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My Favorite Jazz Festivals

Updated on September 25, 2012

During the last 35 years I attended about 200 jazz festivals in more than twenty countries all over Europe, the United States and Canada and even in the Asian part of Russia. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I organized some festivals in Germany and I managed some bands, traveling with them to festivals in Lithuania and Romania. I wrote many festival reviews which were published in several jazz magazines and newspapers. But it was not only the music which was important for me. Such festivals were always a good place to meet old and new friends including musicians, an opportunity to have some interesting discussions, and to have fun, fun, fun ... - in some cases these festivals were like family meetings. I prefer contemporary jazz, and all these festivals have one thing in common: to present this kind of music, in one or the other way, visiting these festivals you always can expect the unexpected! I would like to introduce you to some of the festivals I most enjoyed!

Vilnius Jazz/Lithuania

In 1988, when the movement for the restauration of Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union started, the first Vilnius Jazz festival was held. It is an exceptional event in the Lithuanian capital, providing a wide spectrum of high quality contemporary jazz. Over the years Vilnius Jazz has earned a reputation of an avant-garde festival oriented towards novelty and limit-stretching creativity. Vilnius Jazz is renowned for its creative and ambitious programmes featuring some of the biggest names on the international jazz scene alongside the best of Lithuanian talent. It has also to its credit helped develop local players who have then moved onto performing in other European venues and international jazz groups. The festival is also inextricably linked with the development of a distinctive Vilnius jazz school.

the first festival poster
the first festival poster

Nickelsdorfer Konfrontationen/Austria

Established in 1980, the Nickelsdorfer Konfrontationen soon became a festival which was known among jazz fans from all over the world as a Mecca for improvised music. Held in a small village near the Hungarian border and organized by the Nickelsdorf Jazz Gallery, some of the great names of the jazz scene from Europe, America, Japan and other parts of the world have performed there over the years. This open air festival, taking place in the courtyard of the restaurant of the Jazz Gallery, is specialized in new trends in the field of contemporary jazz and improvised music. From Black American Free Jazz to new trends in European improvised music to electronic music, the festival is always open to new developments and musical experiments as well as communication between the musicians and the musicians and an audience interested in non-mainstream music.

Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon/Austria

Since 1986, the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon became soon an internationally recognized and highly acclaimed festival, presenting interesting, individual and high-quality compositions of contemporary music. The focus is set on improvisation, however, the increasing hybridization with various other genres of popular music and so-called new music is considered as well. The festival, held in another small Austrian village close to the German and the Czech border, also offers musicians opportunities for special projects. The main concerts of the festival take place in the building of the Jazzatelier Ulrichsberg, but there are some other venues for special projects as well. Another offer of this festivals are art exhibitions, mostly with local artists, during the festival.

Varna Jazz/Bulgaria

The Varna Summer International Jazz Festival started in 1992 in Varna, a city on the coast of the Black Sea. It is the biggest jazz event in Bulgaria, presenting musicians from Bulgaria and other European countries. For three consecutive days the festival offers a wide variety of contemporary jazz, often in connection with folk music traditions from other Black Sea countries, performed in the courtyard of the city's Archaeological Museum. The festival director, saxophonist Anatoly Vapirov, regularly presents his own special projects at the festival.

Jazz a Mulhouse/France

Since 1990, Jazz a Mulhouse is entirely dedicated to free jazz and improvised music. The main focus of this festival is on the European and French free improvised music scene. Many of the leading European improvisers regularly appear in the programme with their newest projects. Projects with American musicians play only a supporting role at the festival. Located close to the Swiss and to the German border, Jazz a Mulhouse attracts an audience from all over Europe. During five days, the concerts take place in different venues like a former factory turned into a cultural center, or a chapel where free acoustic concerts are held.

Tampere Jazz Happening/Finland

The Tampere Jazz Happening is the biggest international jazz festival in the third biggest FInnish city. Since 1982 it is an important stage for a broad perspective on contemporary trends in jazz from all over the world, from free improvised music to ethnic jazz. Some of the most influencal musicians from America, Europe, Asia and Africa performed on the main stage in the Old Customs House Hall, smaller venues like Klubi and Telakka present new trends from the Finnish jazz scene. The three day festival is also well known for its hospitality.


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing such a wide scope of jazz festivals. Voted interesting!

    • profile image

      Richard Underhill 6 years ago

      I've played at Vilnus and Tampere..Loved them both!

    • music messenger profile image

      music messenger 7 years ago

      Great hub. From one jazz fan to another I have jazz reviews and info on my hub. Stop by and let me know what you think. I voted.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      That Vilnius Jazz festival is one I have never attended, and a place I'd love to visit!!!

    • Simply Mariaaaaaa profile image

      Simply Mariaaaaaa 7 years ago from Sunny South Florida

      Enjoyed reading the article and day dreaming my way through the countries. Thank you.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Wonderful information. Wish I could get to some of these!

      Love and peace


    • Dao Hoa profile image

      Dao Hoa 8 years ago

      I love to travel and attending Jazz festivals makes it even better. I am jealous. Thanks.

    • nextstopjupiter profile image

      nextstopjupiter 8 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      @Dink96: I visited festivals in North America, the Visions festival in New York (1998), and the FIMAV festival in Victoriaville/Quebec (1994 and 1998), two other great festivals I enjoyed. Thank you for your comment and for your offer.

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Wonderful list! If you ever get to North America, contact any one of us who have commented and we'll give you some good ones over here!

    • QueenaVerbosity profile image

      QueenaVerbosity 8 years ago

      I LOVE JAZZ! It's one of my favorite music genres! Great hub!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Jazz, my favorite kind of noise. I enjoyed reading your hub. My 'to-do-before...-list' includes visiting many more Jazz festivals. Thanks for sharing.

      Great hub

      kindest regards Zsuzsy