- New York
- South Dakota
- Rhode Island
The ubiquity of jazz festivals in the USA attests to the genre’s adaptability and wide-ranging appeal.
Even small cities host festivals, some lasting just a day while others – such as the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle and the Blue Note Jazz Festival in New York City – span a full month of events and concerts. From music with a view to festivals paired with history and heritage, here’s a guide to a sampling of great jazz celebrations in the USA.
Tucson Jazz Festival – Tucson, Arizona
While other parts of the world bundle up for winter, the sunny desert city of Tucson hosts a jazz festival during two weeks in January. A newcomer to the jazz festival scene, the event debuted in 2015 and has quickly grown in popularity. Previous headliners have included Hot Sardines, Sheila E. and Arturo Sandoval.
Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival – Moscow, Idaho
Founded in 1967 and renamed after jazz great Lionel Hampton in 1985, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is at the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, two hours south of Coeur d’Alene. This February event boasts performances by household names, including the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald, and student performers as well. The festival was honored in 2008 with the National Medal of Arts, which is one of the most prestigious arts awards in the USA.
PDX Jazz Festival and Vanport Jazz Festival – Portland, Oregon
During 11 days in February, Portland recognizes Black History Month with the PDX Jazz Festival. Enjoy more than 100 free and paid events in various venues by local, new and established artists. The one-day Vanport Jazz Festival in August brings attention to Portland’s enduring jazz heritage at the site of a flood that displaced a historically black neighborhood.
Street musicians performing along the riverfront in Portland
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – New Orleans, Louisiana
This high-spirited festival is second only to Mardi Gras in popularity in New Orleans. The main festival is held over two weekends in late April and early May and features an eclectic lineup of musical genres from jazz to zydeco. The music is rivaled only by opportunities to sample New Orleans food specialties, including beignets, crawfish, po’boys and jambalaya.
Colorful entrance to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Jacksonville Jazz Festival – Jacksonville, Florida
Memorial Day weekend in late May is made for celebrations like the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Savor tasty food and drinks, shop the Jazz Marketplace and take in dozens of performances free of charge. Popular events during the festival include the Jazz Jam Session, New Orleans-style Jazz Parade and Jazz Piano Contest.
Atlanta Jazz Festival – Atlanta, Georgia
Every Memorial Day weekend in late May, Atlanta’s Piedmont Park draws musicians and fans for a weekend of free jazz music. Watch top-notch performances across multiple stages with the Atlanta skyline as your backdrop. The festival is the culminating event in a month-long focus on live jazz performances throughout the city.
Skyline views from the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which is held in Piedmont Park
Burlington Discover Jazz Festival – Burlington, Vermont
Get your fill of fabulous music during the 10-day Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Held in early June, there are live acts every day, starting in the morning and continuing late into the night, at different venues around the city with a hotspot being the Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington. Many of the performances are free.
Statue of local legend Big Joe Burrell on Church Street in Burlington
Blue Note Jazz Festival – New York, New York
June is jazz month in New York City with the Blue Note Jazz Festival. During these 30 days, more than 100 special performances are planned in five venues throughout the city. The Blue Note is a legendary jazz club run by Danny Bensusan, who is largely credited with reviving New York City’s jazz scene; if you’re not in town for the festival, you can catch a live performance at the club seven nights a week.
A view of The Blue Note, a popular jazz club in New York City
DC Jazz Festival – Washington, D.C.
Celebrating the U.S. capital’s rich jazz heritage – Duke Ellington was born here – the DC Jazz Festival in June attracts up-and-coming as well as established performers. One of the unique aspects of this festival is Jazz in the ’Hoods, featuring performances in each of D.C.’s 22-plus neighborhoods.
Sioux Falls JazzFest – Sioux Falls, South Dakota
South Dakota’s most populous city hosts its annual JazzFest in July, the perfect time for a two-day, free outdoor music festival. Soak in the views at Yankton Trail Park on the Big Sioux River as you tap your toes to jazz, blues, zydeco, reggae and funk. Sioux Falls JazzFest also offers a kid-friendly area and a youth jazz camp.
Newport Jazz Festival – Newport, Rhode Island
The Newport Jazz Festival is held in picturesque Fort Adams State Park every August. Since 1954, the festival has hosted some of jazz’s most famous artists and also produced multiple cornerstone recordings, including “Miles & Monk at Newport,” “Ellington at Newport,” “Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport,” as well as “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” a fan-favorite concert film.
Shopping along the waterfront at Bowen's Wharf in Newport
Chicago Jazz Festival – Chicago, Illinois
What began as three festivals – one honoring Duke Ellington, one for John Coltrane and one by the Jazz Institute of Chicago – coalesced in 1979 to form the annual Chicago Jazz Festival. Arguably one of the biggest free jazz events in the world, the festival takes place in late August at Millennium Park. Past headliners have included Sara Vaughan, B.B. King, Slide Hampton, Stan Getz and Miles Davis.
The Chicago Jazz Festival at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park
Detroit Jazz Festival – Detroit, Michigan
Labor Day weekend in the beginning of September marks the Detroit Jazz Festival, one of the largest jazz festivals in the world and free to attend. With past performers such as Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera and The Manhattan Transfer, you can count on the music being top-notch. Take in the Detroit skyline from the stages at Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza.
The Detroit Jazz Festival in Hart Plaza with views of the Detroit River
Monterey Jazz Festival – Monterey, California
The Monterey Jazz Festival in September is a comprehensive music event featuring more than 100 performances, workshops, films, lectures and exhibitions. Accompanying the music is an array of vendors serving mouth-watering food and an international shopping marketplace, all set beside the spectacular Pacific Ocean coastline. The Monterey Jazz Festival has been named one of the World’s Best Jazz Festivals by JazzTimes Magazine and was memorialized in the 1998 documentary “Monterey Jazz Festival: 40 Legendary Years,” co-directed by long-time jazz fanatic Clint Eastwood.
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