Jacksonville Jazz Festival brings groovin’ time to town this weekend
The Jacksonville Jazz Festival gets cranking Thursday evening with a spirited contest — the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition at the Florida Theatre.
But the tone shifts for the three days of free music that follow this weekend.
The event takes place largely on three outdoor stages downtown, and their names reflect the relaxed, inviting nature of the festival: the Groovin’ Stage in Hemming Park; the Swingin’ Stage, at Main and Adams streets; and the Breezin’ Stage at the Jacksonville Landing.
The festival isn’t just for disciplined jazz listeners. It’s also for people who like to roam the area and sample the variety of sounds filling the air. It’s also a chance enjoy food and beverages, good weather (ideally) and crowd-watch to your heart’s content.
A total of 40 acts are scheduled to perform on the outdoors stages, including the Commodores, the Chick Corea Trio and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Commodores now include William King (the remaining original member), Walter “Clyde” Orange and J.D. Nicholas. The group, which formed in the late ’60s, became a hit-making machine in the ’70s and ’80s (with the help of Lionel Richie) with soulful ballads such as “Easy” and “Nightshift” and funky dance tunes such as “Lady (You Bring Me Up),” “Too Hot ta Trot” and the immortal “Brick House.”
The Commodores don’t really fall into the jazz category, but their sound certainly earns them a place on the Swingin’ Stage, where they’re scheduled to perform on Sunday night. The Blind Boys of Alabama, a beloved a gospel group whose origins date to 1939, are set to play Friday night on the Groovin’ Stage.
The jazz credentials of composer and pianist Chick Corea, however, can’t be questioned. Corea played in Miles Davis’ band in the 1960s and was part of the electric jazz fusion movement. He has explored a number of jazz styles, and many of his compositions are now considered jazz standards. The Chick Corea Trio is scheduled to play Sunday evening on the Swingin’ Stage.
Other performers in this year’s lineup include jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, singer Lalah Hathaway (the daughter of the legendary Donny Hathaway), jazz violinist Damien Escobar, singer Jazzmeia Horn, jazz pianist Joey Alexander (at 13, he also qualifies as a musical prodigy), jazz and rock pianist Elew and contemporary jazz group the Rippingtons.
The UNF Jazz Ensemble I, the Doug Carn West Coast Organ Band and singer Akia Uwanda are among the performers representing Northeast Florida talent at the festival.
As with previous jazz festivals downtown, some streets will be closed to traffic, and there will be food trucks and other food and beverage vendors in the area, along with brick-and-mortar restaurants.
In addition to three days of performances on three stages, several other special events are scheduled as part of the jazz festival.
• The Second Line Jazz Parade begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday. The parade reflects a New Orleans brass band parade tradition where revelers following the weaving stream of musicians. The parade was first included in the 2011 festival, and reintroduced in 2016.
This year’s parade will be led by the Terry Parker High School Combo Band. Festival workers will be on hand to supply participants with colorful beads, umbrellas, boas and more. It begins at the corner of Monroe and Laura streets, then heads down Main Street to Forsyth Street, then back up Laura Street, and ends in Hemming Park.
• The Jazz Jam Session will take place from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday in the mezzanine of the the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, 225 E. Coast Line Drive. The event will be hosted by The Kelly/Scott Quintet, which features vocalist Lisa Kelly and trumpet player JB Scott. This is the 20th year for the jam session.
• The Omni Sacred Jazz Brunch is scheduled for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Omni Jacksonville Hote, 245 Water St. The Noel Freidline Quartet, featuring vocalist Maria Howell, will perform a blend of tradition and gospel tunes. Freidline, a vocalist and pianist who was based in Jacksonville for years, is a member of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Hall of Fame. The cost is $39.50 per person. For tickets, go to jacksonvillejazzfest.com.
• A series of free jazz clinics will be offered on Saturday at the Ritz Theatre & Museum, 829 N. Davis St.
The 10 a.m. session will be conducted by drummer Elio Piedra. The 11 a.m. session will be conducted by vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. And the noon session will be conducted by guitarist Eric Carter.
Participants are encouraged to bring their own instruments. Registration is encouraged because space is limited. To register, go to jacksonvillejazzfest.com.
• Jazz Fest After Dark features two nights (Friday and Saturday) of free jazz by more than 40 acts at a variety of locations downtown.
The venues and the starting times for performances for Jazz Fest After Dark are: 1904 Music Hall, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Bold City Brewery, 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday; Intuition Ale Works, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Spliff’s Gastropub, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Hourglass Pub, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; The Volstead, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Element Bistro, 8 p.m. Friday and 9 p.m. Saturday; Myth Nightclub, 8 p.m. Saturday; The Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Downtown Cigar Lounge, 9 p.m. Friday and 10 p.m. Saturday; The Jacksonville Landing, 8:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday; 5 & Dime, a Theatre Company, Friday evening and 9 p.m. Saturday. For a list of Jazz Fest After Dark performers, go to jazzfestafterdark.com
For more information on the jazz festival, including VIP packages ranging in price from $99 to $339, go to jacksonvillejazzfest.com.