Musicians pick their must-see Twin Cities Jazz Festival shows

When the Twin Cities Jazz Festival gets underway on Thursday, some of the region’s finest musicians will have a much-deserved chance to share their art with a broad audience. But the musicians also will be rushing to catch their favorites among the national and local jazz artists taking the stage this year.Who do Twin Cities jazz musicians want to see?

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Here are some top picks. The musicians who chose them are listed first, in bold.

Trumpeter Adam Meckler performs with his orchestra at 5 p.m. Saturday on the Mears Park Sixth Street Stage

Adam Meckler

I feel like I’m the captain before a middle school recess basketball game. Here are my jazz picks for the festival this weekend, in chronological order:

1. The Illicit Sextet — This is a band that has been around in the Twin Cities for a very long time, and has played in varying degrees of regularity. They just cut a new record and two of my fave MN musicians are on it: Chris Lomheim (piano), and Steve Kenny (trumpet). These dudes are what we would call “killing.” I heard a cut from their new disc recently and it sounds great. Steve Kenny is an absolute beast on the trumpet (and now flumpet, too). 4 p.m. Friday, Mears Park main stage.

2. Atlantis Quartet — These dudes are like, the dudes, some of my favorite players in the Cities doing some of the most creative modern jazz around. I’ve been following this band (and playing with these dudes in various contexts) since I moved to town five years ago. A must-see band. 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Union Depot outdoor stage on Fourth Street

3. Steve Kenny, Joe Mayo, Dave Hagedorn, Evan Montgomery, Jay Epstein and Jeremy Boettcher in one of the Jazz Central Presents sets. Longest band name ever? Leave it to jazz musicians to not come up with a band name! Kidding aside, these guys are some of my favorite players and some of my closest friends in the Twin Cities. Evan and I have been playing together for nearly 10 years. Joe is new to town, but it won’t be long before he’s infiltrated all the bands. I already talked about how killing Steve Kenny is. Dave and I play together in Pete Whitman’s X-Tet, he’s amazing on that vibraphone, and Jay Epstein and I have played together quite a bit over the years. Jay is like a legend in town. Jeremy Boettcher is a freak of nature on the bass and an absolute joy to hear and play with. This is definitely a band I’ll be going to see. 11:30 p.m. Saturday at the Amsterdam Bar

Meckler Jazz Picks OUT!

Percussionist C. Harris performs with the Nexus Ensemble at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Minnesota Music Cafe

1. Yohannes Tona — One of the Twin Cities’ finest bass players and producers. I’ve not had the pleasure to work with him live but his performance should be a knock out. 8 p.m. Friday at the Hat Trick Lounge

2. New Sound Underground — another local power house of talent. Think Tower of Power in a jazz Setting. 9 p.m. Thursday at the Mears Park main stage

3. Walter Smith lll — Great sax man out of Texas. A can’t miss! With drummer Matt Slocum, 6 p.m. Saturday on the Mears Park main stage

Trumpeter Steve Kenny performs with the Illicit Sextet at 4 p.m. Friday on the Mears Park Main Stage

The Jazz festival is a wonderful opportunity to see the National artists, and there are a number of absolutely outstanding local players and ensembles that I would never hesitate to recommend, but I’ll focus on some performers that I have directly, recently experienced and are a “must see.”

1. Donald Washington — I’ve seen this band a couple of times in the last year. I always have an out-of-body experience when I close my eyes and listen to this group. It’s loose and abstract and communal, and somehow at the same time jocular AND reverent. It’s very energetic and soulful, and it makes me think that the way this group sounds and plays is one of the joyous things that jazz is. 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Black Dog Cafe

2. Dave Karr, Dave Graf, Tanner Taylor, Mac Santiago, Matt Peterson, Jazz Central Presents — This group represents a chance to hear the Jazz Central house rhythm section with two of the most-established and best-sounding of the performers from that venue’s Featured Artist Series.  If various local artists were represented as individual playing cards in a hypothetical deck-of-cards, then this gig is one hell of a poker hand. 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Amsterdam Bar

3. Atlantis Quartet — In my opinion the Atlantis Quartet is simply the very best ever serious, locally-based, independent, regularly-performing, nationally-touring, multiple-recording, non-trio, modern jazz ensemble in Twin Cities’ jazz history. Someday, they deserve to triumphantly return without augmentation to this festival as the Saturday night headliner. 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Union Depot outdoor stage

Pianist and vocalist Kristin Sponcia performs with her quartet at 1 p.m. Saturday on the Mears Park Sixth Street Stage

1. In terms of instrumental jazz, Saturday is going to be a night to remember for me — Cyrus Chestnut on the main stage, Jon Weber at the AQ, and some of the most swinging local musicians from Jazz Central on the stage at the Amsterdam! My head will explode from listening to Chestnut’s bluesy inventiveness, Jon Weber’s chops and Graydon Peterson’s Quartet which feature his compositions. The Graydon Peterson Quartet performs at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Amsterdam Bar

2. In terms of vocal jazz,  catch Dorothy Doring’s amazing sound and swing, Judi Donaghy Vinar — she can sing ANYthing and of course the classic stylings of Arne Fogel with the understated sophistication of Maud Hixon. No one else in town sings like her! Judy Donaghy Vinar performs at 7 p.m. Saturday at Golden’s Deli

Pianist Larry McDonough performs at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Black Bear on the Lake Stage at Como Lakeside Pavilion, 1360 North Lexington Parkway, St. Paul

1. Butch Thompson and Jon Weber — Two giants of piano, old and new school. Butch is the go to guy for early piano jazz. Jon is a big man with a big sound who has backed up everyone but is dazzling when out in front. 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Artists Quarter

2. Dave Graf and Doug Haining — Dave is one of my buddies from music school, one of the best trombonists and nicest guys in the business. Doug is a great sax man, composer and educator. Always a treat. 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mears Park Sixth Street stage

3. Atlantis Quartet — Great musicians playing original cutting-edge jazz. No standards here. This is the music that moves the genre forward

Bassist Chris Bates performs with the Atlantis Quartet at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the Union Depot outdoor stage

Chris Bates (MPR Photo/David Cazares)

1. Cyrus Chestnut — I’m not super familiar with his music but I will be checking him out because I know he’s super swinging and fun to listen to. 8:30 pm. Saturday on the Mears Park Main Stage

2. Illicit Sextet — I used to go hear these guys way back in the mid 90’s when Motion Poets were just starting. I’m glad they have returned to active duty. They have a really beautiful group sound and their compositions reflect their group aesthetic. 4 p.m. Friday on the Mears Park Main Stage

3. Yohannes Tona — Yohannes is one of the best electric bassists in the area and his writing reflects his eclectic tastes that draw from world music, gospel and funk. 8 p.m. Friday at the Hat Trick Lounge

Chris Bates and pianist Bryan Nichols take the Mears Park main stage Saturday night with Matt Slocum and Walter Smith III.

Guitarist Vincent Rose performs with drummer Adrian Suarez and bassist Jeremy Boettcher in Triose, 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Black Dog Cafe

1. Kenny Werner Trio — Kenny’s music is free flowing, unpredictable, and fresh. One can effortlessly amaze you by his technical virtuoso and musical expression. His methodical approach to improvising, specifically in regard to mental discipline, has not only influenced my own playing but has brought me a deeper appreciation for Kenny’s music and what he’s trying to do. 8:30 p.m. Friday on the Mears Park main stage

2. The Adam Meckler Orchestra — One would be hard pressed to find another big band in the Cities that’s playing fresh original music as good and as often as The Adam Meckler Orchestra. As a follow composer I tip my hat to Adam for stepping out there and fronting a working big band — especially in these recent economic times which makes it tough for even trios and quartets to get consistent work. If you’re going to this show prepare yourself to witness a great band sound, boundary pushing compositions and arrangements, and featured soloists from the pool of Minnesota finest jazz musicians. 5 p.m. Saturday on the Mears Park Sixth Street Stage

3. Connie Olson — Connie has been performing for decades in a variety of musical settings. She’s got everything in her bag from Doris Day, Dusty Springfield, to Bonnie Raitt. Don’t get too comfortable as she croons her jazz standards this weekend because this lady can surprise you at any moment. Connie is a veteran swinger and a backbone in the jazz community. She’s done it all. 9:30 p.m. Friday at Golden’s Deli

See the entire online Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule here or click on the pdf.