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Best Jazz Bands In Minnesota

Ever since the unfortunate closing of the legendary jazz joint Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, the jazz scene in Minnesota just hasn't felt quite the same. But that certainly doesn't mean there aren't still some of the nation's finest jazz musicians pushing boundaries and putting incredible music on stages all across the state. From Studio Z, to the Black Dog Cafe, to the Dakota Jazz Club, there is great jazz to be found. Keep an eye (ear) out for these artists and events coming up and see (hear) for yourself.

bad plus

The Bad Plus

While this jazz trio plays shows all across the globe, and has seen the type of success that most musicians can only dream of, it still stays true to its roots right in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Known as setting new standards in jazz, the trio consistently creates music that is at once familiar and brand new, music that the New York Times calls "avant-garde populism" that brings new sounds in an accessible way to listeners everywhere. Make sure to catch The Bad Plus when the group returns to Minneapolis.

The Illicit Sextet

The tongue-in-cheek name is the only thing funny about this jazz ensemble that broke into, and took over, the local jazz scene back in 1987. After a long hiatus, the group has now returned to the stage to give jazz fans what they had been missing: an eclectic, original mix of style and substance, incredible solo artists blending into a group that brings both energy and a peace that never fails to resonate through the room. Veteran showmanship doesn't diminish the excited energy of a band that still feels fresh after all these years.

Saxophone Generic
(credit: Jupiter Images)

JazzMN Orchestra

Comprised of 17 solo and ensemble musicians that come together to create pure magic onstage, the concert series put on every year by this orchestra is a beautiful representation of jazz in all of its forms. Often with guest musicians joining to add another piece to the already dynamic and eclectic group, this is the experience that jazz enthusiasts long for. This is not something you'd find in the intimate, candle-lit jazz joints people imagine. This is music in all of its glory.

Related: Minnesota Music Students To Play With Midwest Jazz Band

Phil Hey Quartet

A modern jazz quartet that you won't be able to help but move to, these four musicians have hit stages across the Twin Cities, bringing their own brand of jazz to eager audiences and excited listeners. With a unique sound, blending vibes with rhythm section, letting Phil Hey's drumming mesh with the smoother vibes from Dave Hagedorn, adding a little bebop bass from Tom Lewis, and rounding out with pianist Phil Aaron's lively fingers on the ivories, the Phil Hey Quartet is an act not to be missed.

Dean Magraw
(credit: Pollert)

Dean Magraw

One name that has popped up consistently in the local music scene for years is guitarist Dean Magraw. From St. Paul and Minneapolis, all the way up to Duluth, Dean Magraw has played with local artists, legends and masters of jazz to solidify his status as a local great, a guitar master, a hometown hero. Whether you see him on a small, intimate stage where you can try and keep up with his fingers moving deftly across his instrument (good luck), or at a larger venue where all you can do is bask in the music, this is an artist you should definitely keep an ear out for.

Related: Dakota Plans To Take Over Shuttered Artists' Quarter

Adrian Schramm is a resident Saint Paul writer with a passion for all things local. Through his work with Saint Paul Almanac and Minneapolis Examiner at, as well as in the kitchens of bars and restaurants around town, he has discovered what truly makes the Twin Cities tick.

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