The 18th annual Twin Cities Jazz Fest took place last weekend in downtown St. Paul. Four outdoor stages were created and many more venues were set up in coffee shops, restaurants, or anywhere else people could enjoy live Jazz. The sound of walking bass lines and amazing piano solos filled the air as people walked from one stage to the next. No matter where you went, you could hear music resonating through the streets of St. Paul.
The weekend began on Thursday evening with an amazing opening lineup in the always beautiful Mears Park. Thousands of people filled the park with anticipation waiting to seeing legendary Jazz musician, Delfeayo Marsalis. Delfeayo is a member of the Marsalis family and if you know Jazz, you know the Marsalis family. Delfeayo welcomed the crowd and shared how honored he was to open such a wonderful festival. The music came out of his trombone like poetry. As Delfeayo Marsalis effortlessly played with his band, the sun began to set behind the stage of Mears Park, but Jazz Fest was just beginning. After Delfeayo Marsalis finished, the crowd roared with applause. Everyone knew that they had just witnessed a legend, and they showed their thanks with a long standing ovation. When the applause had finished and Delfeayo exited the stage, there was a overwhelming buzz in the crowd about the next performer.
Joey Alexander, a twelve year old child prodigy who is already considered a Jazz great, was headlining the night already filled with great music. Mayor Chris Coleman welcomed the crowd and then turned his attention to Joey. "He puts the prodigy in child prodigy." The Mayor continued to say how incredible this young man was and how honored he was to have him share his talents at the Twin Cities Jazz Fest. Finally, the audience burst into cheers and applause as the amazing little man came to the stage. Watching Joey Alexander perform was truly an incredible experience because he was so genuine with his gift. He quietly thanked the audience and then dove in to one of my favorite Jazz standards, 'Giant Steps.' Joey played the song with ease as he soloed over the difficult sections of the tune. I even noticed his band mates, Bass player Dan Chmielinski and Drummer Ulysses Owen, smile with amazement as Joey masterfully shaped his solo to a certain point where he played a series of notes with a very complex rhythm. The crowd showed great respect to such a young musician as they listened intently to every note that came from the stage. With the first night of Jazz Fest nearing it's end, Joey Alexander finished his amazing set by taking a bow with band mates towering over him. Although much younger then his fellow musicians, Joey proved that Jazz is a language that anyone can speak.
Jazz Fest was in full swing Friday afternoon. Venues all across downtown St. Paul opened their doors and the music flowed out. The Jazz Women All Stars opened the main stage in Mears Park and picked up right where Delfeayo and Joey Alexander left off the night before. Local musician Rodney Ruckus took the stage Friday evening after the Jazz Women All Stars had finished and showed how much talent we have right in our City. He wowed the crowd on piano with an original Jazz tune entitled 'Mother's Prayer,' but played most of his set on his main instrument, the drum set. The crowd swelled to welcome Ellis Marsalis to the stage as the evening came to a close. Ellis Marsalis, the father of Delfeayo, gave a spectacular performance to close the second day of the Twin Cities Jazz Fest.
The third and final day of incredible Jazz opened with a variety of youth bands. All afternoon, kids took the stage to show their Jazz skills. It was great to see the next generation of Jazz musicians play in front of so many people and get the experience to take them to the next level. All afternoon, I walked from stage to stage amazed by the talent of the young Jazzers. Evening soon came to St. Paul, and the crowd was building on Kellogg Street. The street was closed to make a great outdoor venue that faced the river. Michael Franti was the headliner Saturday night and he brought his high energy to the Festival.
I was so impressed with Michael Franti and his band. It wasn't quite Jazz, even Franti said, "I know this isn't Jazz music. But it's feel good music." Each song seemed to bring a smile to my face with lyrics like, 'Good to be Alive Today,' and 'The Sound of Sunshine.' Franti walked through the crowd singing along with his fans and many times he stopped to embrace people with a hug and an overwhelming smile. At one point, Franti invited a small child onto the stage to help with the next song. The child must have been a huge fan because he knew all the words and sang along with the rest of the band. Michael Franti continued to pour out his heart for nearly two hours. The crowd kept cheering after every song and Franti would say, "Alright! One more!" This performance was the perfect way to end a spectacular weekend filled with great music.