Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Return of Festivals: A Full Report (for Now)

What’s planned for upcoming jazz festivals this summer and fall

2018 Newport Jazz Festival audience
The Newport Jazz Festival, before COVID-19 (photo: Ken Franckling)

The pandemic that began in March 2020 had a disproportionate effect on jazz festivals, in part because the majority take place in the spring, summer, and early fall, and in part because they are, by definition, large gatherings of people. Some festivals tried postponing their in-person events, while others reverted to virtual or streamed performances—either live, archival, or both, but without audiences.

With vaccinations on the rise, more festivals are resuming activities with live audiences this summer and fall, though all have had to comply with the directives of their local and state governments. And the corresponding protocols vary widely from state to state. Regardless, it’s exciting to see musicians performing live in front of audiences, at whatever capacity is allowed.

Here is a rundown of the festivals that we’ve heard from or about in chronological order. It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: All events and dates are subject to change.

June Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) Experience (Aspen, Colo.)
June 25-27, 2021
This component of JAS’ summer-long program of concerts and educational workshops was redesigned in 2018 from a large-tent concert approach to a multi-venue weekend, much akin to a pub crawl, but the professional level of talent remains high. This year’s edition features artists such as Take 6, Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carolyn Leonhart, Sammy Miller & the Congregation, Bettye LaVette, the Motet, and others performing shows at the Velvet Buck, Belly Up, the Durant Street Patron Tent, and other venues in downtown Aspen.

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)
June 26-27, 2021
Yes, there will be jazz at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this summer—including sets by Dianne Reeves, Joey Alexander, Christian McBride, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Artemis, and Al Di Meola—but all performances will be in the amphitheater (no Discovery Stage in 2021) and both the amphitheater and the lawn will operate at 20% capacity.

Newport Jazz Festival (Newport, R.I.)
July 30-Aug. 1, 2021
The grandparent of all jazz festivals returns to the grounds of Fort Adams during its usually scheduled time of year. The Newport Jazz Festival site had only one small indoor venue in the past (the Museum stage), so adapting to all-outdoor stages is not the challenge that it can be for other events. The talent lineup, recently announced, is one of the more eclectic in recent years and includes not only jazz festival mainstays like Kamasi Washington, Chris Potter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Charles Lloyd, Catherine Russell, and Robert Glasper, but also several “beyond category” acts like Andra Day, Khruangbin, Cory Wong, Yola, and Mavis Staples. And, of course, artistic director Christian McBride will perform both with his “Situation” group as well as with a configuration called the Jam Jawn, also featuring John Scofield, Marco Benevento and Joe Russo.

Berks Jazz Fest (Reading, Pa.)
Aug. 13-22, 2021
The Berks Jazz Fest, normally held in April at various venues throughout Reading, Pa., was moved to August this year. The lineup features many smooth-jazz stars including Keiko Matsui, Kirk Whalum, Boney James, Chris Botti, Brian Bromberg and RnR: Rick Braun and Richard Elliot with special guest Peter White. Among the special events are Gerald Veasley’s Midnight Jams and Unscripted at Berks, as well as the annual Chuck Loeb Memorial All-Stars Jam. The festival also includes a special concert featuring stars of the Smooth Jazz Cruise—Marcus Miller, David Sanborn and Jonathan Butler—on Saturday, Aug. 21.

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (San Jose, Calif.)
Aug. 13-15, 2021
First held in 1990, this outdoor fest in the heart of Silicon Valley features a wide range of jazz, often with a heavy Latin dose, performed over three days at stages in the Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose. This year the festival will host 45 acts across five stages, including the new Fountain Blues Stage, booked by the Fountain Blues Foundation in collaboration with Jay Meduri of the South Bay venue Poor House Bistro. Confirmed artists include the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra, Superblue: Kurt Elling Featuring Charlie Hunter, Judith Hill, Butcher Brown, 7th Street Big Band, and more still to be announced.

Telluride Jazz Festival (Telluride, Colo.)
Aug. 13-15, 2021
With the scenic backdrop of the San Juan Mountains, the Telluride Jazz Festival may take place at a higher elevation than any other jazz festival in the U.S.  Traditionally, the festival has been mostly an outdoor event with a late-night pub crawl in the town. Confirmed performers for this “destination festival” include Robert Glasper, Catherine Russell, Christian Sands, Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the Hot Sardines.

Jazz in the Valley (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)
Aug. 15, 2021
This one-day festival takes place in Waryas Park in downtown Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Featured artists include the festival’s artistic director Javon Jackson with his quartet, as well as the Curtis Brothers, Lakecia Benjamin, Julius Rodriguez, and Samara Joy.

Norfolk Riverfront Jazz Festival (Norfolk, Va.)
August 20-21, 2021
Now in its 38th edition, this outdoor festival held in the riverfront area of downtown Norfolk at some point converted from being an eclectic jazz festival to a smooth jazz festival. Well reflecting that shift, this year’s headliners include David Sanborn, Boney James, Spyro Gyra, and “The True Legends of Jazz” with Norman Connors & the Starship Orchestra, Jean Carne, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Marva King. 

Houston Summerjazz (Houston, Texas)
Aug. 20-22, 2021
Produced by the DACAMERA organization, this new festival will feature concerts by Dianne Reeves, Dafnis Prieto Big Band, and Marquis Hill presented both online and live (socially distanced) at the Wortham Theater Center’s Brown Theater in Houston’s theater district. In addition, local area musicians will be featured in free concerts throughout the weekend.

DC JazzFest (Washington, D.C.)
Sept. 1-5, 2021
Normally held in mid-June, the DC JazzFest moved this year to Labor Day weekend, along with several other festivals. Although it kicks off earlier in the week with various shows and presentations around the nation’s capital, the main event takes place on Saturday and Sunday outdoors at the District Wharf, a waterfront location with restaurants, shops, etc. Performers include Joshua Redman, John Scofield, Regina Carter, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Pedrito Martinez, Orrin Evans, Lakecia Benjamin, Cyrus Chestnut, and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. In addition, there will be two special presentations, one celebrating Billy Taylor’s centennial and the other offering “A Grand Night for Strings: From Stuff Smith to Jean-Luc Ponty.”

Vail Jazz Party (Vail, Colo.)
Sept. 2-6, 2021
The Vail Jazz Party is actually the culmination of a summer’s worth of shows in the famous ski resort area. Run by Howard and Kathy Stone, the Vail Jazz organization not only presents weekly concerts during the summer but also organizes the Vail Jazz Workshop, which brings together jazz greats with the best young jazz musicians for a series of clinics and workshops. The alumni list reads like a who’s-who of contemporary jazz. But the Labor Day weekend event has become like the Jazz Cruise on land, with performances from the very best mainstream artists including (this year) John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, Terell Stafford, Wycliffe Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Emmet Cohen, Dick Oatts, and others.

Monty Alexander Jazz Festival (Easton, Md.)
Sept. 3-5, 2021
One of a few jazz festivals named for and curated by a living jazz musician, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival takes over a rustic small town on the Maryland Eastern Shore with performances mostly at the Avalon Theater in town. In addition to the festival’s namesake, Bria Skonberg and Peter & Will Anderson will also perform.

Detroit Jazz Festival (Detroit, Mich.)
Sept. 3-6, 2021
In 2020, instead of canceling or postponing its annual festival, the organizers of the Detroit Jazz Festival, arguably the largest free jazz festival in the U.S., decided to host a set of live performances from a hotel in Detroit, streamed much like a telethon. In April, the festival announced the lineup for its 2021 edition, which includes artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater, as well as Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, Abdullah Ibrahim, Anat Cohen, Sean Jones, Kenny Garrett, and Gregory Porter. However, owing to both the scale of the event and the ever-changing guidelines for COVID protocols, the organizers took a while to decide whether it would be virtual, live, or a hybrid. In the end, they went with live and in-person, and announced it as such in late June. The revised festival footprint will include three stages in the downtown Hart Plaza and Campus Martius areas, allowing for more open space and social distancing.

Atlanta Jazz Festival (Atlanta, Ga.)
Sept. 5-6, 2021
This free outdoor festival normally is held during Memorial Day weekend but for this year was moved to the Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend. Presented on two stages in the city’s Piedmont Park, the festival will feature Patti Austin, Sean Jones, Archie Shepp, Jazzmeia Horn, Ron Carter, Miguel Zenón, and several others.

Indy Jazz Fest (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Sept. 15-19, 2021
Run for more than two decades by the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, the Indy Jazz Fest is happening both indoors and outdoors this year. The indoors component includes two world premieres of pieces commissioned by the foundation at Butler University’s Schrott Center for the Arts, the first (on Thursday, Sept. 16) by Steve Allee and the second (on Friday, Sept. 17) by Kenny Phelps. The outdoors component is a two-day (Sept. 18-19) event in Garfield Park, with artists including Thundercat, Victor Wooten, Cory Henry, Moonchild, and Marion Meadows.

Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Sept. 17-19, 2021
For many years, the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival was largely a free outdoor event with multiple stages in downtown Pittsburgh and took place in mid-to-late June. This year the festival is moving to September with a concert by Chaka Khan at the Benedum Center for Performing Arts on Friday, Sept. 17 and a full slate of performances held outdoors in Hallmark Stadium on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17 and 18. Among the artists appearing in the stadium are Gregory Porter, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian Scott, and the Baylor Project.

Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey, Calif.)
Sept. 24-26, 2021
The Monterey Jazz Festival returns after a one-year hiatus to its longtime home at the Monterey Fairgrounds and its usual weekend in late September. As of now, the plans are for the festival to operate at 50% capacity with performances held only on the Jimmy Lyons Stage in the Arena and the Courtyard Stage, both outdoor venues. Capacity aside, the lineup features Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Pat Metheny Side-Eye, Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, Christian Sands Group, Kandace Springs, Gerald Clayton, and many more.

Hyde Park Jazz Festival (Chicago, Ill.)
Sept. 25-26, 2021
Nearly 30 free live performances will take place in the Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Washington Park neighborhoods of Chicago as part of this year’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival. The program focuses on local artists, but since we’re talking about the Windy City here, that includes a lot of notable names. Drummer, composer, and producer Makaya McCraven will premiere a new suite for sextet commissioned by the festival, supported by Greg Ward, Matt Gold, Junius Paul, Marquis Hill, and Brandee Younger. Other performers include Tomeka Reid, Regina Carter, Isaiah Collier, JD Allen, Juan Pastor, Miguel Zenón, Geof Bradfield, Ben Goldberg, Ken Vandermark, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Schedules and venues will be announced in August.

Montclair Jazz Festival (Montclair, N.J.)
Sept. 25-26, 2021
This free outdoor festival is produced by Jazz House Kids, a community education program based in Montclair and run by Melissa Walker and her husband Christian McBride. Normally, the festival would be held in a local park in mid-August, but they’ve moved it this year to September and to the streets of downtown Montclair. The weekend event in September is the finale of a summer-long concert series featuring Dave Stryker, Lauren Sevian, Ingrid Jensen, and others at various locations in Montclair. The lineup and schedule for the two-day finale are pending at the moment, but you can expect that Mr. McBride will curate a strong bill including performances from some of the program’s outstanding students and graduates.

French Quarter Festival (New Orleans, La.)
Sept. 30–Oct. 2, 2021
The fall edition of this remarkable festival in the Big Easy features more than 200 performances on 19 stages throughout the city’s French Quarter. In keeping with the diversity of that city’s music scene, performers include jazz artists (Kermit Ruffins, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, James Andrews) and just about every type of American roots music (e.g., Tank and the Bangas, Irma Thomas, John Boutte, Freddie King, and Big Chief Bo Dellis, Jr. & the Wild Magnolias). And in keeping with its location, there will be plenty of food offerings throughout.

Exit Zero Jazz Festival (Cape May, N.J.)
Oct. 1-3, 2021
This festival, based in the quaint Jersey Shore town of Cape May, has always had a fall and spring edition. For the coming fall edition in October, the festival will take place outside at two locations: a stage by the Convention Center in town and another by the site of the ferry dock a few miles out of town, which they call the Cape May Ferry Grand Green Space. The lineup will be announced on July 1, but past festivals have featured artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Joey Alexander, Bob James, René Marie, and Etienne Charles, as well as various roots music-performers.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (New Orleans, La.)
Oct. 8-17, 2021
Earlier this year in late April and early May, when the Jazz & Heritage Festival normally would have been held at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, its organizers presented a remarkable series of streams of archival performances from its deep archives. For the first time in recent memory, the live and in-person JazzFest, as it’s informally known, will be held on two weekends in October. Although the festival has as much rock, pop, and other genres as it does jazz—with headliners this year including Foo Fighters, Lizzo, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Jimmy Buffett—there’s always plenty going on in the Jazz Tent, as well as at the Trad stage. Plus, you can also take in the Blues Tent and the Gospel Tent for your own version of JazzFest. Choose between David Sanborn, the Cookers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Galactic, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers, Arturo Sandoval, and Nicholas Payton on weekend one (Oct. 8-10) and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Jon Batiste, Ledisi, Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective, Rebirth Brass Band, Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on weekend two (Oct. 15-17), to name just a few.

Earshot Jazz (Seattle, Wash.)
Oct. 15–Nov. 7, 2021
The largest festival in Seattle was entirely virtual in 2020, but John Gilbreath, the festival’s artistic director, has informed us that this year’s edition will be a mix of live and streamed performances. Among the artists appearing at various venues throughout the city this year are Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, the Jamie Baum Septet, Benny Green, Samara Joy & Sullivan Fortner, Dawn Clement Trio with Matt Wilson, Jay Clayton Trio, Dee Daniels, Immanuel Wilkins Quartet, and many more.

TD James Moody Jazz Festival (Newark, N.J.)
Nov. 6-20, 2021
Held in the various venues on the campus of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), this festival is really more of a concert series, but an excellent one. Performing during the course of those 15 days are Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Artemis, and an all-star tribute to George Wein featuring Anat Cohen, Randy Brecker, Kenny Barron, and NJPAC Jazz Advisor Christian McBride, who will also perform his The Movement Revisited suite with a large ensemble. 

The Jazz Cruise (Caribbean cruise)
Jan. 17-24, 2022
Yes, this one is farther down the line, but it requires much more advance planning than the usual regional festival. This immersive jazz festival at sea features more than 100 musicians and over 250 hours of music. Among the headliners are Christian McBride, Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Nnenna Freelon, Monty Alexander, Emmet Cohen, Sheila Jordan, Billy Childs, Paquito D’Rivera, Tierney Sutton, Joey DeFrancesco, and many other jazz stars. Departing from Miami on the Celebrity Summit, the cruise has scheduled stops in Aruba and Curacao. Entertainment Cruise Productions, the production company that has organized this cruise for more than 20 years, has made it clear that no one will go on the ship who hasn’t been vaccinated.

Originally Published