Jazz, as a musical genre, got its start amid African-American communities during the late 19th and early 20th century. And jazz has been played at many festivals since then.
The typical American jazz festival has a few things at its heart: it occurs every year, brings in a variety of talent and types of jazz and pairs it with some mighty fine fare.Each festival has unique qualities that reflect the town of origin and the distinctive jazz style of that city or town. New Orleans jazz, for instance, sounds the world away from that of Afro-Cuban jazz.
Because no jazz festival is strictly about the music (we mentioned the food already, right?) the atmosphere is enough to entertain even the most ardent jazz hater. With areas for kids to learn about jazz and dimly-lit evening spots for rekindling the flame, the average American jazz festival has something for everyone. But then there are some that go above and beyond to deliver heritage, beautiful music, and rich culture to festival-goers every year.
Here are our picks for the top 10 jazz festivals in the U.S.
10. Jacksonville Jazz Festival
The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is a weekend celebration held in Jacksonville, Florida on Memorial Day weekend. This one hits all the right spots and regularly makes it onto “top jazz festival” lists. Among the fest’s famous alumni are Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, George Benson, Al Jarreau and Michael Bublé.
The latest edition of the festival included a Jazz Brunch, a morning clinic for budding jazz superstars and a water taxi stop because that’s just how Jacksonville rolls. Admission is free with the exception of VIP areas, and events and performances take place throughout downtown venues.
9. Saratoga Jazz Festival
The annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, one of the most beloved jazz events in the world, is also one with a surprisingly long run. But every year it returns to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in the Saratoga Spa State Park. The Isley Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Patti LaBelle and Antonio Sanchez have all played there—it’s a single-stage event with a whole lot of cultural pull. Tickets cost $65 for lawn seats (bring a blanket or folding chair) and go up to $105 for amphitheater seating.