Jacksonville Jazz Festival

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Jacksonville Jazz Festival
1998 Jacksonville Jazz Festival poster
Location(s)Jacksonville, Florida
Coordinates30°20′13″N 81°39′41″W / 30.33694°N 81.66139°W / 30.33694; -81.66139
Years active1979-1981 (Mayport)
1982–present (Downtown)
Founded byJake Godbold, Mike Tolbert

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is a weekend celebration of jazz in Jacksonville, Florida.[1] Admission is free with the exception of VIP areas, and events and performances take place throughout downtown venues.


Performances are scheduled at Hemming Plaza, the Florida Theatre, and the main stage on the Courthouse lawn (at the corner of Pearl and Adams streets). The festival kicks off Thursday night at the Florida Theatre with the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition[2]. Originally known as The Great American Jazz Piano Competition, five finalists compete for cash prizes and a chance to perform on the festival's main stage. In 1983, the first year of the competition, Marcus Roberts took top honors beating out a 16-year-old, Harry Connick Jr.[3]

The Jazz Marketplace features arts and crafts vendors conveniently located throughout the festival footprint in downtown Jacksonville. Art mediums include clay, digital, drawing, fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting, sculpture, and wood. Patrons can view these works from around the nation while still being in earshot of performances.[4]

Past performers[edit]

Performers have included Greg Adams, Karrin Allyson, Patti Austin, Count Basie Orchestra,, David Benoit, George Benson, Chris Botti, Michael Bublé, Natalie Cole, Harry Connick Jr., Chick Corea, Robert Cray, Miles Davis, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Guy, Herbie Hancock, Boney James, Al Jarreau, Kenny G, Diana Krall, Ramsey Lewis, Chuck Mangione, Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Rippingtons, David Sanborn, Diane Schuur, Spyro Gyra, Mavis Staples, Pamela Williams, and Grover Washington Jr.[5]


In 1979, Jake Godbold was elected Mayor of Jacksonville. He and aide Mike Tolbert founded the jazz festival and envisioned it as an event that would help the struggling fishing village of Mayport. It began as a one-day free concert featuring regional talent and a major headliner at Mayport. The producers expected a few hundred people to show up, but a crowd of twenty-five thousand turned out. The following year, attendance was even higher and Mayport could not handle the crowds, and the Mayport Naval Base was uncomfortable with so a big crowd on their border, so the event moved to the newly opened Metropolitan Park in 1982. Costs were low (Dizzy Gillespie headlined the 1981 show for just $7,500) and sponsors were willing to support it, so it remained a free show. Churches and other groups provided food and drinks which helped them to make money. At one time, before Channel 7 decided to use it as a fundraiser, 100,000 people would attend.

The production was turned over to public television station WJCT in 1985 and they used it as their primary fund-raising event for many years. In the mid-1980s, big-name entertainers started raising the rates they charged to perform. The 1986 festival featured Miles Davis for approximately $25,000, more than three times the cost of the headliner five years earlier. Costs began to rise faster than sponsorship money, so the show in 1995 included a $5 admission to help cover the shortfall. Vic DiGenti, who produced the event from 1993 to 2000 stated, "We probably lost some of those people who just want to come and hang out and drink beer."

In the late 1990s attendance rose to 20,000, but that wasn't enough to cover shrinking sponsorships and rising artists' contracts. After the show in 2000, WJCT announced their withdrawal of sponsorship, citing large losses, resulting in no festival in 2001 and 2002.[6]

The City of Jacksonville resurrected the event in 2003 and named Tony Bennett the headliner. However, Bennett was the most expensive act in festival history. He was paid $100,000 for his 75-minute performance at Metropolitan Park, plus $10,000 for expenses. The festival in 2003 again did not charge admission. It was a sunny weekend and nearly 60,000 people attended, but the festival's profits were half a million dollars short of its expenses. When it rained in 2004, attendance numbers fell to 22,000 and the festival lost another half-million dollars. In 2006, the city decided to begin charging admission, but the deficit stayed around $500,000. The 2007–2008 budget included significant cuts that required the festival to be scaled back. Saturday and Sunday music was limited to Metropolitan Park whereas, in 2007, concerts were also held at the Florida and Ritz theaters.[7]


External links[edit]