For just over a decade, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival has made hay while the Minnesota sun shines, showcasing a wealth of area aces and welcoming iconic artists from out of town. This year, the 12th annual to-do, set for June 17th through the 19th in downtown St. Paul’s Mears Park, boasts such headliners as Grammy-winning saxman Joe Lovano with Us Five; up-and-coming trumpet phenom Sean Jone; John Ellis and Double-Wide with drummer Jason Marsalis; and John Scofield and the Piety Street Band. Local luminaries Charmin Michelle, Jack Brass Band, and Salsa Del Soul will also be on hand.
“Once again,” says executive director Steve Heckler, “the price is right. All the music on two stages will be free.” There’s the return of the popular Jazz Night Out Club Crawl featuring live sounds at a number of venues. Plus, opening night features jazz vocalist Pippi Ardennia, a Chicagoan now transplanted to St. Paul, on the Mears Park Main Stage in partnership with Music in Mears. Also, there’s Visual Jazz, an exhibit showcasing art jazz-inspired art, on view at the Artist Mercantile in the Hamm building, right above renowned night spot the Artists’ Quarter. Visual Jazz runs June 14th and continues through July 3rd, with an opening reception and party on Thursday, June 17th (6 to 9 p.m.), during Jazz Night Out. All told, 2009’s record attendance at the event might just well be topped this time around. For a complete rundown of artists, locations, dates and times, you can go to hotsummerjazz.com.
Steve Heckler took a break, in the midst of engineering the extravaganza, for an e-mail interview.
How many years have you been executive director, and how did you come to get involved?
I’ve been the executive director from the beginning, 12 years ago. In 1999 I was attempting to showcase several local jazz artists, but realized this was difficult as there were very few venues in the Cities. I convinced the Downtown Council to give me one day at Peavey Plaza (in Minneapolis) during their Alive After Five series for this showcase where I projected about 300 would show. Over 3,000 showed. The next year well over 8,000 showed and the Jazz Fest was born.
Has the economy made it any tougher to put the festival on in past years?
It’s definitely a challenge to produce an event in this economy, but not impossible. Sponsors are fewer, and they are putting way less into the events then in the past. But at the same time there are many who do not want an event like the Jazz Festival to go away—including the City of St. Paul, who assist to make it happen.
How do you go about choosing from all the jazz talent available in the Cities?
It’s not easy, as there is so much great talent here in the cities. We try to include as many musicians as possible, often using local clubs as stages just to get more musicians into the festival.
Are you particularly psyched about this year’s lineup?
This is one of the best lineups we’ve ever had. I’ve wanted both Joe Lovano and John Scofield to perform for many years, and by chance both were available on the same weekend. They are two of the best musicians performing today. In addition, Sean Jones, who I’ve seen perform several times with Wynton Marsalis, is a fantastic addition.
Any artists you wanted to have in the festival but it just wasn’t possible?
Several—including Wayne Shorter and George Duke.
How has it been watching the festival evolve from year to year?
We try to keep things new and exciting every year. For example, this year we’ve added a second stage in Mears Park, increasing our partnerships and our reach, getting more involved in social networking.