A little over three decades ago, the first Iowa City Jazz Festival had six performances.
In 2022, that number has nearly tripled in three days, complete with artist vendors, food and fireworks.
The Iowa City Jazz Festival returns Friday, featuring performances by Grammy-winning artists, respected music educators and popular local performers to bring the improvisational music genre to the downtown streets.
Singer-songwriter Kurt Elling will take the stage with guitarist and composer Charlie Hunter on Saturday night, while a locally formed quintet will bring Latin tunes to audiences on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five performances to catch during the three-day festival.
Camille Thurman with the Darrell Green Quartet
Born in New York City, Camille Thurman is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer who became the first woman in 30 years to tour and perform full-time with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.
The musician has shared the stage with Buster Williams, Patti LaBelle, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu and more.
The tenor sax player told Press-Citizen in an email that she previously visited Iowa to perform with Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Hancher Auditorium.
Thurman plays bass clarinet, flute and piccolo. She credits composer and saxophonist Dexter Gordon as the “greatest” inspiration for playing the instrument.
Thurman said she tried playing alto sax and loved it, but was asked to play tenor sax at a neighborhood jazz camp. She would receive a stipend for the program if she agreed, which her mother encouraged.
“I was embarrassed because I was a petite person and the image of me carrying a big tenor sax case was a bit scary,” she said. “I knew I would be mocked by the students. All I could think of was that the instrument was big, bulky, loud and quiet, all the opposite of what I loved about the alto. I have never seen a woman play the instrument either. I didn’t know or see any artists that I could identify with at that young age.”
Thurman attended a listening class and was introduced to Gordon. She said his “imagination and improvisation” freed her from her insecurities in playing the instrument.
She said when she heard Gordon, she heard someone with “confidence, wit, sophistication (and) freedom.
“I wanted to find out what that sound was and be 10 feet tall like Dexter with my horn,” she said.
Thurman was a two-time winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, recipient of a Fulbright Scholars Cultural Ambassador Grant, and has released several full-length albums.
When: Sunday at 1 p.m
Where: main stage
The Mina Jazz Quintet
The Mina Jazz Quintet has one goal in mind. The group of five wants to show the audience that there are more styles of music from Brazil than just the popular bossa nova genre.
“We said, ‘Oh, there’s so much more interesting music from Brazil that people would really like to hear and learn a little bit more about our culture and all our styles,'” Rayne Dias told Press-Citizen.
At the time, the quintet was just a duo looking for two others to explore more musical genres from Brazil. Dias, who plays piano and accordion, said they decided that their repertoire should represent something from each region of the country.
The previous bass player left the group. Now the Mina Jazz Quintet consists of Gabriel Sánchez Porras on saxophone, multi-instrumentalist Robert Espe, Askar Khaetov on bass and Ryan Smith on drums and percussion.
They all knew each other through their connections to the University of Iowa.
The Mina Jazz Quintet is a nod to Minas Gerais, a state in southeastern Brazil where Dias is from.
At the Iowa City Jazz Festival, Dias said the quintet would like to see the audience dance.
“The most important thing about Brazilian music is that it’s not just music to listen to, it’s music that’s mostly for dancing,” he said.
When: Sunday noon
Where: local stage
The Molly Miller Trio
Guitarist Molly Miller’s first band was with her five siblings, her parents formed a family band and gave her the instrument that would later lead her to a career.
The Los Angeles musician has toured with Jason Mraz and the Black Eyed Peas and served as chair of the guitar program at the Los Angeles College of Music.
Miller told Press-Citizen that her family would get together for seven years and rehearse a few hours a day, playing music from Top 40 hits to Jimi Hendrix, and performing at local street fairs and private parties.
At age 14, with the family band no longer in existence, Miller was looking for opportunities of his own to play, including jazz and garage bands.
She started being a serious musician when she was 16, she said.
The trio, which normally consists of Jennifer Condos on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums, will have Steve Hass on drums this weekend instead. Bellerose will be on the way.
The trio formed about eight years ago when Miller had a gig and needed a bass player. She asked Condos for help and the duo were rehearsing music when Bellerose arrived.
Miller said the three were all on the same page, and Condos encouraged them to make a record.
“I feel like at that time it was like, ‘We’re a band,’ and we just shared a vision of music and friendship,” she said.
Though she’s performed at iconic venues like the Royal Albert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, Miller said some of the strongest moments of her career have been smaller shows, recalling performing outdoors with her brother amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like I was very fortunate to have so many incredible opportunities,” she said. “And I always say when I play music that inspires me, with musicians that inspire me, I’m happy and I feel really lucky that I get to do that.”
Miller described the trio’s sound as “melody-driven and narrative”. While they take their musicianship seriously, they also have fun.
“I was playing a gig with some of my friends the other night and my cheeks hurt by the end of the night from smiling so much,” she said. “That’s really the goal for me and of course for the audience, to feel some of that joy that I feel when I play.”
When: Saturday at 6 p.m
Where: main stage
The Dan Padley Quartet
If you’ve seen live music in the Iowa City area, you’ve probably heard Dan Padley on guitar.
That’s because the guitarist and composer is a frequent collaborator and performer in the East Iowa music scene.
Padley has worked with Elizabeth Moen, Blake Shaw, Jarrett Purdy and many others, and has also performed as a solo artist.
He and Purdy are working on a full ambient jazz record, funded in part by the Iowa Arts Council, due out July 8.
Padley picked up the guitar at the age of 12. He told the Press-Citizen that his best friend’s father and uncle both played guitar in Cedar Rapids. Padley’s uncle gave him informal tutoring and answered his questions as he began to learn.
Padley attended UI more than a decade ago studying music. There he met Shaw, a bassist who also performs in the quartet alongside Nolan Schroeder on saxophone and Christopher Jensen on drums.
The guitarist released four-track EP B&W earlier this year and album Sleep last year. Padley said his taste in music has changed over the years.
“I’ve also played with more songwriters in recent years. I think it opened my ears to just appreciating this type of music in a different way that I might not have appreciated before,” he said.
When: Sunday at 2 p.m
Where: local stage
Kurt Elling with Charlie Hunter
Kurt Elling is a two-time Grammy Award-winning jazz singer whose career has spanned more than two decades and has taken him to perform with the BBC Concert Orchestra, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and others.
The Chicago-born singer-songwriter collaborated with guitarist and former Blue Note labelmate Charlie Hunter to release “SuperBlue.”
Elling told KNKX Public Radio in January that the album is different from previous projects and is a long-awaited collaboration between the two.
The result is a groovy, funky 10-track album that still captures Elling’s four-octave range and rich baritone.
When: Saturday at 8 p.m
Where: main stage
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. You can reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.