In its 21st year, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has grown from an informal gathering at founder Lorenzo Sancassani’s beachfront pizza joint into a sprawling, weeklong affair that travels from one end of the island to the other. The majority of the concerts take place in towns along the resort-speckled north coast, all free of charge in a conscious attempt to attract the often impoverished locals at least as much as the sun-and-sand tourists.
After two decades, the festival has managed to establish a tenuous foothold for jazz in the DR, where the music has a scant history and merengue is a key part of the national identity. The programming is still careful to cater to those tastes, with each night featuring a local act—which almost invariably garnered the strongest audience response in 2017. That was especially true of the closing night of the festival, which took place this year from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, when merengue superstar Fefita la Grande took the stage.