A Festival View from the East


Quinence Lynell, left, and Dee Dee Bridgewater 
perform at SummerStage in New York.

(Photo: Sean Lamar)

It’s been awhile since many jazz events were allowed to go live, unhindered by the threat of pandemic-induced postponement and cancellation. But, this year, several long-standing festivals in the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada — and even a few newbies — are getting back into the swing of things. Here’re some notable festivals, events and performances happening this summer.

The East’s summer jazz festival season kicks off June 3–5 with the 29th annual Capital Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C. Since 1993, this festival has drawn tens of thousands of jazz lovers to the suburbs of D.C., where listeners can bathe in the sounds of their favorite artists while also eating, drinking and shopping with local vendors.

Then, June 25–26 in picturesque upstate New York, jazz fans can enjoy performances from 20 world-class jazz artists at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Spa State Park for the annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. This year, big-name acts like Robert Glasper and Wynton Marsalis play all day on the SPAC Amphitheater stage, while, on the Charles R. Wood “Jazz Discovery” Stage, fresh new jazz talent like Tiempo Libre and Cha Wa share their music.

In Rochester, New York, the CGI International Rochester Jazz Festival returns June 17–25 after a two-year hiatus. The festival takes place in downtown Rochester. The festival occurs over nine days, 325 shows, 130-plus free shows including all headliner shows this year are free, happening at diverse venues.

Over in eastern Canada, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival comes back in-person June 24–July 3 after being cancelled in 2020 and going fully virtual in 2021. Founded in 1980 by local musicians who wanted to cultivate and celebrate Ottawa’s local jazz scene, the event has featured international talent, including Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Herb Ellis and Milt Jackson. This year’s lineup is chock full of young talent, including Cécile McLorin Salvant, Julian Lage Trio and Esperanza Spalding.

The Orlando Music Festival, slated for July 1–3, is a three-day extravaganza on the Central Florida Fairgrounds featuring Grammy-winning smooth-jazz and R&B artists. The festival, which boasts several stages, offers tiered ticketing and an array of food and gifts from vendors. This year’s lineup is headlined by the contemporary jazz ensemble Spyro Gyra and saxophonist David Sanborn.

On June 15–18, Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delware, will come alive to celebrate the legacy of Wilmington-bred jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown. For this year’s 35th annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, there’s bound to be some unforgettable performances — previous festivals have featured Kenny Barron Trio, Terell Stafford — and the atmosphere guarantees to be supreme as the city’s multi-year and nearly $8 million renovation of Rodney Square continues.

Then, the East Village venue Drom in New York celebrates its inaugural Jazz Festival July 28–Aug. 22. The series marks the first-ever dedicated jazz festival for Drom, a venue that’s been home to many contemporary jazz greats over its 14-year history, including Robert Glasper, Marc Ribot and Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Throughout the month, the venue puts on a series of shows featuring groups like the Mingus Big Band, Ravi Coltrane and Juke Joint Jelis, the Russell Malone Quartet and more.

On July 29–31 at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island, the legendary Newport Jazz Festival returns. Since 1954, this jazz festival has been one of the highest caliber in the United States, with the mission of showcasing the jazz tradition as well as reflecting the era in which modern artists live. Over the years, the festival has gone by several different names and featured legendary performances from giants like Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Ray Charles, to name just a few. Today, the festival continues to showcase today’s living greats.

If you live in New York or are visiting this summer, check out the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival put on by City Parks Foundation. Each year, in the heat of late August, City Parks brings together performances from some of the finest musicians in the world who reflect the ingenuity and individuality of bebop legend Charlie Parker at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Aside from the wealth of performing talent, perhaps the coolest thing about this festival is that it’s free to attend as part of the Summerstage series.

Can’t wait until August? Then head south over Memorial Day weekend for the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Florida, which will feature performances by Herbie Hancock, Jazzmeia Horn, George Benson and many others for its 42nd edition. Along with performances, food and local vendors to enjoy, the festival also puts on an exciting piano competition in which five jazz pianists from around the world are chosen by judges to compete for a cash prize and a chance to perform on the festival’s main stage.

This list encompasses only a few of the events offered to jazz fans this summer on the eastern side of North America. The East Coast, all the way up into eastern Canada, is bursting with great jazz performances — marking the triumphant and uplifting return of more in-person jazz. It’s time to get back out there. DB

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September 2023
Kris Davis
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