Scene Maker Q+A: New director puts out fire for Twin Cities Jazz Festival

Dayna Martinez handled the emergency situation calmly, especially as first-year executive director of the 26th Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Master violinist Regina Carter had to cancel because of a repetitive stress injury just four weeks before the festival, set for June 21-22.

Martinez, a former longtime executive at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, knew what to do. In a recent interview, she explained her moves as well as other things about the $500,000, free-admission festival featuring more than 80 acts in various venues. Here are excerpts.

Q: How did you deal with the Regina Carter cancellation?

A: It was pretty quick. Regina's agent let me know so I asked the agent for suggestions she might have on her roster. She came up with Kandace Springs [a singer/pianist]. I heard Kandace did well at the Milwaukee jazz fest and she's been to the Dakota a few times. I thought about it for a little bit and then I thought Kandace would help with the variety of the lineup this year. The agent contacted me [about Carter] before we went to print on our signage and all that. I hope Regina can heal quickly and I'd love to bring her back next year.

Q: You had a year in which you shadowed founder and executive director Steve Heckler. So how is the job different than what you expected?

A: It's pretty much how I pictured. No surprises, right? I knew I'd be fundraising but I didn't know I'd be so worried about it all the time. I didn't realize I'd meet so many people because of fundraising. I want to start going to other jazz festivals and learn how they do it.

I've got a great team that's been doing the sponsorships for jazz fest for a while. With grants, I'm a lot more directly involved. I kind of like it. It's a lot of details. And I'm learning more how the Legacy Amendment works and how the legislative session works. We received an appropriation from the state for next year.

Q: How often have you had to call Steve Heckler with a question?

A: He's on my speed dial. I always have questions for him. He's happy to help. He's on our emeritus board. There are certain logistical questions that only he has the answer for. For example, we have to hood parking meters around Mears Park and why he hoods this many meters. I asked him about the production schedule [like] when to bring in the piano; Schmitt [Music] lends us two grand pianos.

Q: How many paid staffers do you have? How many volunteers?

A: All the professional artists are paid [not the student musicians]. I have quite a crew that comes in for those couple of days, about 30 people, not including the stage and sound companies and security and police. About 100 volunteers, working the bars and being ambassadors and greeters.

Q: How did your experiences at the Ordway prepare you for this job?

A: I did a whole lot of different jobs there in 25 years. I worked in fundraising, the box office, I was the contract manager, I worked in programming. Definitely the contract work was invaluable. That probably helped me in replacing Regina Carter, too. At the Ordway, I developed relationships with agents. I also led the family festival at the Ordway for 10 years. I'm grateful that at the Ordway I had all these different departments working — the marketing department, the production department. Now I'm the sole full-time employee.

Q: What changes would you like to make for next year?

A: I did add a couple of venues in Minneapolis — Cedar Cultural Center, Northrop and Umbra. I would like to get more venues in Minneapolis because it is the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, after all. I'm interested in getting professional jazz musicians into schools. I want to keep the festival free and accessible to folks, with this great community vibe that it has. I'd like to figure out a way to make it easier with parking and transportation. Maybe shuttles like the State Fair has.

Q: What was your first jazz concert?

A: My dad would play jazz and classical music [records] when I was growing up [in Warsaw, Mo.]. I might have seen Dave Brubeck with my dad when I was in college. My dad played Dave Brubeck records and I loved this vibraphonist from Hawaii named Arthur Lyman, his record "Taboo." My dad would listen to jazz versions of Beatles songs. I loved the real Beatles records.

Q: How do you consume your jazz these days?

A: I love live jazz. I go to the Dakota, Crooners and I've been to Berlin a couple times. I live stream. I have CDs still; I listen to them. I'm learning a lot especially about the local scene. I've been going through each instrument of jazz and on Google saying "jazz pianist" and it brings up a long list. Some I'm familiar with. And I'm finding out about people I've never heard of. I'm in vibraphonists right now.

Twin Cities Jazz Festival

Performers: Joe Lovano, Kandace Springs, Karrin Allyson, Stefon Harris and others

When: 4 p.m. June 21, noon June 22

Where: Mears Park in downtown St. Paul and various venues

Admission: Free