Jazz is in the midst of a renaissance right now, the evidence of which is in the proliferation of festivals in the U.S. The giant jazz festivals, such as New York's Bell Atlantic and JVC, have been expanding their reach, franchising into other cities; long-established events like California's Monterey Jazz Festival have been broadening their scopes as well. Then there has been a blossoming of grass-roots minifestivals, on which sonicnet.com will report.
All told, there are more than 100 jazz festivals in the U.S. from which to choose.
"There are many more festivals now then in recent years," says Michael Dorf, founder of New York's Knitting Factory music emporium, which owns the Bell Atlantic Festivals." "Basically, I think people feel a need to have this music in their lives, as a sort of high art. Also, I think more festivals, like ours, are becoming more inclusive, regarding styles of jazz, and are also coming up with creative booking ideas."
Here's a look at the nation's major jazz festivals:
(Click here for dates, locations and rosters of selected summer festivals.)
The Bell Atlantic Festival
In a format introduced last year, the Bell Atlantic Festival has branched out into three cities: Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. While the festivals on those cities are already over, the New York centerpiece runs June 1–11.
Once a small-scale venture based out of the Knitting Factory, known as the "What Is Jazz?" festival, the Bell Atlantic is now a giant. But the booking philosophy of the festival has remained fresh, with acts such as saxophonist John Zorn and trumpeter Dave Douglas, not to mention still-radical icons such as saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor.
"I like to think that we brought attention to guys like John Zorn and Elliott Sharp and the Jazz Passengers, artists who had a hard time getting booked anywhere in the city, let alone at the uptown festivals," Dorf says of his festival's origins.
The Bell Atlantic makes use of the Knitting Factory's own three stages, a pair of outdoor stages and a sampling of clubs around the city to form its astonishing array of styles and shows. Gigs are as notable for their imaginative thematic pairings as for the adventurous bent of many of the acts. Sex Mob, for example, opens for the Neville Brothers on June 10 at the World Trade Towers.
"I love being booked to play with bands like the Nevilles or Los Lobos," says Sex Mob leader Steven Bernstein." Our thing is actually closer to that vibe than what is commonly referred to as jazz."
Saxophonist and composer Tim Berne performs in four different settings at the Knitting Factory on June 7.
"The Knitting Factory has cultivated an audience, and that same crowd, plus a ton of other people in town for the festival, make for an appreciative bunch," he says. "It reminds me of playing in Europe, where my type of music is better understood and checked out. Knowing that you're playing to people who want to be hearing your music makes a huge difference."
On June 1, Coleman will play a dozen new compositions in a three-part concert at the Regent Ballroom. He'll reunite with his old bandmates, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins; combine a jazz rhythm section with Indian percussionists in his Global Expression Project; and present "A Freedom Symbol," composed for a 20-piece chamber ensemble.
On June 4 drum legend Max Roach and Taylor perform as a duet, which they have done in the States roughly once a decade, since 1979, in a free outdoor concert at Columbia University. Concerts at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park include New Orleans pianist Dr. John and Galactic, June 6, and soul specialists Al Green and Odetta preaching the gospel June 7.
Zorn presents his chamber works at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts, on New York's Lower East Side, on June 9; on June 11, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, now a trio, will perform a tribute to Lester Bowie, its longtime trumpeter, who died last year.
At the Knitting Factory, drummer Jeff Watts, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Greg Osby, Douglas and others set up; free midnight jam sessions at the club will be organized each night with special guest leaders. Douglas' latest CD Soul on Soul features the title cut (RealAudio excerpt).
At Town Hall, on June 9, rocker Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet perform in an opera written by Costello's keyboardist, Steve Nieve, Welcome to the Voice. Closing the festival on the 11th, pianist Chick Corea's Origin will play on a bill that includes a reunion of the Microscopic Septet.
The JVC Festival
Right after the Bell Atlantic's dust clears, the JVC Jazz Festival gets going. It's the main jazz event of George Wein's Festival Productions, which hosts a number of events throughout North America during festival season. There are JVC festivals in Atlanta, Chicago and Winter Park, Colo., but the biggest two are New York City and Newport, R.I.
The New York festival runs June 12–24, with a bill that climaxes with big-name singers such as Ray Charles, Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall. Where in past years JVC was the staid, stuffy affair that prompted rebel festivals such as the Knitting Factory's, Wein's event has finally caught on that audience members like variety. So the JVC has booked adventurous souls into the Symphony Space on the Upper West Side, Zorn and Douglas among them.
Among the 25 JVC venues is Carnegie Hall, which will host Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto on June 16, a tango show on June 17 with saxophonists Joe Lovano and Paquito D'Rivera and vibist Gary Burton, the big-band affair "From Spirituals to Swing" on June 22 and Cassandra Wilson with Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora on June 23.
The tradition of producing jazz festivals in Newport, R.I., began in 1954. Festivals have been showing up there most years since then, under varying sponsorships. Since 1984, JVC has had the reins and will get the music going August 11–13.
Headliners on the main stages include singer Bobby Short, pianist Dave Brubeck, smooth-jazz stars Fourplay, vocalist Dianne Reeves, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Femi Kuti (son of Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti) and saxophonists Kenny Garrett, Maceo Parker and John Zorn.
This year a new venue, the Harbor Stage, will feature young, rising names in jazz, including saxophonist James Carter, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and guitarist Vernon Reid. In another first, a two-day symposium, "The Meanings of Jazz," will precede the festival. Discussions will include jazz education, the media and the music and a panel workshop on the Internet's influence on jazz.
"When the Newport Jazz Festival began, in 1954, the festival program included a panel discussion, 'The Place of Jazz in American Culture,' " said Wein. "We plan to pick up where the original forum left off."
The Chicago Jazz Festival
The Chicago Jazz Festival has been presenting great acts at the Grant Park stage for 22 years. Highlights of this year's August 31–September affair include pianist Herbie Hancock, singer Reeves and>Big Band Monk, a band that includes saxophonists Phil Woods and Steve Lacy plays tunes by Thelonious Monk, naturally.
The festival will salute three departed local favorites, trumpeter Bowie, drummer Wilbur Campbell and pianist Gene Esposito, and present the first Windy City appearance by the Italian Instabile Orchestra. Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and guitarist Bobby Broom — both local legends — will perform this year as well.
Another significant part of the Chicago Jazz Festival are the all-night jam sessions at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase. Players like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and many others have been known to jam in this tiny club.
For those fancying a mountainous backdrop for their jazz, Colorado has some interesting events planned this summer. Jazz Aspen Snowmass and its jazz colony workshop, plus the Telluride Jazz Festival, add up to some impressive bookings for a state not generally known for a swinging scene off the slopes.
The big events kick off June 15–18 with Jazz Aspen Snowmass, where the focus is on Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and singer/pianist Krall. The festival also will host Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington Band Director Academy on June 14–17.
Marsalis and company will work with the band directors, and the Jazz Workshop band from Denver's School of the Arts will serve as the house band for the teaching academy.
Jazz Aspen Snowmass continues July 24–Aug. 4 with its Jazz Colony, a joint venture with the Thelonious Monk Institute. The teaching colony has several concerts connected to it, with artists such as Hancock, organist Jimmy Smith, saxophonist Joshua Redman and singer Reeves.
From Aug. 4–6, the Telluride festival features a strong lineup of conga player Ray Barretto and New World Spirit, New Orleans' the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, flutist Herbie Mann, vibist Harris, saxophonist Bobby Watson and Horizon and pianist Cyrus Chestnut.
Farther west is the oldest continuously running jazz festival in the world, the Monterey Jazz Festival. Headlined by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and guitarist Pat Metheny, the 43rd annual event, running Sept. 15–17, continues to break out of the moldy image that has plagued the festival until current director Tim Jackson took over several years ago.
"Recently, the festival was not inclusive like it is now. It was stuck in the era of great artists like the MJQ [Modern Jazz Quartet], Dizzy [Gillespie] and Sarah [Vaughan]. There was room for more, and the audiences wanted it. With seven stages on the grounds, there's a spot for just about everybody. The theme is anti-theme, meaning that I want to juxtapose different styles of music on the same night. I didn't want to have a Latin night or a blues night."
The festival starts a new program this year, featuring one guest playing in a variety of contexts in different venues. Guitarist Bill Frisell will appear with his quartet, in a trio and in a duet setting.
Also of note are the educational activities that benefit from the festival's revenue. The traveling clinician series brings Bay Area musicians into middle and high schools around the area. Examples of current jazz musicians who were students in this program include saxophonists Joshua Redmond and Craig Handy and pianist Benny Green.
The San Francisco Jazz festival enters its 18th year in fall and continues to expand into more venues around the Bay Area. A few of the more than 30 events that will run from Oct. 25–Nov. 5 have been announced, including singers Lou Rawls and Ruth Brown, a duet of saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Paul Bley on the same bill as Trio 3, featuring saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille, and a "Remember Shakti" show, with guitarist John McLaughlin, tabla whiz Zakir Hussain and others.
It's also not too late to catch the last part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival's spring season, now under way. Curated by saxophonist Redmond. "The Drums," featuring Elvin Jones in a variety of settings, takes place May 26–28, while "Latin Jazz" takes over on June 15–18, with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and saxophonist David Sanchez. Each series starts with a night of jazz on film, hosted by a legend of that style. Jones hosts A History of Jazz on Film, while pianist John Santos hosts Lagrimas Negras (Black Tears).
The Earshot Festival
Seattle's Earshot Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 11th year last fall, has become known for unexpected and aggressively global programming.
"Why place the music in a glass case, like a museum piece?" says Earshot director John Gilbreth, whose festival runs Oct. 21–Nov. 1. "We really believe in our mission to bring back some of the spiritual potential and impact of this Afro-American tradition. We also find a growing audience for challenging music. We used to call them the faithful 50, now it has swelled."
This season, Earshot will use venues throughout the city to present between 30 and 35 concerts that feature both the far-out and the straight-ahead. Confirmed acts include Trio 3 on Oct. 25, a Cecil Taylor solo performance on the 27th, and the Dave Holland Quintet on the 28th.
Earshot is also to present the 10-piece Asian-American Jazz Orchestra and saxophonist Jane Bunnett's Cuban Project. A special attraction comes on the final night, when Sudanese oud player Hamza-El Din will read poetry by Rumi. The full lineup will be announced by mid-June.