New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Apr. 23 – May 2, 2010 New Orleans, Louisiana
A celebration of the entire African-American music diaspora, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival includes diverse genres from blues, gospel, and R&B to zydeco, Latin, rap, and of course, jazz. The festival celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2010, across two 3- and 4-day weekends at the Fair Grounds Race Course and at local nightclubs around the city. An expansive array of top-quality food, featuring the best and bizarre that Louisiana chefs have to offer, is available throughout the festival, and events spotlighting local crafts and history are a notable highlight. In 2009, the festival initiated an annual Community Day of Service to encourage visitors to help rebuild the city they loved after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
(Photo of the Nicholas Payton Quintet courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival)
Atlanta Jazz Festival
May 29-30, 2010 Atlanta, Georgia
The Atlanta Jazz Festival, held during Memorial Day weekend, caps the sprawling, city-wide celebration, 31 Days of Jazz. Highlighting the Southeast’s contributions to the history and development of Jazz, the festival takes full advantage of its location in Piedmont Park, downtown Atlanta’s “Central Park” with a slew of free-admission events. Local fans have an opportunity to get more involved by becoming one of the festival’s industrious “Jazzteers”. Whether your taste is for historic locales with jazz legends like Stanley Clarke, or hip urban nightclubs featuring up-and-comers like Kathleen Bertrand, the Atlanta Jazz Festival has it covered.
(Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Photographer: Robb Cohen)
Montreal International Jazz Festival
Jun. 25 – Jul 6, 2010 Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The largest Jazz festival in the world, the Montreal International Jazz Festival takes over six city blocks for 11 days of non-stop music at indoor and outdoor stages centered on the well-appointed Place des Arts complex. Fusing blues, world music, and jazz, the festival draws talented musicians from local luminaries like Nikki Yanofsky to international superstars like Stevie Wonder. Many performances are offered free of charge, including grand-scale concerts and nightly jam sessions hosted by master musicians. Offering a stellar international lineup without an overseas flight, Montreal is an experience not to be missed.
(Photo of Melissa Laveaux courtesy of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Photographer: Victor Diaz Lamich)
Iowa City Jazz Festival
July 2-4, 2010 Iowa City, Iowa
The jewel of the Iowa Summer of the Arts program, the Iowa City Jazz Festival saturates the capital with thousands of jazz fans drawn from all over the Midwest. Streets, clubs, and parks are all turned into the festival’s stages, featuring world-renowned artists such as the Neville Brothers, and showcasing talented local groups. Kid-friendly activities, including hands-on musical demonstrations, ensure that the entire family is included in the fun. With the atmosphere of an enormous street fair, complete with fireworks displays and food stalls, open access is an important part of the festival, as nearly all events are offered free of charge.
(Photo courtesy of the Iowa City Jazz Festival. Photographer: Greg Freiden)
Montreaux Jazz Festival
July 2-17, 2010 Montreaux, Switzerland
Immortalized in the song “Smoke on the Water”, the city of Montreaux, Switzerland has hosted world-recognized musicians of every genre for over 40 years. The Montreaux Jazz Festival continues that legacy by celebrating a shared passion for jazz music across cultures, nations, and oceans. Drawing a world-renowned international talent pool, the festival spreads along the breathtaking mountain shores of Lake Geneva, from the Stravinsky Auditorium main stage to the Montreaux Jazz Cafe at the Geneva International Airport, offering free and paid events. The related Montreaux Sounds website features live streaming feeds of the festival and archived videos of musical greats. Managed by founder and patron Claude Nobs, the festival has expanded to encompass related musical genres, such as blues, rock, and R&B, but remains a cultural touchstone and music legend.
(Photo of Lee Ritenour, B.B. King, and George Benson courtesy of the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Photographer: Daniel Balmat)
Newport Jazz Festival
Aug. 6-8, 2010 Newport, Rhode Island
The grandfather of American outdoor jazz festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival offers visitors a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy three days of non-stop music. Top-shelf jazz luminaries kick-off the festival with an evening concert at the nearby Newport Casino before the festival settles into Fort Adams State Park. The park provides a mix of intimate and vast backdrops for the festival’s three themed stages, featuring local and nationally-recognized talents including Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.
(Photo courtesy of the Newport Jazz Festival.)
Detroit International Jazz Festival
Sept. 3-6, 2010 Detroit, Michigan
Bringing jazz to the heart of Motown, the Detroit International Jazz Festival offers a familiar, “welcome home” attitude in a bustling metropolis. Musicians from New York and Philadelphia to Europe and Asia can be heard here, due to the festival’s distinguished history and international partnerships. Strong community ties are an important part of the festival’s legacy, with special events highlighting jazz musicians who used their music to blaze new trails for society.
(Photo of John Clayton, Rodney Whitaker, and Christian McBride courtesy of the Detroit International Jazz Festival. Photographer: Jeff Forman)
Tanglewood Jazz Festival
Sept. 4-5, 2010 Tanglewood, Massachusetts
Part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer session in the Berkshires, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival offers a chance to take in sprawling natural scenery while enjoying the jazz grooves. The festival’s laid-back, pastoral atmosphere is belied by its big-name performers, like Bob James, Donal Fox, and the Count Basie Orchestra, who join a summer-long progression of artists on the Tanglewood stages.
(Photo courtesy of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Photographer: Stu Rosner)
Monterey Jazz Festival
Sept. 17-19, 2010 Monterey, California
One of the longest continuously-running jazz festivals, the Monterey Jazz Festival started in 1958, featuring Billie Holiday, and is held annually at the park-like Monterey County Fairgrounds. Covering 9 stages for a three-day weekend, the festival also features panels, workshops, exhibits, and clinics for jazz musicians and fans alike. The non-profit festival also raises money for jazz education programs, and supports scholarships and concerts to continue the legacy of jazz music. Over the years, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, and Branford & Wynton Marsalis have all played Monterey. Clint Eastwood filmed part of his movie “Play Misty for Me” at the 1970 festival.
(Photo courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Photographer: Cole Thompson)
Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival
Oct. 7-10, 2010 Brownsville, Texas
Revitalizing interest in Afro-Latino musical culture, the Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival takes visitors on a whirlwind ride from the smooth salsa of the dance floor to the throbbing heart-rhythms of mambo and Cuban Jazz. From the first festival in 1997 featuring the legendary “King of Latin Jazz”, Tito Puente, the stages have drawn talented artists from throughout the Afro-Latino diaspora. Visitors can be swept away in a flood tide of history and passion, with showcase events featuring big band sounds and jazz hall dancing.
(Image courtesy of the Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival.)
Barbados Jazz Festival
Jan. 11-17, 2010 Barbados
What better way for a jazz fan to shed the winter blues than to enjoy sandy beaches, lush forests, and historic Caribbean resorts at the Barbados Jazz Festival? The festival has events at major indoor and outdoor venues all over the island, to suit any mood. Artists at the festival reflect influences from calypso and reggae to soul and R&B, including Smokey Robinson and Etienne Charles. Whether your taste is for a rockin’ all-night jam session in the hotel lounge or a smooth jazz concert on the beach, they’ve got it covered.
(Image courtesy of the Barbados Jazz Festival.)
Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival
Apr. 15-16, 2011 St. Louis, Missouri
Educating visitors about the rich history of jazz as an artform, the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival brings together an eclectic assortment of jazz musicians and students from around the country for a weekend of concerts, clinics, and collaboration. Sounds both familiar and experimental fill the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis campus, while master classes and student competitions offer a unique opportunity to observe both past and future generations of jazz artists. Those looking for a more intensive educational opportunity might check out the Jazz Education Network Conference, held May 20-22 at the UMSL campus, featuring contemporary jazz performances and workshops, and panels on bringing jazz education and entertainment to new heights.
(Photo of the Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side All-Stars courtesy of the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival. Photo Credit: Dawn DeBlaze)
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Like good wine, jazz music plays on the mind and the senses, with the power to invoke passion, melancholy, and jubilation all in the same trip along the scales. More than other forms of music, jazz is uniquely American – African, Latin, and European musical traditions combine to form something entirely new.
Every generation of jazz musicians takes the genre to strange new heights of improvisation and experimentation, while master artists refine and re-imagine familiar sounds with subtle new complexities.
In celebration of April as both Jazz Appreciation Month and the start of the summer festival season, theGrio has compiled this list of the top jazz festivals around the States and beyond.
Festivals offer a great chance to meet other jazz fans, introduce newcomers to the genre, learn more about the music’s history and techniques, and of course, enjoy the music. Many festivals offer hands-on activities geared specifically for children and families, while others cater to die-hard fans with intimate jam sessions and master clinics.
Whether your tastes lean toward relaxing smooth jazz, mind-warping experimental, or hip-swaying Latin jazz, there’s a festival to suit.
Jazz festivals come in all sizes, seasons, locations, and attitudes – sometimes all at the same festival – so even if you’ve never thought of attending one, reward yourself this year with a trip. Whether you visit a local street festival or an exotic destination event, you will be transported.
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