John Coltrane once said that you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light. The Jacksonville Jazz Festival has a long and storied past from its humble beginnings in the Mayport fishing village to a sprawling, three-day celebration of the many genres of jazz that are important elements to our nation’s musical history.
After more 30 years, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is hitting all the right notes. From May 22nd-25th, the heart of downtown Jacksonville will be transformed into a vibrant festival setting as local, regional, and national jazz artists gather on multiple stages to showcase their craft. Festival hours are 5pm to 10pm Friday, May 23rd, 1pm to 10pm Saturday, May 24th, and Sunday, May 25th from 1pm to 8pm.
The 2014 lineup features performances by Al Jarreau, Average White Band, Boney James, Ester Rada, Joey DeFrancesco, Latin Jazz All-Stars, Marcus Johnson, Pedrito Martinez Group, Sax & the City with Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor, Stooges Brass Band, TIZER featuring Karen Briggs, Traces of Blues, and the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note.
Patrons can enhance their Jacksonville Jazz Festival experience with the “Experience Jazz” or “All that Jazz” VIP Packages. The packages include access to preferred seating, festival parking, swag, and more. Preferred day passes are also available for the single-day visitor. General admission to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is free.
The Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition kicks off the festival Thursday, May 22nd at the Florida Theatre. Five finalists will be chosen by a selection committee through blind judging. They will compete for the honor of this award, a cash prize, and the chance to perform on the Main Stage during the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Tickets for the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition are $10 and can be purchased at the Florida Theatre Box Office.
Other festival activities include the 2014 Art in the Heart of Downtown art show and sale featuring the work of talented artists and master craftspeople from around the country. Festival patrons can enjoy the sounds of first-rate jazz performers and browse the works of talented artists in a bustling, street festival setting.
In the wake of the success of such events as One Spark, Jacksonville’s Special Events Director Tonisha Gaines says the city’s downtown district is poised to not only introduce jazz to a whole new generation of listeners but invite a new host of people to experience all that downtown Jacksonville has to offer. “There are a lot of visitors who live in Jacksonville who are new to downtown. I think that events like the Jazz Fest are really key to bringing them in,” she says. “It really piques their interest and makes them want to come back and say, ‘wow, I’m really proud of the city that I live in because there is something really special happening, and I am able to be a part of it’,” says Gaines.
Local jazz musician Lisa Kelly, who hosts the festival’s Jazz Jam Session, says she is hopeful that the event will spark the interest of jazz fans looking for more than just a weekend of live music. Kelly has been a force in the city’s jazz scene for over 20 years, but experienced a recent downshift in local bookings when the economy bottomed out. That could all change if the electricity downtown reignites the passion for live jazz. “It’s nice to have club work for the fans who have followed you for all of these years. They want to come out and enjoy your music and we just enjoy performing for them,” she says. “People have their favorite songs, and I know them when they walk through the door. I love to sing these tunes for them, and I appreciate their consistent support. This is our community, and we enjoy still being connected.”
Gaines says the history of the festival itself is a perfect complement to the classic styles of jazz reflected in the diverse lineup from dixieland, ragtime, big band, contemporary, and traditional jazz. While other festivals continue to morph and evolve in line with current trends, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival has always stayed true to its original mission of celebrating the art form in its purist form. “The Jazz Festival has such long roots. It was started back in the early 80s, so we’re over 30 years old. When you look at jazz as a genre of music, the tradition of that music and how the roots of a lot of other music have drawn inspiration from the notes and the different tones, from that perspective, I think it’s great,” Gaines says. “It’s a wonderful thing for the city that the jazz fest has kept with being a true jazz festival, and I think that makes it a significant event. As we continue to grow and spread the word into different areas, people are traveling more and more to our city because of the uniqueness of it being an urban festival that is free and open to the public in a downtown setting.”
In tandem with its commitment to honor jazz as an important and historical art form, Gaines says festival organizers are always looking for ways to improve festival elements in ways that will keep the event fresh and exciting and stay ahead of the current and future growth potential of the downtown area as a viable entertainment district.
This year, the new Jacksonville Jazz Festival footprint will include stages along Bay Street, one near Marsh Street and the Shipyards, another near Newnan Street, and at the Jacksonville Landing. Festival patrons can enjoy the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, the different textures and sounds and the unique presentation as the city comes alive with the sound of music. “Jacksonville is in a great position to see growth in a lot of different areas,” Gaines says. “From the perspective of live music, there is a good opportunity to continue to see growth. People love live music.”
Jazz After Dark will keep the music going after the festival wraps from 10pm to 2am Friday through Sunday at participating venues including Underbelly, 1904 Music Hall, Volstead, Burro Bar, Dive Bar, Downtown Cigar Bar, and the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. Jazz After Dark features performances by such artists as the Brooklyn-based Moon Hooch, Heavy Pets, Big Something, Naughty Professor and The Sh-Booms. The diverse lineup is a blend of genres from Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Instrumental, Klezmer, Celtic, Folk, and Bluegrass. Admission is free.
Other festival elements include the 2014 UNF “Off Jazz” Concert Friday, May 23rd at the Florida Theatre. Doors open at 6pm and the show starts 7pm. Tickets are available at The Florida Theatre Box Office or at www.ticketmaster.com. The Florida Theatre Box Office is open daily from 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday.
The Jazz Jam Session with Lisa Kelly is hosted from 9pm to midnight Saturday, May 24th on the Breezin’ Stage at the The Jacksonville Landing, continuing the legacy of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival’s official “Round Midnight Jam Session” tradition. The jam is hosted annually by the “Kelly/Scott Quintet.”
The Youth Jazz Talent Showcase is staged Saturday May 24th on the Groovin’ Stage. The showcase is a live talent competition open to young jazz singers and musicians. The winner will receive a cash prize to be used expressly for the purpose of furthering his or her musical education. Finalists will perform at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 24th. Winners will be selected by a panel of music adjudicators who specialize in the arts forms of traditional and contemporary jazz and blues. Trophies will be awarded to 1st-3rd place winners. Applicants must be between the ages of 7 and 21.