What better time than summer to immerse yourself in the world of jazz. Spring and summer offer an almost endless supply of jazz festivals, worldwide, from the peaceful Hudson valley to Montreux, Switzerland. It’s possible to spend almost the entire spring and summer enjoying fresh music and fresh air.
Looking for a big show in a major city? Try Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC or Chicago! If you’re looking to travel around enjoying the scenery between shows, try the Hudson Valley Jazz Festival. Want to see the world a little? Try the festivals in Montreal or Montreux, Switzerland. Want to take the kids and enjoy a day outside with your music? Litchfield Jazz Festival has a great lineup in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Most of these festivals have at least some performances outdoors, many have kid-friendly entertainment, craft fairs and regional food. Washington DC’s and Atlanta’s festivals also have educational opportunities for both children and adults. Dig in and learn a little more about each festival.
Atlanta Jazz Festival
The Atlanta Jazz Festival is one of the free festivals on this list, and one of the largest. Proceeding the Memorial Day weekend festival in Piedmont Park is a full month of jazz, “31 Days of Jazz” with performers at various locations throughout the city
The show features a wide array of talent. Russell Gunn’s Jazz Orkestra weaves together influences ranging from European Classical to Hip Hop with jazz roots to form a melodic but progressive jazz form. On the international stage, Edmar Casteñeda brings an incredible facility with the llanera harp to his jazz, with influences from all over the world. Cyrille Aimée brings her warm and light voice to an incredible mix of influences. In addition to the Main Stage and the International stage, there is also a stage just for local ensembles.
Education is also a focus at this jazz festival, with three workshops each on Satuday and Sunday. Roberta Gomberini hosts a vocal workshop on Saturday, along with a trumpet workshop and a workshop on big band rehearsal strategies. On Sunday, Somi leads a workshop on inspiration and the creative process.
There are food vendors near all the stages as well as the option to bring your own food. There is also an artist market with collectibles and artwork. For those traveling from outside the metro area, the W Atlanta Midtown is offering a 20 percent discount on their daily rate.
Blue Note Jazz Festival – New York, New York
The Blue Note Jazz Festival is the most strongly cosmopolitan of the festivals. Spread around over fifteen venues ranging from Greenwich Village to the upper east side, the Blue Note Jazz Festival gives participants a chance to experience the heart of the city. Venues include The Highline Ballroom, B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, Smalls Jazz Club and the Blue Note Jazz Club itself.
In addition to such greats as Bobby McFerrin, Michael Bolton and André Previn, the festival offers gospel, tejano, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop and electronica. In true New York fashion, the festival offers two lovely weekend brunches. On June 1, the first day of the festival, is a gospel brunch with the Belfast Community Gospel Choir. July 8 brings a gypsy swing jazz brunch with The Hot Club of Bushwick. Brooklyn is often considered the most creative borough of New York City, so it’s great to see this Brooklyn ensemble in the mix.
June 11 brings opportunity to celebrate the legacy of great performers. the International Film Center will show the New York premiere of The Case of the Three Sided Dream, a documentary on multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Also on June 11, the Blue Note Jazz club will host the Jazz Journalist’s Association Jazz awards.
There are no food carts offered at this festival, unless you count the diversity of street food all over the city! At this festival, New York is at your fingertips. Many of the show venues have food service, and there are tons of opportunities to enjoy fine food and sites throughout the city.
DC Jazz Festival
The DC Jazz festival is a huge event including 5 main stages. The main stage, “Jazz at the Hamilton Live” features headliners such as Paquito D’Rivera, The Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience and instrumental fusion band Snarky Puppy.
At Yards Park over the Anacostia River is a 3 day “blowout” featuring artists including Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and special guests vocalist Akva Alrich and harmonica virtuoso Frederic Yonnet. To round out the outdoor scene, there are beverage tastings, chef demos, family-friendly activities and a marketplace.
In addition to the river front stage, the Jazz in the Hoods stage features more than 80 performers at more than 40 venues. This “stage” gives attendees the chance to experience famous venues like Bohemian Caverns and less-typical jazz venues like the National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Garden. Among the artists included at this stage are DC natives bassist Corcoran Holt, and the influential Allyn Johnson.
This city festival gives both adults and children a chance to enjoy and learn about jazz. Jazz’n Families Fun Days is a great extension of their year-round dedication to jazz education. The Phillips Collection museum of modern art hosts this free two-day prelude event, providing a synergy between jazz and the visual arts. The event includes performances by 12 regional and youth ensembles, storytelling and even an instrument petting zoo. There are also hands-on art workshops for the whole family, giving participants a chance to create art while surrounded by great masterworks.
Twin Cities Jazz Festival – St Paul, MN
The Twin Cities Jazz Festival is on its 16th year of being one of the biggest civic events in the Midwest, attracting more than thirty thousand people a year. This show hosts national and local headliners including Dianne Reeves and Branford Marsalis at four indoor and outdoor stages plus 10 restaurant and club stages. New Orleans “Big Easy” award-winning keyboardist Joe Krown headlines the outdoor New Orleans stage at Union Depot. Melissa Aldana, the 2013 Thelonious Monk sax competition winner, will also be playing.
The first night, Thursday, June 26 is a Multi-club jazz night out with music all over the city. Studio Z has made itself a center for the future of jazz with a premiere of new jazz compositions by Zacc Harris, Steve Kenny, Chris Bates and Davu Seru, which continues into the next evening. The final night of the show, percussionist Babatunde Lea will be giving a free jazz clinic. Keep checking hotsummerjazz.com for more info on where to stay and artist updates in the coming weeks.
Montreal Jazz Festival
June 26-July 6
Looking to get out of the country for a little jazz but don’t want to go too far? Go to Montreal! Now in their 35th year, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal offers a broad spectrum of performers in a beautiful setting. Performances are held in several locations; clubs, theaters, concert halls and other arts-friendly spaces.
Michael Buble will be playing two shows, on July 4th and 5th, bringing his contemporary sounds to old classics and new favorites. Headliners also include Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin, B.B King and Bobby McFerrin. Grammy Award nominee and Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition winner Cécile McLorin Salvant will lead the way for the up and coming musicians. Enjoy the warm piano jazz of Shai Maestro on June 28 or the fresh cool sounds of Moonchild on July 3 and 4. July 4 even brings an actual battle of the bands, between The Glenn Miller Orchestra and The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra!
The city offers a great deal to see and do when you’re not listening to great music. Take public transit around the city and taste local foods at one of the four public markets, see locally designed fashion or take the family to one of the many museums and parks. Enjoy Montreal’s many cultural influences at one of the city’s many fine restaurants or go casual and enjoy the recent rage in street food.
Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux offers an amazing venue. Right on Lake Montreux, it as known as the Swiss riviera and sports beautiful views of the Italian alps and an awesome lakeside promenade. There’s plenty to do when you’re not enjoying the festival; the beautiful Chateau de Chillon on the far side of the lake, exploring the beautiful city on the hill and even visiting a statue of Queen’s Freddie Mercury!
Montreux Jazz Festival brings together an impressive array of musicians from around the world; Australia, Belgium, America, Iceland, England and musicians from within Switzerland itself. Montreux is one of the jazz festivals to venture out beyond the expected jazz fare to include hop-hop, electronica and jazz-influenced singer songwriters.
On July 16 at Auditorium Stravinsky, festival founder Claude Nob’s wish will finally come true; Stevie Wonder will take the stage. His show promises to be worth every Swiss Franc! Belgian singer-songwriter Selah Sue will be performing on July 5, bringing her original sound to the Montreux Jazz lab. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings will bring their soulful sounds to Auditorium Stravinsky on July 14th. Also included in the mix at this festival are Outkast, UK jazz singer Paloma Faith and the peaceful sounds of Ólafur Arnalds.
The festival includes numerous lakeside restaurants and bars and a promenade with food stands from noon to 4am. For young children 4-10, there is a daycare center, and for older kids there is Montreux Jazz Young Planet. Young Planet offers a pier with free activities, dance and music. This is designed to be an alternative festival, free of alcohol and smoking where young people can meet people their own age and enjoy the atmosphere.
There are many ways to buy tickets for Montreux Jazz Festival. There is the opportunity to buy tickets for individual performances, as well as week-long and daily passes. For the many guests flooding in from out of town, there is an option to combine a hotel stay and with your jazz experience.
Litchfield Jazz Festival – Goshen, CT
Litchfield is one of several jazz festivals in the packed New York metro area. Unlike the Blue Note festival, this festival is held outdoors in one place, at the Goshen Fairgrounds. This festival focuses on up and coming talent like Cécile McLorin Salvant, continuing her festival rounds on Friday, August 8. Also performing will be pianist Carmen Staaf. Ms. Staaf recently shined in Andrew Hadro’s album “For Us, the Living”. Here, she brings her sextet to perform their own brand of music.
Grammy-nominated Brussels Jazz Orchestra will be there with their original brand of orchestral jazz. Litchfield Jazz Camp staff and two-time Grammy nominee Doug Munro will be premiering his own Litchfield Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra; made up of colleagues from the camp, will be playing arrangements of music by Munro’s inspiration, Django Reinhardt.
True to form as an outdoor festival, Litchfield includes food vendors and a craft fair as well as some great activities for kids. There will be face painting, ceramic painting and a kids zone with a jazz mural, magic show and electric hula-hoop dancers. Plenty of food vendors will also be at the fairgrounds, selling everything from hot dogs to pad thai.
Hudson Valley Jazz Festival, New York
The Hudson Valley Jazz Festival is unique in its focus on local artists. There will be more well-known locals such as Dave Liebman. He will bring his group, Expansions with Bobby Avery, Piano, Tony Marino, Bass, Alex Ritz, Drums and Matt Vashlinshan on reeds. Other names include Bucky Pizzarelli, John Abercrombie, Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Other possibly lesser-known artists include New York locals Gabrielle Tranchina, guitarist Ed Littman and drummer Richie Morales. Festivals like this are important to the jazz and wider music community, giving those without labels or just starting their careers a chance to be seen and heard.
Keeping with the idea of a festival representing the entire Hudson Valley, this festival has shows throughout the area. 18 shows are spread through the beautiful arts town of Sugar Loaf, riverfront towns Peekskill and Hastings-on-Hudson and other towns throughout Orange, Ulster and Westchester Counties.
On Saturday, August 16, Pine Island Town Park will host live music and an art show by students and faculty from Warwick Music School. In addition to the music, the park has fields for sports and a playground for kids and families to enjoy. August 17 brings a jazz brunch at the Iron Forge Inn in Warwick, with a performance by the Mike Jackson Group.
Chicago Jazz Festival
August 29-September 1
This late summer show brings jazz enthusiasts to another of America’s great cities. The festival kicks off with their annual jazz club tour. The tour goes from 6pm to midnight in clubs and hotels throughout the city. Attendees can buy a promotional button for access to all the clubs and the trolley between clubs.
Several stages make up the festival, including the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion, Jay Spritzer Pavilion and the Young Jazz Lions Stage. Among the performers are the Robert Glasper Quartet, Hamid Drake and Bindu, and the Jimmy Heath Quartet with Jeb Patten.
August 31 brings ensembles that seem to push outward in all directions on the bounds of jazz, bringing in elements of classical, hop-hop and even house music. Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Chicago will be performing at 3:30 at the Von Freeman Pavillion, bringing a musical mix that dances the edge of free jazz and contemporary classical sounds. Starting at 8:45 at Jay Pritsker Pavillion is the Fats Waller Dance Party, featuring pianist and MacArthur Grant winner Jason Moran. Combining Motown, soul, hip-hop and house combined with an early jazz foundation to create a funky, danceable good time. Choreographer Maija Garcia will be joining with dancers from her company Organic Magnetics to add to the entertainment.