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Jazz Fest 2009, Your guide to Jazz Festivals throughout the U.S.

Updated on July 1, 2009

Kansas City Jazz Fest

One of the best times I ever had at an outdoor music event was in July of 2000 at the 10th annual Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival.

Held in the city’s beautiful Penn Valley Park, the KC Blues and Jazz Festival could always be counted on to present one of the most interesting and entertaining lineups of the festival season. It may not have had the depth of artists that events like the mammoth New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival can boast of, but it always managed to pack quite a punch and add further heat to an already steamy July weekend.

But alas, the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival is no more. It died an unceremonious death, due to a number of different circumstances.

In its place sprang forth the Rhythm & Ribs 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival, beginning in 2005. However, as I type these words, the 2009 edition of the festival has been called off, due to what else – the economy. Event organizers are however, planning on a 2010 return for the festival.

One of St. Louis’ biggest music festivals, the appropriately named St. Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival has also been shelved due to these tough times.


Kansas City and St. Louis, two of the nation’s most important breeding grounds for blues and jazz, without its hallmark music festivals. Sure, each city still holds celebrations of its indigenous music forms, but those two major events are sorely missed.

Throw in the absence of the San Francisco Blues Festival this year, canceled for the first time since its inception in 1973, also due to financial woes, and the festival scene has taken a major hit on a national scale.

However, there are still a number of landmark jazz festivals that have managed to overcome Mother Nature, fan apathy and even these depressing-dark economic times to keep on, keeping on.

And let’s not just keep our fingers crossed that these events continue to elude the executioner. Let’s get out and support live music where ever and whenever we can, to make sure they keep the lights turned on.

Here are 10 of the most notable jazz festivals spread out across the United States.

Call it the ultimate jazz lover’s road trip.

Monterey Jazz Festival


The second-oldest jazz festival in the world, the Monterey Jazz Festival is 51 years old now.

Started by San Francisco radio broadcaster Jimmy Lyons in 1958, this classic California festival takes place at the Monterey Fairgrounds the third full weekend in September of every year.

In addition to the 50-plus concerts that make up the Monterey Jazz Festival, the weekend is also chock full of panel discussions, clinics and workshops, making it a jazz lover’s delight.

Jazz aficionado and celluloid superstar Clint Eastwood is on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s board of directors.

The list of legendary jazz performers that have taken the stage here is longer than the Empire State Building is tall, but Billie Holiday died a mere nine months after making her only appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958.

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival


The locals, or the thousands of fans that attend every year, simply call this Jazz Fest. And it is the most diversified of them all.

Usually held over the course of two weekends in late April and Early May, Jazz Fest has managed to endure, even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The main setting for Jazz Fest is the massive fairgrounds in New Orleans, but over the course of the past decade or so, the city’s hallowed clubs have given birth to a whole new experience – the all-night Jazz Fest party.

Not just a celebration of the Crescent City’s rich musical tradition, Jazz Fest has featured virtually every important artist, regardless of genre, that the world has to offer.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has been named Festival of the Year four times by Pollstar magazine. It celebrated its 40th birthday this past spring.

Newport Jazz Festival


One of this country’s oldest music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival (known as the JVC Jazz Fest since 1984) has been around since it was created in 1954 by George Wein.

Now calling historic Fort Adams Park in Middletown, Rhode Island home, the JVC Jazz Festival – Newport is an August tradition. The festival actually moved to New York City in 1972, but in 1981, the festival moved back to Rhode Island, while still continuing to hold an event in NYC.

A who’s-who of jazz royalty, including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Oscar Peterson turned in incendiary performances during Newport’s early years, but in the late 60s and 70s, some of the forefathers of classic rock, such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers and Sly & The Family Stone, also graced the stage at Newport Jazz Festival.

Jazz Festivals in the U.S.

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San Francisco Fall Jazz Festival


Traditionally one of the longer festivals in the nation, the San Francisco Jazz Festival is a collection of over 30 world-class jazz concerts over a three-week span in late October and early November.

This festival not only highlights some of the more established artists of the genre, but also offers a spot for the up-and-comers on the jazz scene.

The San Francisco Jazz Festival takes full advantage of its magnificent surroundings and is held in clubs throughout the city, such as the Great American Music Hall, along with other spots in the beautiful Bay Area, like Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.

A cross section of virtually every sub-category of jazz, from traditional to avant-garde, has found a home at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Iconic artists such as Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis and Wayne Shorter have all played the event, which was born back in 1983.

Chicago Jazz Festival


When the legendary Duke Ellington passed away in 1974, a group of Chicago-area musicians came together in Grant Park as a way to pay tribute to one of jazz’s guiding lights.

What started out to be an informal get-together turned out to draw over 10,000 people to the park, celebrating Ellington’s rich legacy.

Thus, the Chicago Jazz Festival was born.

Thirty years later and still going strong, the Chicago Jazz Festival has became the Windy City’s longest-running lakefront music festival.

Still held in Grant Park, the Chicago Jazz Festival has become a must-attend event over the Labor Day weekend for jazz lovers around the globe.

In the past, the free event has featured headliners such as Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Roy Haynes, Ella Fitzgerald and countless other innovators of jazz.

Playboy Jazz Festival

When Hugh Hefner left the cold, windy climate of Chicago for the warm, breezy climate of Southern California, he took the Playboy Jazz Festival with him.

Sort of.

Founded by Hefner, the Playboy Jazz Festival was first held in Chicago Stadium in 1959.

However, it took the festival 20 years to make another appearance, but when it did, it was at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

At home in the Bowl ever since 1979, the Playboy Jazz Festival is held over a two-day weekend in mid-June.

Noted jazz fan and trend-setting comedian, Bill Cosby, has the plum task of emceeing the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Not just strictly limited to jazz artists, the Playboy Jazz Festival has also featured blues performers such as Buddy Guy and Etta James in the past couple of years, along with jazzers like Marcus Miller and The World Famous Count Basie Orchestra.

Houston International Jazz Festival


The Houston International Jazz Festival is one of the very few jazz festivals held in the United States that focuses on primarily international jazz artists.

Nearing its 20th anniversary, the Houston International Jazz Festival is held during Houston’s “August Jazz Month” and takes place over the course of three days in early August.

The event calls downtown Houston’s Jonas Plaza home and takes the stage at outdoor and indoor venues around the district.

Summer jazz workshops are also slated during the Houston International Jazz Festival and on the last day, a mayor’s scholarship jazz brunch takes place.

Tito Puente Jr., Hiroshima, Arturo Sandoval and Poncho Sanchez are a sampling of some of the world-wide flavor that has been featured at the Houston International Jazz Festival.


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    • nextstopjupiter profile image

      nextstopjupiter 8 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      In 1998 I attended the Visions festival in NYC which is specialized in American avant garde jazz and is held every year in June.

    • illminatus profile image

      illminatus 8 years ago from Chicago, IL

      I am on facebook. What's your s/n?

    • IslandVoice profile image

      Sylvia Van Velzer 8 years ago from Hawaii

      Btw, are you in Facebook?

    • IslandVoice profile image

      Sylvia Van Velzer 8 years ago from Hawaii

      Awesome! I would like to share this with my son in law and daughter. I know they want to do a tour, and i think they can plan around some of these places and events. Thanks!