Five Historic Jazz Festivals to Visit This Summer

Feature Photo: Ryan Bonneau

Jazz, an American musical art form, is best enjoyed live. Luckily for us, there are over a hundred jazz festivals each year in the United States, with more occurring around the world in such places as Montreal, Jamaica, Spain, and Ukraine.

If you enjoy music, a weekend spent listening to jazz, drinking wine, and partaking in the local cuisine is one of the best ways to unwind from a busy week/month/year at work.

Seabreeze Jazz Festival

Panama City, Florida
April 19-23, 2017

Photo: “Pier Park, Panama City Beach Florida” by Olin Gilbert licensed under CC BY 2.0 

While this is the newest festival on the list, it is in its 19th year. With almost 40 artists and 20,000 attendees, this April festival is a great way to kick off your spring and summer travels.

The venue, Aaron Bessant Park, is just minutes from the ocean and adjacent to Pier Park, which has shopping and restaurants, and is the location of the after-hours All Star Jams on Thursday-Sunday. Outside of the festival, you can visit the beautiful white sand beaches or indulge in some gulf coast seafood in great local restaurants.

Headliners: Kenny G, Shelia E, West Coast Jam featuring TK, and Tower of Power.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans, Louisiana
April 28 – May 7

Looking for musical travel inspiration? Find some of the best historical jazz festivals around the United States. Plan your next trip to a jazz fest near you.Photo by Josh Brasted

While New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was not founded until 1970. This seven-day, two-weekend festival features the best in jazz as well as other great musical forms.

Located at the historic Fair Grounds Race Course, it features multiple stages, amazing local fare at the food booths, cultural exhibits, and a contemporary crafts area. This year’s festival features over 500 artists, including a special program dedicated to the music of Cuba. If you come just for the festival, you can at least get a little feel for the city by taking the streetcar to get to the venue.

Headliners: Stevie Wonder, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Rebirth Brass Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Maroon 5 (full list here).

Newport Jazz Festival

Newport Rhode Island
August 4-6, 2017Looking for musical travel inspiration? Find some of the best historical jazz festivals around the United States. Plan your next trip to a jazz fest near you.

Photo: “Spectators at the Fort Stage. Newport Jazz Festival 2013” by Vernaccia, licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Even though this was the first-ever jazz festival, originally held in 1954, it has not run continuously and has moved locations. However, it is back in Newport at the Fort Adams State Park to continue its historic celebration of great jazz music.

While most concerts are held on one of four stages in the park, Friday night features a special concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino, which will feature Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Rhiannon Giddons. Getting to the venue by water shuttle is a great option and allows you to take in the beautiful scenery before becoming engrossed in the music. For anyone on the East Coast, this is one of the stand-out summer jazz festivals.

Headliners: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Snarky Puppy, Andra Day and Hudson.

Telluride Jazz Festival

Telluride, Colorado
August 4-6, 2017 Looking for musical travel inspiration? Find some of the best historical jazz festivals around the United States. Plan your next trip to a jazz fest near you.Photo: Ryan Bonneau

Telluride may not be as well known as the other locations on the list, but its festival has been offering world-class music in a scenic, intimate setting since 1977. Located on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Telluride Jazz Festival gives you the options of staying in town, in your RV or camping.

Traveling back and forth between stages and your accommodations is easy on foot or by bike. It is a relaxed atmosphere with wine, whiskey, and champagne tastings which culminates on Sunday with a parade through town in the morning and final sets through the afternoon and evening. If you really need a break from the music, there is a whole lineup of outdoor activities available, including hiking, stand up paddle boarding, and fishing.

Headliners: TBA

Monterey Jazz Festival

Monterey, California
September 15-17, 2017

Looking for musical travel inspiration? Find some of the best historical jazz festivals around the United States. Plan your next trip to a jazz fest near you.Photo: Monterey Jazz Festival

The Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest-running jazz festival in the world. It features 500 artists in over 100 shows on eight stages. Each year, they have special categories of artists including a showcase artist who will perform multiple times, featuring the full extent of their talent.

This year’s artist is Grammy-nominated violinist Regina Carter. The venue is the Monterey Fairgrounds, a 22-acre site located in the heart of Monterey. If you have an RV, they have RV parking available with festival ticket packages, making this a great way to end your season.

Headliners: Regina Carter, John Clayton, Gerald Clayton, Jeff Hamilton. All other artists will be announced March 30, 2017

Why You Should Include A Jazz Festival In Your Next Trip

These festivals all have extensive histories with special features to recommend them; however, sometimes the best festival is the one in your hometown. If one of these is not close to you, do a search for something close. Being able to spend one or two days in the sun, listening jazz is an amazing way to relax, even if you aren’t a jazz aficionado.

About the Author

Valerie, originally a computer programmer, is just starting her new career as a writer. She loves the sun, her Australian Shepherd dog, and her husband. When she isn’t mountain biking, listening to music, or reading, she is writing about everything she has learned.

Follow her on twitter: @vkjocums.

Looking for musical travel inspiration? Find some of the best historical jazz festivals around the United States. Plan your next trip to a jazz fest near you.

About Valerie Jocums

Valerie, originally a computer programmer, is just starting her new career as a writer. She loves the sun, her Australian Shepherd dog, and her husband. When she isn’t mountain biking, listening to music, or reading, she is writing about everything she has learned. Follow her on twitter: @vkjocums.
  • New Orleans is definitely the place to be when it comes to jazz…great tips, Valerie! There´s no better place to be than the USA to celebrate this genre of music. I loved travelling around the States, there´s so much to see and do!