Got THAT Swing: World's Best Jazz Festivals
”Baby, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.” Translation: “Friend, my favourite music is that with the swung notes of alternating durations found in that great musical art form called Jazz. All else is meaningless to my ears.”
Jazz isn't really just a style of music though is it? It's more like a lifestyle. One that can involve nights spent in poorly lit clubs, or pawing though old records in garage sales flicking for golden vinyl. But it also means getting out and experiencing the jazz euphoria with other like minded individuals, and maybe picking up a few converts in the process, at one of the world's best jazz festivals.
Jazz traces its roots back to New Orleans of the early 1900s in a fusion between the music of the negro population, soul and blues etc., and white folks ragtime, so attending the New Orleans Jazz Fest can be a spiritual experience for jazz lovers. From smoky blues preformed in tiny, jazz-stained club venues to big band parades, the festival celebrates the vast range of sounds emanating from the home of jazz.
Havana is another town with influence at the roots of the jazz sound. This city always comes with a soundtrack of groovy beats and tantalising rhythms, but if you visit during the Havana International Jazz Festival, then you'll see a city under a deluge of jazz from the concert halls downtown to the Malecon.
Many small towns have their own jazz festivals, but some of the world's largest are the week long Montreal International Jazz Festival which hosts about 2,500 top jazz men, playing in indoor and free outdoor events, and the San Francisco Jazz Festival, which enjoys a jazz filled run of up to nine fall weeks where festival goers are exposed to everything from classical jazz to the avant garde.
One of the longest running jazz meets is the Monterey Jazz Festival, which has been flooding this town's fairgrounds every September since Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday topped the bill in 1958. Considering the age of the festival and its singular prestige it's easier to talk about who hasn't performed for the Monterey Jazz Festival than who has. MoldeJazz may sound like jazz for old folks, and it is an old timer too, but this internationally regarded festival in Norway has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, James Brown, and Ray Charles since its creation in July 1961.
Other big international celebrations are held further from the roots of jazz. Cape Town's Jazz Festival, also known as ‘Africa’s Grandest Gathering’, happens on five stages over two days in March and draws about 40 international bands or artists, and about 40 local acts, so there's an excellent blend of jazz genres. Marciac, a small village in Gascony, has a significantly larger per capita incidence of jazz fan-age, whose numbers host the August Jazz in Marciac Festival, filling the medieval main square and every available local venue with jazz concerts, many of them free, somehow always managing to attract some names that are far too large for a town this size.
The Canaries Jazz and Mas Festival uses its sunny, island location and reliable weather to attract some important performers to showcase in its free outdoor concerts, lead master classes and pack out its shows. Tobago follows the Canary lead, hosting the temptingly sunny, seaside Plymouth Jazz Festival since 2005. This time, as well as the weather, there's a tropical twist which goes down well with those organic Cuban jazz rhythms and the local seafood and Caribbean beaches. The Cayman Islands Jazz Festival offers another chance to listen to some of the world's best jazz on a Caribbean beach.
Summertime... When the living is easy... And the weather is ripe for enjoying jazz in the great outdoors. Paris sizzling in the summer is such a cliché, but one that fits talk of the Paris Jazz Festival which is an outdoor, largely free event held in the Parc Floral, though out the long summer afternoons and evenings. The Toronto Jazz Festival planners also take advantage of the good weather to include lunchtime concerts on their ten day program, which often includes as many as 1,500 performers, in 350 concerts over 40 stages. Rotterdam's North Sea Jazz Festival chooses three midsummer days for its event showcasing swing, gospel, funk, blues, latin, electro and big band jazz, and runs alongside a children's jazz event that's right, hook the next generation, as well as a competition and gala. Copenhagen's jazz community also takes jazz to the masses in July for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Ten days with around 100 venues putting on around 900 different shows. Big names perform at some of Copenhagen's most famous landmarks, including The Royal Theatre, the Tivoli Gardens and the Frederiksborg Castle Gardens. The rest of the city is overrun with intimate and unique jazz performances – in shopping malls, cafes, parks and even on boats.
Even the Swiss Riviera jazzes up over summer for the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland's largest jazz festival. Yes, the Swiss do swing. The French Riviera won't be left out of that one either, it basks in the late July glow of the Nice Jazz Festival, held amongst olive groves and ruined Roman amphitheatres. The Umbria Jazz Festival has a similar setting of medieval walls and Roman ruins, with stages built on the streets and in fields to take advantage of the beautiful, but incongruous setting.
Even the UK, not known for its weather, starts to sway with a summertime jazz vibe, though the Brits combine it with beer for the Royal Windsor Jazz and Beer Festival, jazz and liquor!, then claim a questionable connection to the deep south, which in the UK is apparently the Isle of Wight, host of the Isle of Wight Jazz Festival which promises big names for people who only know a little about jazz, and cool names for people who know a bit more and are a little more difficult to impress. Events centre around the resort town of Ventor, in theatres, hotel bars and clubs, as well as a church. UK's largest jazz festival is the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, also said to be the UK's best: priding itself on bringing some of the freshest and most innovative jazz acts to its audience, which is gratifyingly varied due to the laid-back, unpretentious feel of the event. If Jamie Cullum's opinion is one to go by, it's the kind of festival "you just like hanging out at".
And just because it had a long way to travel doesn't mean that jazz hasn't made is to Japan round the other side of the world, which proudly attaches its bragging rites and jazz kudos to the Yokohama Jazz Festival - Japan's home of jazz.
Comments by other travellers
There are no posts. Why not be the first to have your say?