Will 2017 go down as a banner year in the history of Winter Jazzfest? The annual festival, which held its 13th edition Jan. 5 through 10, primarily at venues in Lower Manhattan, has enjoyed steady and consistent improvement throughout its run. But this round felt bigger, better, more important. By upping its offerings and introducing a couple of well-timed themes, WJF increased its sprawl and its focus at once.
The festival’s main event, its two-night “marathon” on Jan. 6 and 7, occupied such a swath of New York that the culture and rituals around it seemed fundamentally changed. In past years you could run circles through a concentrated pocket of the West Village, catching 15 or 20 minutes of different sets until your knees buckled. This year, the marathon took the shape of a series of club crawls rather than one—an ecosystem of hangs—and to hop from gig to gig meant more travel time and less music (especially on Jan. 7, when a snowstorm did little to diminish a robust turnout). You could easily have ping-ponged between venues in the West Village, or the East Village, or owned by the New School, whose fine-sounding rooms have been a welcome addition, particularly for fans bothered by crowds. If you hold an allegiance to a specific undercurrent or scene in today’s jazz world—New York’s fervent hot-jazz movement, or jazz with a lean into hip-hop, R&B and DJ culture—there was a dedicated room for you too.