Must-see shows at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival

When the 2014 Twin Cities Jazz Festival gets underway this week in St. Paul, it will include an expanded list of performances, from big national names to vibrant local ensembles.

This year’s headliners include saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday on the Mears Park Main Stage. On Saturday, saxophonist Melissa Aldana takes the stage at 6 p.m., followed by singer Dianne Reeves at 8:30 p.m.

A highlight of the festival is its rich array of performances by local artists. Here are my 20 must-see shows:


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Foreign Motion, 6 p.m., Mears Park Main Stage

Guitarist Cory Wong, bassist Yohannes Tona, pianist Kevin Gastonguay and drummer Petar Janjic took a break from backing up other musicians to form Foreign Motion, a new jazz fusion ensemble with a diverse and international vibe.

Atlantis Quartet, 7:30 p.m., Mears Park Main Stage

One of the most-followed ensembles in the Twin Cities, the Atlantis Quartet has been fusing jazz, rock and other influences since 2006. Guitarist Zacc Harris, saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Pete Hennig play with imagination and energy.

Solomon Parham Group, 7:30 p.m., Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

A gentleman who exudes earthy roots, Parham offers a respectful nod to tradition, with eyes on the future.

Pipi Ardennia, 9 p.m., Bedlam Stage, 213 Fourth Street E.

Soulful and sultry, Ardennia performs in the tradition of great female singers while mentoring the next generation.


Jana Nyberg Group, 11 p.m., Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

One of the most vibrant and personable performers in the Twin Cities, Jana Nyberg is a gem in a group of glowing musical personalities.


New Works by Jazz Composers, 5 p.m., Studio Z, 275 Fourth Street E., Suite 200

Guitarist Zacc Harris, trumpeter Steve Kenny, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Davu Seru are among the hardest working players in the Twin Cities. All are gifted composers and players.


Red Planet, 4 p.m., Mears Park Main Stage

Red Planet
Red Planet (Photo by Howard Gitelson)

Guitarist Dean Magraw, bassist Chris bates and drummer Jay Epstein deliver intense and electrified sound on originals and their remakes of classic jazz compositions.

Mississippi with Andres Prado, 5 p.m., Sixth Street Stage

In one of the most talked about shows of the festival, acclaimed Peruvian guitarist Andres Prado returns to the Twin Cities to perform with saxophonist Pete Whitman, pianist Peter Schimke, bassist Jeff Baily and drummer Kevin Washington.

Babatunde Lea, 7:15 p.m., Sixth Street Stage

An internationally known percussionist, Lea explores the commonality of African rhythms in the music of the Americas.

Anthony Cox Group, 7 p.m., Prince Street Stage, 308 E. Prince Street

Anthony Cox is one of the premier musicians in the Twin Cities. His sets are intense displays of virtuosity.


Donald Washington Quartet, 8 p.m., Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

Saxophonist Donald Washington is a delight. He leads performances full of infectious joy.

Illicit Sextet, 10: 30 p.m., Hat Trick Lounge, 134 Fifth Street E.

Featuring trumpeter Steve Kenny, guitarist David Roos, pianist Chris Lomheim, bassist Tom Pieper, drummer Nathan Norman and saxophonist Paul Harper, the Illicit Sextet offers soaring music for straight-ahead jazz fans, with nods to bebop, ballads and blues.

Graydon Peterson Quartet, 10:30 p.m., Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

After playing with some of the top singers and groups in The Twin Cities, Peterson has emerged as a leader, delivering an intriguing mix of melody and groove.

Phil Hey Quartet, 11:30 p.m., Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

Led by a drummer with an excellence sense of swing and serious licks, Hey's quartet covers wide musical territory.


Debbie Duncan, 2:10 p.m., Union Depot Outdoor State, 214 E. Fourth Street

An impeccable singer whose repertoire of show tunes and standards is always fresh.

Adam Meckler Orchestra, 4 p.m. Saturday, Mears Park Main Stage

A prolific composer and trumpeter, Meckler leads a dynamic group of young jazz musicians.

Kevin Washington Quartet, 5 p.m., Sixth Street Stage

One of the Twin Cities’ most versatile and accomplished musicians, Washington knows his way around virtually any style.

Eric Kamau Gravatt and Source Code, 5 p.m., Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

An impeccable drummer who has played with Weather Report and McCoy Tyner, Gravatt plays with tremendous energy and style – in ways that should demand a much bigger local profile.

Good Vibes Trio, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

Bassist Chris Bates vibraphone player Dave Hagedorn and drummer Phil Hey explore some of their strongest influences, among them Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman.

Courageous Endeavors, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

Courageous Endeavors (Photo courtesy of Max Devereaux)

With compositions that leave ample room for improvisation, bassist Brian Courage, saxophonist Nelson Devereaux, pianist Joe Strachan and drummer Miguel Hurtado shine on a remarkable fusion of styles.

See the entire Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule here.