Jazz festival heats up Downtown

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June 14, 2004 // UPDATED 2:02 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz hits the streets

Downtown will be crawling with jazz musicians and aficionados Friday, June 18 through Sunday, June 27 -- from world-weary sax slingers with hidden flasks of cheap Scotch to young jazz-freak aesthetes. Organizers say the sixth annual Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival is expected to draw over 75,000 jazz fans, making it one of the largest civic jazz fests in the nation.

The festival offers so many top-notch shows and demonstrations, most of them free, that festival founder Steve Heckler said "Every night of the event is going to be a highlight. We have put a headliner on every single night -- every single night of the week we have an amazing headliner."

The enthusiastic Heckler isn't kidding. Nationally known artists -- such as David "Fathead" Newman, Butch Thompson and The Duke Ellington Orchestra -- will grace one of several Downtown stages each festival evening. There will also be performances by dozens of local and national emerging jazz ensembles and artists.

While the festival spans the metro area, the main event will take place in Peavey Plaza on South 11th street and Nicollet Mall, Saturday, June 26. "Saturday night at Peavey Plaza is going to be absolutely amazing," said co-producer Pat Courtemanche, who has been involved in the last three Hot Summer Jazz Festivals. "The last three acts are David 'Fathead' Newman, Jimmy McGriff and Von Freeman -- those are arguably the biggest names that are playing the free parts of the festival. That's a big day."

Instead of using the regular "Alive After Five" or "Sommerfest" concert setups, artists will perform on a stage set up on the site of Peavey Plaza's reflecting pool. The pool will be drained, to make way for a larger and more dramatic performance space. During the festival's final weekend, Saturday-Sunday, June 27-27, Nicollet Mall will be blocked off from South 10th to 12th streets. From noon-10 p.m., musicians will perform at several outdoor and indoor stages, and there will also be free music demonstrations and jazz lessons.

'Jazz Night Out'

This year's festival will also feature, for the first time, "Jazz Night Out," a club crawl ferrying jazz fans from one Downtown Minneapolis venue to another. A commemorative $25 pin secures a spot on the festival's club-crawling trolley, Thursday, June 24, which will transport club-goers from one Downtown hotspot to the next -- taking in performances (some jazzy, some not-so-much) at over a dozen clubs between 11:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., from noted pianist Ray Coussins at The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, to '70s disco tribute band Boogie Wonderland at the Fine Line Music Caf/, 318 1st Ave. N.

Pin-wearers also receive free admission to other festival events, as well as special drink and food discounts. And pin-sale funds will be donated to the local housing programs of Habitat for Humanity and Project for Pride in Living. (See end of article for purchase information.)

Come play

In 1999, Heckler and his labelmates at Hot Springs Records, decided to drum up a little attention for the local jazz scene. "There wasn't a jazz festival in town, and we thought we would just try an outdoor free festival to see if we could get people excited," Heckler said.

Heckler optimistically anticipated a crowd of 200 or so, and when the first Hot Summer Jazz Festival, a small outdoor affair, attracted over a thousand jazz fans, he was bowled over.

The one-off event became an annual festival, which has evolved over the years into a weeklong jazz spree that draws connoisseurs from around the globe and of all different ages.

Heckler, who still runs Hot Springs Records, said he is excited to see young artists, including the acclaimed local musicians Happy Apple, take the jazz helm -- and steer the genre into new territory.

"Keep in mind jazz has been around for over 100 years," Heckler said. "So I think it's coming back. It's reinvigorated, it's changed a lot, and I think you're seeing a huge rebound in the fan base. A lot of young people are now getting into it, realizing what it can do, [exploring] all the possibilities of the genre."

The MacPhail Center for the Arts, 1128 LaSalle Ave., has nurtured many emerging local jazz artists, many of whom can be caught at the Jam Central Station stage Saturday-Sunday, June 26-27 at Peavey Plaza.

MacPhail President Dr. David O'Fallon practically glows with pride when asked about the center's involvement with the local jazz scene.

"MacPhail has a faculty made up almost entirely of professional musicians. People like Kelly Rossum, Chris Osgood and Nachito Herrera," O'Fallon said. "They teach here, but it's not like your average high school jazz instructor. These are real, working musicians."

Besides showcasing emerging local talent, MacPhail will be responsible for the educational aspects of the Hot Summer Jazz Festival, sponsoring jazz clinics June 26-27 with and for just about every kind of jazz musician. National artists from the festival program -- including Newman, Thompson, McGriff and Von Freeman -- will demonstrate basic and advanced music techniques to audiences for free, culminating in an open stage on Saturday night where anyone with an instrument can get up and play.

For more information and a complete schedule, log onto www.hotsummerjazz.com or call


To purchase a $25 festival pin for "Jazz Night Out" and other events go to www.tchabitat.org/jazz.asp.