“The Selby and Rondo neighborhoods have always had a wonderful history that revolves around family, community and togetherness. Folks just simply needed a way to rekindle that spirit.” –Mychael Wright, Owner-Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe, Founder-Selby Ave JazzFest
Selby Ave JazzFest began as a vision of Golden Thyme Coffee Cafe owner and Selby community activist Mychael Wright back in the early months of 2002.
“I didn’t have a grand opening celebration for my business, Golden Thyme Coffee Cafe,” stated Mychael. “As we got up and running, I wanted to see how the community would react to a yearly music fest-type of event.”
“The first anniversary of 9/11 was coming up and you could just tell that people were feeling pretty somber,” added Mychael. “I then thought to myself, ‘I’m tired of feeling this way. We need to celebrate the good things that are going on in this world…especially here on Selby.’ Nothing gets people together like a good old-fashioned block party, so we took it from there.”
The inaugural Selby Ave JazzFest took place on Milton Avenue between Dayton and Selby Avenues. A small, but enthusiastic crowd of 600 people enjoyed an afternoon of great local jazz, food…and a much-needed dose of community healing.
“The morning started out rainy and kind of cold. I looked at my wife Stephanie and wondered what the heck we were going to do if the weather stays this way,” recalled Mychael. “Around noon, the sky opened up and beautiful sunshine shown through.”
Mychael added, “It turned out to be a perfect fall day which was great because I think most folks were tired of feeling down about the events of the past year.”
2003: Mychael expanded the Festival’s grounds to include frontage on both Selby and Milton. An estimated crowd of 2,800 enjoyed top-notch entertainment bill that included Jazz by Fosse; featuring the legendary Irv “Mr. Smooth” Williams, Sara Renner with Billy Steele & Band and national recording artist Cynthia Johnson whose jazzy version of the late 70′s Lipps, Inc. hit “Funkytown” still has Fest regulars talking.
2004: JazzFest featured the first in a number of “Jazz Heritage Showcase” main acts. Twin City jazz artists, Geoff Jones, Thomasina Petrus and Greg Sears meticulously recreated the image and vocal stylings of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstein. The crowd of approximately 4,500 was also entertained by St. Paul Central High School’s Jazz Ensemble and JOTO-an Afro-Cuban jazz side project of Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams. “This Fest was one to remember…Joto’s brilliant musicianship had everyone in a state of awe,” recalled Mychael.
2005: 6,500 people took in a sun-soaked day of great music what has been the hottest day in the Fest’s history. “It was unseasonably hot. Most folks were perched up next to the building on the south side of Selby and Milton; all trying to grab what little available shade there was,” said Mychael. Headliner Patty Lacy wowed the crowd with a full set of Gospel-influenced jazz originals. The Fest also featured the second inclination of the Jazz Heritage Showcase, which included Debby Duncan, Geoff Jones, Thomasina Petrus, Greg Sears and Regina Marie Williams put on a dazzling tribute to history’s great jazz duos.
2006: For as hot as the ’05 Fest was, 2006 was just the opposite in the temperature department. “I think a few flakes flew while we were setting things up that morning,” stated Mychael. A crowd of 5,500 braved the “low-50′s by the headlining act” sets of music, including the first-ever open- stage event.
2007: The event attracted the largest crowd to date with an estimated 9,500 people attending the event over the course of eight hours. “It was beautiful,” Mychael said of last year’s gathering. A diverse mix of music was featured, including the Latin sounds of Salsa del Sol, West African rhythms of SUNplug’d w/ Ken Wanaku and Caribbean stylings of Irie Sol & Angelo Williamson. The Fest also marked the inaugural year for the Leigh Kamman Award; an honor given to the individual who has contributed to the Twin City’s jazz scene at the grassroots level over the course of their lifetime. Award namesake Leigh Kamman was rightfully awarded the honor for his decades of broadcasting excellence.
The 2007 JazzFest was also awarded “Best Neighborhood Jazz Festival” by Mpls-St. Paul Magazine.
2008: simply put, it poured. “I think it was our first real rainstorm in something like eighteen days,” said Mychael. “We started setting up early in the morning when it started. The rain continued until around 4:30 PM when Jason ‘Malletman’ Taylor hit the stage. The clouds left, the sun came out and he went on doing his thing as only he can do.”
2009: Over 12,000 people listened, ate, danced and interacted on what could be best described as a perfect fall day. Smooth jazz saxophonist Kim Waters put on a blistering show. Global musician and Eritrean national hero Hagos Berharne, Walker West Urban Legends of Jazz, Brio Brass, the Lex-Ham Community Band and Dick & Jane’s Big Brass Band rounded out a great day of music.
2010: One word could be used to describe the 2010 JazzFest…PERFECT! With temps in the low 70’s and the sun shining for the whole day, the stage was set for the most successful JazzFest to date. “Seriously, could you ask for a better day?” pondered Mychael. The ’10 entertainment line-up featured solid sets from Brio Brass, Walker West Music Academy Jazz All-Stars, Salsabrosa and John Penny & Globafo featuring Pippi Ardennia.
“One thing that stood out for me in terms of our entertainment line-up was the return of the Jazz Heritage Showcase, a collection of Penumbra Theater and Twin City jazz scene regulars that bring back all of the old classics,” stated Mychael. “It was time to get back to discovering the roots of American jazz and boy did they pull it off.”
Headlining the 2010 Fest was bassist extraordinaire Gerald Veasley. “He fired it up!” said Mychael on Veasley’s performance. “His band was tight and he was spot on. What a great way to end one of our largest Fests to date.”
2011: JazzFest’s 10th anniversary. Headliner smooth jazz saxophonist and Grammy nominee Gerald Albright, who put on a smoking hour and a half set that had the crowd clamoring for more. “Gerald is a pro, no doubt about it,” stated Mychael. “He loved the feel of the festival, likening it to one large block party.”
2012: Yet another glorious day, featuring a clear sky and temps in the high 70’s. Abdul Zuhri and his band along with vocalist Cheryl Pepsii-Riley served as headliners. The ’12 Fest also featured a wonderful set from the vocalists who made up that year’s Jazz Heritage Showcase, Timotha Lanae and Pippi Ardennia.
2013: Mother Nature turned things a bit moist for a short time, the second Fest to witness a little rain. “At 4:30, the place was packed; as packed as I’ve ever seen it,” declared Mychael. “Then at 5:00, it began raining and really kept coming down until about 6:30 or so. It slowed down just in time for headliner keyboardist Marcus Johnson. Saxophonist Damon L. Brown co-headlined the gig.
2014: The weather gods smiled on the nearly 10,000 folks in attendance. Multi-Grammy nominee and drummer extraordinaire Harvey Mason performed to an enthusiastic audience. In addition, great sets from rising star Danny Kusz (who sprinted throughout the crowd during his performance), Jason and the Q, legendary Twin Cities vocalist Maurice Jacox, Brio Brass, Walker West Music Academy’s Legends of Jazz and Dick & Jane’s Big Brass Band kept the audiences’ toes a ‘tapping.
2015: Another beautiful fall day! The 14th anniversary featured a smoking’ set from headliner, Twin Cities resident and former Prince saxophonist Walter Chancellor Jr. “People need to know about the talent that sits here in their backyard,” stated Mychael. The day also featured performances from former Weather Report drummer Eric Kamau Grávátt’s side project, Source Code, Salsa Del Soul, Lex-Ham Community Band and Walker West Music Academy’s Legends of Jazz. Dick and Jane’s BBB again kicked of the day with their New Orleans-style procession.
2016: Mychael pulled out all the stops in celebration of the Fest’s fifteenth anniversary by presenting Grammy Award Winner saxophonist Kirk Whalum. “What a show! What a day!,” stated Mychael in regards to Mr. Whalum’s performance. “When he performed Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” in the crowd…what a moment!” JF15 also featured the reunion of Anthony Walker and his father, Walker West founder Reverend Carl Walker, The Men of New Hope, Brio Brass, Walker West’s Urban Legends of Jazz and the Selby Avenue Brass Band.
2017: “Overall, from the time the grounds opened until the sunset, this was perhaps our best top to bottom music lineup,” stated Mychael. The Selby Avenue Brass Band kicked off the Fest and the event featured great performances from New Sound Underground (“A scorching set!,” proclaimed Mychael), Salsa Del Sol and Walker West’s Urban Legends of Jazz. Headliner MotorSOUL Collective, a collaboration of jazz and R&B artists from throughout the US served as the headliner. “This was the first time that I can remember that people would not leave at 8 AM,” added Mychael. “I was like ‘OK, it’s 8 PM. Time to go.’ and people still wanted more.”