groove-oriented soul-jazz with his E-Collective ensemble, whose Breathless addressed issues of police violence and African-American communities.
New York-based, Israeli-born Anat Cohen, performing Friday, now routinely tops polls as a virtuoso clarinetist, but she’s just as adept on saxophone. Cohen is remarkably versatile, playing trad to modern jazz, various world musics, and lots in between with numerous ensembles. She has a particular love for Brazilian music (and two new recordings, with guitarist Marcello Gonçalves and with Trio Brasileiro). But here she’ll lead her Choro Aventuroso quartet, which includes accordion, pandeiro and guitar, diving into lively Brazilian choro, which has mixed European-African roots and has been compared to New Orleans jazz.
The additional headliners: Twin Cities favorite Bobby Lyle (Saturday) is a jazz-pop keyboardist who grew up in Minneapolis and eventually relocated to L.A., where he found fame and fortune playing with the likes of Young-Holt Unlimited, George Benson, Bette Midler, and Al Jarreau. Twenty-something pianist Emmet Cohen (Thursday) has a fresh, lively style that’s been compared to Oscar Peterson. Besides leading his own trio, he’s played with Christian McBride, Herlin Riley, and Kurt Elling, and has begun a series of Legacy recordings, the first with drummer Jimmy Cobb. Twin Cities-based master drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt (Friday) has an international rep for his work with Weather Report and Tyner. Since retiring from a second career a few years ago, he has been increasingly active on the jazz scene, particularly with his ensemble Source Code. Young Swedish trumpeter/flugelhornist Oskar Stenmark (Thursday) has been living in New York and playing with the likes of Chris Potter and Maria Schneider while also gaining attention for compositions linking traditional Swedish melodies and cutting-edge jazz.
The remainder of the festival’s lineup is drawn from the deep and diverse local jazz community -- brass band to big band to student ensembles to Afrobeat to avant garde -- spread among some 20 St. Paul venues. Check out the full schedule here.