By Jim Ferri
Jazz is uniquely American.
It originated in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century and in the last few decades has become one of our greatest exports to the rest of the world.
Today you’ll find jazz clubs on every continent in the world, even in Antarctica (see this YouTube video McMurdo Station, Antarctica Celebrates International Jazz Day 2014). In Europe alone more than 500 jazz festivals are held every year, many of them headlined by American jazz greats.
The first organized jazz festival in North America took place in Newport, RI in 1954. Since then jazz festivals have proliferated all over the USA and Canada, offering spectacular line-ups of diverse artists, some well-known, others still up-and-coming. Many celebrate jazz in its broadest sense, spanning numerous genres.
While some are day- or weekend-long events in a single venue, others span up to 10 days in numerous venues all over a city. Some even incorporate late-night jam sessions and provide the opportunity to meet the artists.
The following is a list of summer jazz festivals in North America, a few of which are already underway. Since this is a listing of summer festivals only, it does not include such well-know festivals as the Playboy Jazz Festival (usually held mid-June) in Los Angeles, or the Jacksonville Jazz Festival in Jacksonville, FL (May 21-24, 2015).
While all of these festivals take place in the USA and Canada, you’ll also find jazz in Mexico at the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in Playa del Carmen in late November.
This list is not all-inclusive and only highlights the larger well-known summer festivals. There are hundreds more all over the USA and Canada that will have you tapping your feet all summer long.
TD Toronto Jazz Festival
June 19-28, 2014
Launched in 1987 as an eight-day jazz performance, it has since mushroomed into a10-day city festival with more than 1,500 musicians and 350 performances. The festival, which now attracts more than a half-million music lovers, takes place in more than three-dozen locations about the city. The heart of the festival is in Nathan Phillips Square downtown.
Headliners: Keith Jarrett; Chaka Khan; Earth, Wind & Fire
Ottawa Jazz Festival
June 20-July 1, 2014
Ottawa’s Jazz Festival is the second oldest jazz festival in Canada. Launched in 1980 in the nation’s capital city, the 12-day festival features some of the world’s most popular musicians who perform day and night, both indoors and out, in downtown venues. It now attracts more than 300,000 people annually.
Headliners: Aretha Franklin; Bobby McFerrin; Natalie MacMaster; Dianne Reeves
Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival
Rochester, New York
June 20-28, 2014
Attendance at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival has grown from 15,000 attendees when it was founded in 2002 to more than 195,000 last year. More than 1,200 artists now entertain music lovers with 300+ concerts (including 81 free shows) at 19 venues about the city.
Headliners: Buddy Guy; Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers; Earth, Wind and Fire; Janelle Monae; Fourplay; Michael McDonald
Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Vancouver, British Columbia
June 20-July 1, 2014
Now in its 29th year, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival takes on four stages scattered around the Vancouver Art Gallery, as well in 30+ other venues throughout Vancouver. 1,800 musicians will entertain an expected 500,000 attendees in more than 300 shows.
Headliners: Bobby McFerrin; Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood; Hiromi
D.C. Jazz Festival
June 24-29, 2014
Now in its 10th year, the D.C. Jazz Festival is the capital’s largest music soiree. This year it will host almost 100 performances in nearly 60 concert venues and clubs throughout Washington, D.C.
Headliners: Gregory Porter; Trombone Shorty; Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def); Cyrus Chestnut; The Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience; Snarky Puppy
Twin Cities Jazz Festival
St. Paul, MN
June 26-28, 2014
When launched 16 years ago, the intent of the founders was not to create a jazz festival but only to promote local jazz artists to the community in a one-day event. Today it has grown into a three-day event on several main stages in downtown St. Paul, and in clubs and restaurants around the city. All shows are free and there are free rides to some venues on local transit.
Headliners: Dianne Reeves; Branford Marsalis; Melissa Aldana; Joe Krown
Montreal International Jazz Festival
June 26-July 6, 2014
The granddaddy of them all, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is the largest jazz festival in the world. Every year more than 2 million people attend this 10-day musical extravaganza composed of 3,000 musicians and public entertainers from some 30 countries, performing in 1,000 concerts and activities (two-thirds of which are free) in the heart of Montreal’s downtown core.
Headliners: Diana Ross; Tony Bennett; Aretha Franklin; St. Vincent; Beck; Michael Buble; Elvis Costello
Fillmore Street Jazz Festival
San Francisco, CA
July 5-6, 2014
San Francisco’s Fillmore Street Jazz Festival – the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast – attracts more than 100,000 people each year. This year the two-day festival, which is part of an arts and crafts festival sponsored by the local merchants association, will be celebrating women and their contribution to music.
Headliners: Ila Cantor; The California Jazz Conservatory; Caminos Flamencos; Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers
Newport Jazz Festival
Newport, Rhode Island
August 1-3, 2014
Although it was the first jazz festival in the USA, the famed Newport Jazz Festival was not held every year since its inception in 1954 and also changed venues and cities. But now it’s back in pretty Newport, Rhode Island at Fort Adams State Park and the Newport Casino, still brokering, says The New York Times, “its fantastic reputation into no end of sizably talented guests.”
Headliners: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis; Bobby McFerrin; Trombone Shorty; Dee Dee Bridgewater; Robert Glasper; Dr. John; Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Detroit Jazz Festival
August 29-September 1, 2014
Going stronger than ever after 35 years, the Detroit Jazz Festival is actually a major cultural institution that provides year-round concerts and educational programming culminating in the four-day Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend. More than 750,000 people attend the festival and this year’s 100 performances (all free) will take place on five stages on several blocks in the city’s downtown.
Headliners: Joshua Redman; Dave Holland – Prism Quartet; Tom Harrell; Dr. Lonnie Smith; Rodney Whitaker; Pharaoh Sander’s Quartet
Chicago Jazz Festival
August 28-31, 2014
A perennially popular Labor Day Weekend event in the Windy City, the Chicago Jazz Festival originated as a festival to honor Duke Ellington. Now 30 years later the festival attracts more than 150,000 fans to Millennium and Grant Parks.
Headliners: Terence Blanchard; Gary Burton; Dave Holland; Cécile McLorin Salvant; Rufus Reid; Tom Harrell; Esperanza Spalding; the Sun Ra Arkestra
Indy Jazz Fest
September 11-20, 2014
Originally created to spotlight Indianapolis’ rich jazz heritage and culture in the sports-minded city, the 10-day Indy Jazz Fest, is now in its 15th season. The popular jazz event heralds jazz artists, soloists, instrumentalists and bands with a variety of live music performances and other scheduled events raging from Master Classes to “pub creeps.”
Monterey Jazz Festival
September 19-21, 2014
Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “an irresistible mix of old-time, gypsy, bluegrass, jazz, Irish, and ragtime,” the Monterey Jazz festival is held annually about 100 miles south of San Francisco on the grounds of central California’s Monterey Fairgrounds. First held in 1958, the three-day event is the longest running jazz festival in the world. “They did it first and did it right,” opines The New York Times.
Headliners: Diana Krall; Wayne Shorter; Bobby McFerrin; Bob James & David Sanborn; George Benson; Dave Holland’s PRISM; Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club; Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas; Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; Gregory Porter