Top 10 Jazz Festivals in the USA

The USA is the birthplace of the magical musical genre of Jazz. Known as the first truly American art form, Jazz’s rise to global domination mirrored a young USA’s rise to be a superpower. Jazz is intrinsically intertwined with America’s history and has evolved over the years just as the nation has. As Jazz began to incorporate and mix in sounds from other genres, Jazz festivals began to relax the type of artists and artistry they featured at their events. Nowadays, Jazz festivals also include acts that inspire and have been inspired by Jazz; the only criteria for music selection seems to be an inclination towards creative ingenuity. If you thought that Jazz was dead, nothing could be further from the truth, the music genre is still popular today with many long time running music festivals as well as a few more current ones that have popped up in recent years.

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PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Oregon

To celebrate Black History Month, PDX Jazz Festival was founded in 2004 to honor those who made Jazz what it is today with a series of concerts and events presented over the course of two weeks. PDX Jazz Festival takes over downtown Portland for eleven days every year in February, bringing some of jazz’s greatest stars to over a dozen venues across the city. This annual festival is dedicated to preserving America’s indigenous art form by presenting internationally recognized jazz masters alongside local musicians and includes education and outreach programs that extend into Portland’s schools and neighborhoods, as well as a generous offering of free performances.

Jazz In The Gardens Music Festival in Miami, Florida

Jazz in the Gardens has easily become the city of Miami’s premiere entertainment event. Having 15 years of history under its belt, Jazz in the Gardens celebrates diversity, culture and art. Through a stellar lineup of Jazz, R&B, Soul and World Beat, the festival showcases how various genres of music interact and influence each other. This inclusive approach to the lineup manifests itself in a uniquely uplifting atmosphere. Event goers find themselves entrenched in the rich beats and musical stylings that vibrate from the stage. The event not only brings world-renowned talent to Miami Gardens, but it gives local artists the opportunity to be seen, heard and possibly discovered. Jazz in the Gardens music festival is considered by many as the undeniable “travel destination for the spring.” Jazz in the Gardens occurs annually in March and serves as the inaugural event of the highly anticipated music festival season in Miami.

Reno Jazz Festival in Reno, Nevada

Reno Jazz Festival 2013

Almost 60 years old and organized by the University of Nevada, Reno Jazz Festival is not your normal festival experience. The event has a heavy focus on education, welcoming in students, educators, and professional musicians to the university for showcases, jam sessions, competitions and awards. The event regularly draws in crowds of nearly 10,000 students and their families each year with attendees coming in from within Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. Though this music festival might not have the same level of intensity as some of the other Jazz festivals on this list, it provides for a variety of family friendly and musical entertainment where you are undoubtedly able to learn about the rich history and culture of Jazz and celebrate it to the fullest.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, colloquially known simply as Jazz Fest, is perhaps the most famous Jazz festival in the entire world and is an annual celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans and the greater Louisiana. The Jazz Fest is used to also refer to events outside of the festival that make up this time of celebration. In the days leading up to it there are many activities for festival goers to enjoy, including many Jazz shows at unaffiliated New Orleans nightclubs. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrates the unique bond between the city and the music nurtured there, and you are truly able to see how Jazz is the essence of the historic and rich city. Held from the last weekend in April into the first weekend in May, this festival is quite the tourist attraction with thousands of people coming into town to celebrate Jazz and immerse themselves in festival season. In fact, it could even be argued that outside of Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the biggest event to take place in New Orleans in the entire year.

Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Tennessee

The Beale Street Music Festival came to life in the early 1970s when the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce developed plans for a festival, which would serve as a promotional umbrella for the numerous events Memphis hosted each May. Now this festival has transformed into a well-organized and highly budgeted month-long extravaganza for the entirety of May and has even hosted events that put the festival in the Guinness Book of World Records. In its 50 year run, the event has hosted pretty much every Blues or Jazz legend you can think of. Nowadays, the festival has broadened its scope of artists and always brings in a talented variety that festival goers always are able to appreciate.  

Jacksonville Jazz Festival in Jacksonville, Florida

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is one of the largest free Jazz festivals in the country! Every Memorial Day Weekend since 1981, thousands of Jazz lovers from across the nation gather in Downtown Jacksonville to celebrate the music, culture and art of Jazz by the riverfront. Offering up a more traditional lineup of the biggest names in the genre, Jacksonville Jazz Festival has the feel of a street or block party, only instead of music coming out of your neighbors’ janky outdoor stereos, the sounds come from some of the most talented artists in the world doing their thing and performing their music.

Rochester International Jazz Festival in Rochester, New York

The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival is one of the world’s leading Jazz festivals presenting legendary performers, familiar favorites, rising stars and new discoveries of talent and music from around the world. The multi-dimensional 11-day festival is held in downtown Rochester, NY, and features more than 1750 artists from around the world in over 320 shows at around 21 venues every year. Founded in 2002, the festival has grown from only being able to manage a crowd of 15,000 to now having around 210,000 festival goers attend it every year. Over its 16 years, the festival has welcomed a plethora of traditional and fusion royalty when it comes to the genre of Jazz who all know how to, of course, draw in an impressive crowd.

Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island

Established in 1954 by the Lorillards, a husband and wife pairing who were socialites in New York, Newport Jazz Festival is both older than its similarly famous sibling the Newport Folk Festival and also, reputably, the first annual American jazz festival to take place. Most of the early festivals were broadcast on Voice of America radio, and many performances were recorded and released as albums, which only goes to show the caliber of talent that was performing at the Newport Jazz Festival. These days, the event is even more impressive with artists such as Tony Allen, Herbie Hancock, and Jon Batiste as well as talented performers such as the Berklee College of Music Jazz Ensembles, Black Art Jazz Collective, and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California

Turning 64 this year, The Monterey Jazz Festival is a music festival in Monterey, California that was founded on October 3, 1958 by Jazz disc jockey Jimmy Lyons. The festival is renowned as one of the best Jazz events in the world. Annually held on the 20-acre, oak-studded Monterey County Fairgrounds, the event welcomes over 500 artists every year and offers a diverse lineup of talent from passionate newbies all the way up to living legends in the Jazz scene. 

Chicago Jazz Festival in Chicago, Illinois

A multi-venue music event open to all ages, the Chicago Jazz Festival brings Jazz music to Downtown Chicago’s beautiful Millennium Park, as well as the inside of the nearby Chicago Cultural Center. The oldest of Chicago’s free lakefront music festivals boasts an incredibly diverse lineup, with artists who range from well-established Jazz legends to influential modern masters and crucial new voices, mixing both local and internationally renowned talent in the genre’s continuing evolution. The festival also arranges a large selection of free neighborhood concerts leading up to the main show at Millennium Park every year in August. 

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