A! Magazine for the Arts

Chris Botti is a gifted instrumentalist, a talented composer, and a charismatic performer.

Chris Botti is a gifted instrumentalist, a talented composer, and a charismatic performer.

Cool Jazz in Jacksonville

April 24, 2007

When you have a few days off, what's an arts lover like myself supposed to do? Enjoy the arts, of course! I had a lot of work still on my plate, but I just could not resist driving to Florida for a three-day jazz festival.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is a celebration of a true American art form, featuring everything from contemporary to traditional to classic romantic jazz. Performers ranged from local and regional talent to the biggest names in jazz today. Concerts were held from early morning until late at night, and admission was only $10 per day (extremely low considering that I've paid $45-$125 for a two-hour concert by most of these musicians).

Performances took place at three venues, varying in size from the historic 400-seat Ritz Theatre to the outdoor setting of Metropolitan Park, which can accommodate thousands of people with their own lawn chairs or blankets.

The intimacy of the Ritz Theatre offered the best acoustics, but with thousands of jazz fans trying to get in to see Friday night's headliners, several thousand people were turned away before the main show started. Concert-goers who got there early enough to get seats were treated to a performance by The Urban Jazz Coalition. The main attraction was the Guitars and Saxes tour featuring guitarists Jeff Golub and Tim Bowman, and saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum.

On Saturday, a rain shower just before the main show threatened to end the evening early, but concert-goers pulled out umbrellas and ponchos or took refuge under trees until the weather cleared. Then the crowd settled in to listen to the Jazz Attack tour, featuring saxophonist Richard Elliott, trumpet player Rick Braun, and guitarists Peter White and Jonathan Butler.

After the main show on Saturday, a Round Midnight Jazz Jam at the Marriott Hotel offered musicians of all ages and skill levels the chance to play together.

Chilly weather on Sunday reduced the size of the crowd at Metropolitan Park, but die-hard jazz fans were once again prepared, with hoods on their coats and extra blankets. The headliner, trumpet player Chris Botti, was a real trooper, too. He stopped at one point and made a joke about playing duets with the wind, which was creating havoc with the microphones. Botti finally got off the stage and played several songs in the audience where he found a buffer against the gusts of wind.

The Jazz Festival's impressive line-up for 2007 also included Dianne Reeves, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Chuck Mangione, The Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, Diane Schuur, Regina Carter, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and many more.

Related Events

The Jazz Festival coincides with three sister events, the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, an art show entitled Art at the Met, and the 38 Degrees Latitude Wine Tasting Experience.

--- Amateur jazz pianists compete for the title of American Jazz Piano champion, along with the chance to play at the festival proper.

--- Art at the Met is held at Metropolitan Park, so that patrons can enjoy the music and browse the works of prize-winning artists.

--- Last, but not least, the 38 Degrees Latitude Wine Tasting Experience offers festivalgoers a chance to sample over 50 different types of wine.

Next Year

If you plan to go to next year's Jacksonville Jazz Festival, look for me -- I'm hoping to be there, too. For more information, stay tuned to the City of Jacksonville's website: