JAZZIZ Travel Guide: 20 Jazz Festivals That Should Be On Your Bucket List

The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (pictured) is among the many fests that should be on any serious jazz traveler’s bucket list.

There’s no denying that jazz is a global phenomenon, with a network of artist and fans that extends to every corner of the world. Dispersed as we are, we’re also more connected than ever, convening on sites like JAZZIZ.com to discuss, celebrate and occasionally argue over the music that binds us.

Occasionally, we even get to congregate in person, and jazz festivals, like the ones we list in this guide, allow us to connect to the music — and each other — on a deeper level.

Attending a festival is certainly one of the most exciting ways to experience jazz, but it’s also a way to interact with a new place and culture. Jazz festivals afford attendees the opportunity to hear familiar sounds in a far-off setting, but they also encourage festivalgoers to taste new foods, see new sights and meet new people. So, in the spirit of making the jazz world seem a little smaller, we’ve compiled a list of festivals that should be on any jazz fan’s bucket list. These are the festivals that, for reasons musical and historical, have made an impression on the jazz world that endures to this day. Of the 20 festivals listed, 10 are in the United States and Canada and 10 are international. Their start dates range throughout the year, so no matter when or where you’re planning your trip, you’ll be sure to find some jazz nearby.

United States and Canada

International Fest de Jazz de Montréal
Downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Next Edition: June 27 – July 6, 2019

©Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (Photo: Jean-François Leblanc)

Ranked as the world’s largest jazz festival in the Guinness Book of World Records, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is among the very best celebrations of jazz anywhere on the planet. Every year for 10 days, the French-speaking metropolis of North America becomes a living, breathing jazz venue, where fans of all types rub shoulders with aficionados of jazz in its purest form. Concerts take place on free outdoor stages in Montreal’s beautiful downtown business corridor, as well as in intimate clubs, swanky jazz venues and historic concert halls across the city. This is one festival you absolutely can’t miss.

Newport Jazz Festival
Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Next Edition: August 2-4, 2019

A view of the crowd at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2016. (Courtesy Douglas Mason)

The granddaddy of American jazz festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival was founded in 1954. The first edition, organized by jazz impresario George Wein, featured performances by the likes of Billie Holiday and Stan Kenton. In the years since, the festival has played home to some of the most iconic live performances in jazz. Sixty-five years since the festival’s inception, Wein still stands prominently at Newport’s helm — though he’s aided in his duties by modern bass phenom Christian McBride. Live music by the biggest names in jazz, together with Fort Adams’ scenic seaside beauty, make this a festival that should be on any serious jazz fan’s bucket list.   

Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey, California, United States
Next Edition: September 27 – 29, 2019

Monterey Jazz Festival (Photo: Cole Thompson)

Monterey Jazz Festival is much more than a series of concerts. It’s a full-blown jazz experience. Now in its sixth decade, the festival offers 20 acres of magnificent oak-studded grounds for fans to enjoy, featuring films, lectures, exhibitions, food and beverages, an international shopping bazaar and 8 stages of live jazz entertainment. More importantly, the festival is a major proponent of ensuring safe spaces for all musicians, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and culture. With stellar musical programming, a stunning natural landscape and an inclusive social outlook, Monterey is leading the way in a new jazz fest culture.

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Next Edition: April 2020

Trombone Shorty performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Photo: Courtesy the festival)

It only makes sense that the birthplace of jazz would be home to one of the most exciting music festivals in the world. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has made its mission to blend a wide mix of artists and genres, attracting some of the biggest names in modern music to its legendary stages. Historically, those acts have included Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck and many others. Today, you’re just as likely to see performances by modern stars like Trombone Shorty and Branford Marsalis as you would Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.

Litchfield Jazz Festival
Washington, Connecticut, United States
Next Edition: July 26-28, 2019

(Photo: NathanTurner)

The Litchfield Jazz Festival is one of the most scenic festivals in jazz, taking place amid the rolling hills of the Connecticut countryside. No surprise, then, that the festival continues to be a major draw for local jazz fans and touring musicians alike. For this year’s edition, the festival has relocated to The Gunnery in Washington, Connecticut, a move that coincides with the conclusion of the four-week-long Litchfield Jazz Camp. Featuring local food, top-flight jazz acts and performances by extremely talented campers, Litchfield is a feel-good fest worth seeking out.

Detroit Jazz Festival
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Next Edition: August 30 – September 2, 2019

Paul Warner / Getty Images

The Detroit Jazz Festival is among the largest free outdoor festivals in the country. Taking place over Labor Day, the festival has been a staple of the Midwestern jazz circuit for nearly four decades. Every year, in addition to booking international jazz icons as headliners, the festival also designates an artist-in-residence. Previous artists-in-residence include Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter. For the 2019 edition, the festival has brought in electric bass innovator Stanley Clarke. For a free festival, the experience is priceless.

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest
San Jose, California, United States
Next Edition: August 9-11, 2019

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest truly embodies the Silicon Valley start-up spirit. The first San Jose Jazz Festival took place in 1990 over two days in August at the Plaza de César Chavez, attracting 10,000 attendees. (The festival organizers doubled as the clean-up crew.) Thirty years later, the plaza remains the festival’s epicenter, but the magnitude of the festival has grown exponentially, becoming one of the West Coast’s foremost jazz fests, with more than 100 acts taking place across 12 stages. This year’s lineup represents the very best in vocal jazz, with headliners including Diane Reeves, Gregory Porter, Pink Martini and The O’Jays.

Chicago Jazz Festival
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Next Edition: August 23-September 1, 2019

The Chicago Jazz Festival is the most anticipated jazz event in the Windy City. This free, outdoor celebration of jazz takes place every year in downtown Chicago’s beautiful Millenium Park, as well as in additional venues throughout the city. The fest features artists from across the musical spectrum, with a special focus on the city’s homegrown avant-garde and blues artists. With the beautiful Chicago skyline as a backdrop, and with food and beverages from local eateries available onsite, this festival represents the very best of Chicago’s incredible jazz history.

Telluride Jazz Festival
Telluride, Colorado, United States
Next Edition: August 9-11, 2019

Since 1977, Telluride’s majestic perch high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado has been the site of an annual jazz fest combining breathtaking natural landscapes with the captivating music. Concerts take place in an intimate format, with abundant musical offerings from nationally touring acts on outdoor stages during the day and historic venues at night. Paired with alpine recreational activities and local food and wine, the result is an immersive live music experience that has attracted audiophiles from around the world for four decades.

Rochester International Jazz Festival
Rochester, New York, United States
Next Edition: June 21-29, 2019

Now in its 18th year, the Rochester International Jazz Festival has grown to accommodate more than 320+ shows during the course of its weeklong run, including a record 100+ free shows and 1500+ artists from around the world performing in 20 diverse venues in downtown Rochester, New York. Headlining the 2019 festival are George Benson, Patti LaBelle, Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, Steve Miller Band with special guest Marty Stuart, and Marc Cohn and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Hometown hero Steve Gadd will also appear with his band. From legendary performers and familiar favorites to rising stars and new discoveries, the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival navigates all genres of creative improvised music from all corners of the world.

Honorable Mentions

Biamp PDX Jazz Festival
Portland, Oregon, United States
Next Edition: February and March, 2020

Nationally and regionally supported as a cultural tourism initiative in celebration of Black History Month, PDX Jazz Festival is dedicated to preserving America’s indigenous art form by presenting internationally recognized jazz masters alongside local jazz musicians.

Atlanta Jazz Festival
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Next Edition: May 25-26, 2019

Over its more than 40-year history, the Atlanta Jazz Festival has been the backdrop to musical legends such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone. This free outdoor fest, held inside the beautiful Piedmont Park, is the perfect way to spend your Memorial Day weekend in ATL.

Jacksonville Jazz Festival
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Next Edition: May 23-26, 2019

At the Jacksonville Jazz Fest, attendees will experience two stages of live jazz, local food, drinks, shopping and entertainment. Since first taking place in 1981, the Jazz Fest has become one of the largest jazz festivals in the country, offering a fun and vibrant street festival atmosphere in downtown Jax.

New York Winter Jazzfest
New York City, New York, United States
Next Edition: January 9-18, 2020

Winter Jazzfest is New York City’s premiere showcase for improvised music, practically unrivaled in size and scope. The festival’s signature event is the Winter Jazzfest Marathon.  These endurance-listening sessions offer up to six hours of continuous music by performers from across the jazz spectrum.

Clearwater Jazz Holiday
Clearwater, Florida, United States
Next Edition: October 17-20, 2019

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is a four-day and four-night, world-class, live, music festival, enjoyed by over 35,000 people the third week of every October and now in its 40th year. The music festival has evolved from a series of concerts on the back of a flatbed truck and at venues around Clearwater into an annual, international, music festival that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Iowa City Jazz Festival
Iowa City, Iowa, United States
Next Edition: July 5-7, 2019

The Iowa City Jazz Festival is a three-day weekend of live jazz performances and delicious local dishes, capped off with a full-blown fireworks display over the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

International Festivals

Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux, Switzerland
Next Edition: June 28 – July 13, 2019

The Montreux Jazz Festival is one of the world’s most important fests, founded in 1967 on Switzerland’s Lake Geneva shoreline. The festival — the world’s second largest — was founded on a philosophy of pure jazz, and memorable performers from years past include Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. Today, jazz is still the festival’s guiding light, but its musical palette has expanded to include artists on the pop side of the musical spectrum. For the 2019 edition, that includes Sting, Elton John, Slash and ZZ Top.

North Sea Jazz Festival
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Next Edition: July 12-14, 2019

The Netherlands’ North Sea Jazz is the largest indoor music festival in the world, known for its pan-generational view of jazz and eclectic musical bookings. Visitors are regularly treated to new and emerging acts in the genres of jazz, blues, avant-garde rock, funk, soul and R&B, and the fest regularly accommodates more than thousand musicians spread out over 150 performances and fifteen different stages. But for such a large-scale event, the North Sea Jazz Fest in Rotterdam still manages to maintain an intimate character, reminiscent of its early days at the Hague, when legends like Count Basie and Stan Getz  graced its stage.

Umbria Jazz Festival
Perugia, Italy
Next Edition: July 12-21, 2019

The Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia is Italy’s most famous jazz celebration, known throughout the region as the premier musical celebration of the summer. The fest began in 1973 as a showcase for Italian jazz artists but in the years since has grown to accommodate musicians and ensembles from around the world. Though it has a strong jazz flavor, the fest attracts artists and jazz fans from related genres like funk, soul, experimental music and R&B. All of it takes place amid the modern-meets-historical landscape of Perugia, one of the most beautiful cities in Umbria region of Central Italy.

Havana Jazz Festival
Havana, Cuba
Next Edition: January 1-19, 2020

This fest, a dream destination for fans of Afro-Cuban jazz, allows attendees to experience all the sensuous sights and sounds of Cuba. Among this year’s scheduled performing artists are Chucho Valdes, Arthur O’Farrill, Joe Lavano, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ted Nash and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Numerous cultural organizations plan trips to this festival every year. Book yours now.

Jazz in Marciac
Marciac, France
Next Edition: July 25 – August 15, 2019

Jazz in Marciac, held every year in a charming, centuries-old village in southwestern France, turns a very small town into a very big jazz locale. The marquee seats 5,000 people for the prestigious evening concerts — regular headliners include Wynton Marsalis Cecile McLorin Salvant — but just as many people spend time outside of festival grounds. The whole village is the scene of myriad activities: free concerts on the square, art exhibitions, films, a market for local products and stands selling craftwork from further afield, not to mention the cafés and bars on every corner.

Cape Town Jazz Festival
Cape Town, South Africa
Next Edition: March 2020

Cape Town International Jazz Festival Free Concert Greenmarket Square (Photo: Bruce Sutherland)

The Cape Town Jazz Festival is one of South Africa’s most anticipated musical events, drawing fans from around the world to this coastal city for two days of outstanding music and educational programming. The festival takes a wide-view when it comes to its lineup — past years’ headliners have included Chaka Khan and Jeff Lorber — but there’s also a strong focus on local artists, such as drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and trumpeter Darren English. Next year, Cape Town will be the site of the International Jazz Day Global Concert, an event that will vault the city even further into the jazz spotlight.

Jarasum International Jazz Festival
Jarasum, South Korea
Next Edition: October 4-6, 2019

“Stepping onstage at the Jarasum Jazz Festival is like stumbling into an alternate universe where jazz is suddenly young, hip, sexy and cool,” says saxophonist Joshua Redman. The festival — which takes place on an island at the center of the Korean peninsula just a few hours from Seoul — attracts upwards of 100,000 attendees per year from countries far and wide. The headlining artists are equally vast and varied, with previous headliners including the Carla Bley Trio and saxophonist Grace Kelly. This is one fest where attendees aren’t afraid to get down and dance to the music, so if you’re planning a trip, be sure to bring your dancing shoes.

JazzFest Berlin
Berlin, Germany
Next Edition: October 31 – November 3, 2019

Jazzfest Berlin 2017 ® Camille Blake

In 1964, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the opening remarks at the Berlin Jazz Festival, honoring jazz’s role as a force of integration, progress and cross-cultural understanding. More than 50 years later, jazz musicians from Berlin and all over the world continue to come together to play at the Jazzfest, making the festival one of the oldest and most prestigious in Europe. The festival is jam-packed with music but well-distributed across town, with concerts taking place in intimate jazz clubs throughout the city, allowing you to sample all that Berlin has to offer as you take in sounds of international jazz artists.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival
Cheltenham, England
Next Edition: May 2020

Jamie Cullum is a fan. So is Moira Stuart. And it’s no wonder why. With over 20,000 music-fans getting in the festival swing every year, Cheltenham Jazz Festival has become one England’s most beloved jazz celebrations. Taking place amid the stunning Montpellier Gardens at the heart of Cheltenham, this fest is the perfect place to soak up the sounds of today’s biggest jazz stars (and to catch a glimpse of the jazz stars of tomorrow), while wining and dining on festival grounds. This fest is family- and foodie-friendly, with an array of vendors offering local fare and activities for kids. “The great thing about Cheltenham Jazz Festival is that it brings together so many genres under the umbrella of jazz,” says Cullum.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Melbourne, Australia
Next Edition: May 31 – June 9, 2019

Every year, Melbourne comes alive with the jazz spirit as the Melbourne Jazz Fest takes place across the city’s concert halls, arts venues and jazz clubs. Now in its third decade, the festival typically sees more than 40,000 people attend over 100 public events, with over 500 international and Australian artists performing and collaborating at over 20 of Melbourne’s iconic venues. The fest specializes in world premieres by visiting and local jazz artists, making this fest a true one-of-a-kind experience. This fest is the very pinnacle of jazz Down Under.

Honorable Mentions:

Panama Jazz Festival
City of Knowledge, Panama City, Panama
Next Edition: January 13-18, 2020

The brainchild of pianist Danilo Perez, the Panama Jazz Festival is a much-sought-after jazz event in South America, attracting over 300,000 jazz fans worldwide and offering students more than 4.5 million dollars in scholarships on an international level. Its educational component — supported by Berklee College of Music — brings 5,000 music students from all over the world to perform with Berklee faculty and alumni every year.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival
Copenhagen, Denmark
Next Edition: July 5-14, 2019

Copenhagen has played an important role in the history of jazz, serving as home to American expatriates and Danish innovators alike. And since 1979, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has been shining a spotlight on the city’s vibrant music scene. Lasting 10 days, the festival envelops the Danish capital, offering a sumptuous musical feast to the 250,000 guests. Attendees can enjoy live jazz on the city’s streets, in its clubs, cafés and concert halls, and at open-air night venues – all in the very heart of historical Copenhagen.

St. Lucia Jazz Festival
St. Lucia, Greater Antilles
Next Edition: May 4-12, 2019

The St. Lucia Jazz Festival Produced in Collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center will showcase more than a dozen performances by world-renowned artists in intimate venues and public settings throughout one of the Caribbean’s most magnificent islands. If the pristine beaches, lapping waves and billowing palms aren’t enough to entice a visit, consider the musical programming, which this year will included a gospel jazz brunch on Mother’s Day, jazz cruises under the stars, concerts in waterfront venues and breathtaking open-air performances.

Red Sea Jazz Festival
Eilat, Israel
Next Edition: August 25-27, 2019

The Port of Eilat, a modern tourist town with a spectacular backdrop of blue sea and red desert mountains, provides the captivating location for this yearly celebration of jazz culture. Catch immersive sets by some of the biggest names in jazz in shipping freighters that have been transformed into music halls, indulge on local food and wine, or simply sit back and watch the yachts drift in from the sea. It’s all there at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.  

Java Jazz Festival
Jakarta, Indonesia
Next Edition: March 2020

Jakarta International BNI Java Jazz Festival (JJF) is one of the largest jazz festivals in the world and arguably the biggest in Southern Hemisphere. Held in Jakarta, Indonesia, this annual Jazz got its start in 2005 when approximately 102 groups and 1,227 artists performed in 146 shows. It recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with a bigger-than-ever bash that featured headliners Toto and H.E.R.

 

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