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Feeling the vibe: Twin Cities Jazz Festival headliners

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Drummer Francisco Mela
Cuban drummer Francisco Mela is the new artistic director of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
Courtesy Twin Cities Jazz Festival

It's still winter, but jazz fans in Minnesota already are looking forward to summer, when the region's annual celebration of improvisational music lures thousands to downtown St. Paul.

This week, organizers of the 2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival announced headliners for the event, and MPR News editor David Cazares and bassist Chris Bates say the lineup is spectacular.

The performers coming to St. Paul include saxophonist Chris Potter, who on June 26 will perform on the Mears Park main stage with bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland. Their quartet is an ambitious pick for the jazz festival.

"I think they're just really trying to step up just the overall quality of the national acts," Bates says. "They've been able to bring in two to four solid things and this year they've got four or six really amazing things lined up."

Also performing June 26 at Mears Park will be steel pan artist Othello Molineaux, who will play with the Araya Orta Latin Jazz Quartet. Molineaux, a strong collaborator with the late Jaco Pastorius, fuses jazz with Caribbean flavor.

For many festival-goers, a strong favorite likely will be Dr. John (Malcom John "Mac" Rebbenack), who performs June 27 at the new CHS Field. Bates says Dr. John, who draws on a mix of blues, jazz and other influences, is simply "one of the greatest."

The jazz festival's new artistic director, Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, will appear on the Mears Park main stage June 27 with his new Jazz Machine. The group will include New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, a brilliant and flamboyant performer who is a big presence in the jazz world.

That same day, Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill, winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition, also plays on the Mears Park stage.

While jazz aficionados pine for summer, they can still look forward to shows taking place over the next few days.

Friday night, guitarist Dean MaGraw and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt play at the Nicollet in Minneapolis. At Jazz Central, drummer J.T. Bates performs with guitarist Zacc Harris and Kevin Gastonguay on the organ.

On Saturday, the focus switches to the Black Dog Cafe in St. Paul. The early set features a young phenomenon in bassist Charlie Lincoln, who will perform new tunes with his ensemble. They'll be followed by DD7, which includes bassist Anthony Cox, drummer J.T. Bates, saxophonists Michael Lewis and Brandon Wozniak and trumpeter Steve Kenny.

Meanwhile, the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis is preparing for two performers with strong national reputations. On Monday, Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez takes the stage.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the Dakota hosts singer Cassandra Wilson.

"She always comes up with these amazing interpretations of everything," Bates says. "She's really fantastic."