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Ten women to know on the Twin Cities jazz scene

courtesy Mary Louise Knutson
courtesy Mary Louise Knutson

by Simone Cazares

March 08, 2018

In honor of International Women's Day, we're spotlighting ten talented women on the Twin cities jazz scene. Here's a diverse mix of performers to check out!

Pippi Ardennia

Originally from Chicago, Pippi Ardennia began working has been working as a singer when she was 13 years old and performed in some of the city's most respected jazz clubs, playing with some of jazz's most well-known figures. Since moving to Minnesota, she's played around town with some of the areas top players and leads the Pip Jazz organization, which provides opportunities for students to perform and learn from professional musicians.

Debbie Duncan

Originally from Detroit, vocalist Debbie Duncan grew up in a musical family and was steeped in jazz, gospel, and Motown music from an early age. Duncan has opened for many of jazz's most famous musicians — from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson. After moving to the Twin Cities in the '80s, she has established herself as one of the area's best jazz vocalists. Whenever Duncan gets on stage, she doesn't just sing, she's a storyteller that never fails to captivate her audience. Through her powerful voice and her funny commentary, Duncan keeps things real. Her next album, Full Circle, will be released at the Dakota Jazz Club later this month.

Laura Caviani

Pianist Laura Caviani is best-known in the Twin Cities for her tributes to Thelonious Monk. She recently released her latest album, Mysterious Thelonious, this past month to celebrate Monk's centennial. Locally, she has also recorded with plenty of other great female jazz musicians like vocalist Lucia Newell and guitarist Joan Griffith.

Joan Griffith

Joan Griffith works as a classical and jazz guitarist, bassist, and mandolinist. You can often find Griffith performing with Patty Peterson's Jazz Woman All Stars and also with the Minnesota Orchestra as a classical mandolinist. Her style mixes Brazilian music with other influences to create a tone that is uniquely her own. When she isn't performing, she is one of the Twin Cities' leading music educators, leading ensembles at the University of St. Thomas, St. Catherine University, and Macalester College.

Mary Louise Knutson

Pianist Mary Louise Knutson plays with the JazzMN Orchestra, tours with Doc Severinsen, and leads her own groups in the Twin Cities. Her last album, In the Bubble, remained on the Top 50 charts for 19 weeks. She has also won two Billboard awards for original compositions and was one of five finalists in the first Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Piano Competition at Kennedy Center in 2005.

Aja Parham

Aja Parham is one of the Twin Cities' most well-versed singers, with a wide vocal range and a deep knowledge of music. You can find her singing anything from jazz standards to pop tunes, R&B, gospel, and Motown. In addition to singing with many of the Twin Cities' best jazz musicians, she has also performed with many well-known musicians from around the country — like trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer Francisco Mela. In the Twin Cities you can often find her working as a freelance vocalist, but she also sings in many groups with her husband, Solomon Parham.

Viviana Pintado

Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Pintado studied music at one of the country's top music conservatories before moving to Miami, Fla. She's toured around the world with many of the best Latin musicians from Albita Rodriguez to Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan. Since she moved to Minnesota in 2004, Pintado has established herself as a powerful force on the Twin Cities Latin jazz scene with her incredible technique and style. She performs with groups like Seven Steps To Havana, Charanga Tropical, Salsabrosa, and more.

Lucia Sarmiento

Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Lucia Sarmiento grew up with both jazz and Latin music. She studied jazz harmony and improvisation there with guitarist Andres Prado before moving to Buenos Aires to study at the Conservatorio de Musica Manuel de Falla, and then McNally Smith College of Music here in St. Paul. Currently she is part of New Sound Underground and leads the Lucia Sarmiento Quintet.

Jana Nyberg

Known for her unique blend of jazz and pop music, Jana Nyberg leads the Jana Nyberg Five and released her latest album, Set On You, this past fall. She also plays with her husband, Adam Meckler, and has been a longtime music teacher in the Twin Cities.

Charmin Michelle

You can typically find Charmin Michelle performing in duos with guitarists Joel Shapira and Sam Miltich. Her influences include Billie Holiday, to whom she's dedicated a few tributes, but Michelle still puts her own style on all the tunes she sings.

Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.