Hot Summer Jazz Festival heats up Downtown

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June 23, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bill Snyder
Bill Snyder

Imagine a Downtown transformed: Behind every door and from every street corner, the sounds of jazz ring out. Crowds gather in Peavey Plaza for full days of outdoor concerts, and best of all, most of it's free.

Now, stop imagining. This may not sound like the docile Midwestern Downtown you know and love, but this week jazz rules, as the Fifth Annual Hot Summer Jazz Festival takes over.

The festival started in 1999 and has grown steadily since. It wasn't until the third year, however, that the Hot Summer Jazz Festival decided to make Downtown its home. This year, it lights up some 15 Downtown venues (with additional shows in St. Paul, Wayzata and Plymouth) and runs Monday-Sunday, June 23-29.

At its heart, the Hot Summer Jazz Festival is a community event. The festival has partnered with local businesses and arts organizations, and focuses on bringing people together for free concerts.

"The sense of trying to develop a truly civic jazz festival is the way to draw in the broad range of people," said sponsor KBEM's Kevin Barnes.

The lineup covers an equally broad range of talent, ranging from international superstars to any local artist looking to jam. The week includes performances by such legendary artists as ReBirth Brass Band founder Kermit Ruffins, Spyro Gyra, and Dave Brubeck. (Those three shows do, however, require the purchase of tickets.) Even more prevalent, though, are both visiting stalwarts such as organists Joey DeFrancesco and Tony Monaco, vibraphonist Matthias Lupri, and tenor saxman Red Holloway, and a wealth of local talent, including Debbie Duncan, Connie Evingson and Doug Little.

Particularly exciting for Barnes is the debut of Jam Central Station, hosted by MacPhail Center for the Arts -- a place where all musicians are welcome to bring an instrument and join in the performance.

"Bring your ax and come on down,'" said Barnes. The jams will take place at Peavey Plaza, 11th Street and Nicollet Mall. (MacPhail is located at 1128 LaSalle Ave.)

The undisputed king of the festival is legendary Dave Brubeck, 81, whose five-decade career transformed jazz in countless ways. Now he's expanding The Hot Summer Jazz Festival to the inside of Orchestra Hall.

With the jazz festival right outside it's door, the Minnesota Orchestra, 1111 Nicollet Mall, had been looking since spring 2002 to co-present an event, says Reid McLean, its director of presentations.

"We are really conscious of our role in Downtown," McLean adds. "If there is something we can do that brings value to Downtown and the jazz festival, we want to be all over it."

For Downtown events, see below. For complete show information, check out or call 343-5943.

Time Signatures

The where and when of the Hot Summer Jazz Festival in Downtown

For a complete schedule of events, visit or call 343-5943.

Free concerts

Jack McDuff Memorial Stage

Date: Thursday-Friday, June 26-27, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Saturday, June 28, noon-10:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 29, 11:30 a.m.-6:45 p.m.

Place: Peavey Plaza, 11th Street and Nicollet Mall

Contact for updated schedule information: or 343-5943.

Millennium Stage

Date: Thursday-Saturday, June 26-28, 7 p.m.-12:30 a.m. and Sunday, June 29, noon-3:30 p.m.

Place: Millennium Hotel Martini Lounge,

1313 Nicollet Mall

Contact for updated schedule information: or 343-5943.

Copeland's Stage

Date: Monday, June 23, 5:30-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, June 24-27, 11:30 p.m. to 12:45 a.m.

Place: Copeland's Famous New Orleans Restaurant & Bar, City Center, 40 S. 7th St.

Contact for updated schedule information: or 343-5943.

Featured artists

Dave Brubeck Quartet

Date: Tuesday, June 24, 7:30 p.m

Cost: $20-$37

Place: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall

Contact: 371-5656 or

This is the undisputed highpoint of the festival. Brubeck began mixing cross-cultural influences, odd time signatures and intricate rhythms well before they were part of the jazz vocabulary. Perhaps that's why even his earliest recordings still sound fresh a half-century after he cut them.

Spyro Gyra

Date: Thursday, June 26, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $25

Place: Guthrie Theater, 725 Vineland Place

Contact: 377-2224 or

Since the mid-'70s, Spyro Gyra has been one of jazz's most successful acts, catching ears with its fusion of jazz, pop and world music and racking up (un-jazz-like) record sales.

Special events

Jazz Night Out

Date: Thursday, June 26

Cost: Free-$25 for full package

Place: Various

Contacts: or 343-5943

Can you handle it? One night, nearly 20 clubs, lots of jazz and a trolley to shuttle between concerts. You can get into most of the clubs without the $25 button (available at Peavey Plaza), but proceeds from button sales are donated to Habitat for Humanity and Project for Pride in Living. Besides, you'll need the button to take advantage of the trolley, and food-and-drink specials.

Jam Central Station hosted by MacPhail Center for the Arts

Date: Saturday, June 28, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday, June 29, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Place: Peavey Plaza, 11th Street and Nicollet Mall


Hosted by MacPhail Center for the Arts, the space features student and faculty concerts along with (true to its name) open jam sessions. Check the Web site, to make sure you're not jamming when you should be listening.