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From pianos to percussion, Jazz Fest will pulse through the weekend

As the ivories tinkle and the brass bellows, thousands of music lovers will descend on Downtown Jacksonville this Memorial Day weekend for the annual Jazz Festival.

The event will begin with the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition on Thursday night, followed by three days of live, free entertainment in the heart of Downtown.

The Jazz Fest has a long history, starting in 1979 when it premiered in Mayport, then moved to Metropolitan Park in 1982 as a free concert. In 1985, WJCT-TV took over the event, free at first, then with a $5 admission in 1995. The festival went dark in 2001 and 2002, then the city of Jacksonville resurrected it in 2003 for free.

The city charged admission in 2006, and the festival continued through 2009, when it was reimagined as a street festival. It was moved to East Bay Street and the former shipyards property across from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in 2015. It expanded into Downtown venues the next year.

Jazz Fest 2023

First on deck is the Jacksonville Piano Competition at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Florida Theatre, 128 E Forsyth St., presented by Keyboard Connection. The finalists are Caelan Cardello, a New Jersey native and 2022 American Pianists Association Jazz Competition finalist; Andrea Domenici, New York resident and La Spezia Jazz Competition first prize winner; Tomás Jonsson, a sought-after pianist and composer in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston music scenes; Caili O’Doherty, New York-based pianist, composer, arranger and educator; and Jenny Xu, Canadian pianist, composer and educator.

Noel Freidline will be master of ceremonies as the five finalists, representing the best jazz pianists in the world, compete for a cash prize and a chance to perform on the festival’s Swingin’ Stage.

On the stages

Friday, 4 to 11 p.m.

  • At the Groovin’ Stage at Newnan, East Bay and South Market streets, music will come from the likes of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Jazz Band, Dirty Dozen Dirt Band and Ron Carter’s Foursight Quartet.
  • Over at the Swingin’ Stage at Riverfront Park at Independent Drive East and South Hogan Street, musicians will include Eddie Palmieri, Carmen Lundy and Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.

  • At the Groovin’ Stage, artists like Cece Teneal, and Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y will perform, wrapping with Larry Carlton at 9:15 p.m.
  • The Swingin Stage sees LPT start at 4:45 p.m., with the U.S. Army Ambassadors Jazztet and Marcus Miller, wrapping at 9:30 p.m. with Chaka Khan.

Sunday, 4 to 10:30 p.m.

  • At the Groovin’ Stage, musicians Shawn Pfaffman and Shemekia Copeland will play during the late afternoon, wrapping with a 7:30 p.m. performance by David Sanborn.
  • On the Swingin’ Stage, the jazz piano competition winner will play, with musician Charlie Wilson wrapping up the night at 9 p.m.

From 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday, a mix of musicians will perform in jam session at One Enterprise, 225 Water St. This year’s host band is the John Lumpkin Trio featuring Dave Champagne.

There also will be free jazz clinics for musicians of all ages on Saturday at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts’ Moran Theatre, 300 Water St. Participants can register here.

Jazz After Dark also returns this year, with live music at multiple downtown and San Marco venues on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, including Dos Gatos, Volstead, Ruby Beach, De Real Ting Cafe and Bold City Brewery. The full list is at downtownjacksonville.org/jazzfestafterdark.

For more information

The full schedule of music and events is here, with updates on the Jacksonville Jazz Festival social media channels, @JacksonvilleJazzFestival on Facebook and @jaxjazzfest on Instagram and Twitter.

WJCT’s Jacksonville Music Experience also has an online interactive guide to the Jazz Festival at wjct.org/jaxmusic/jacksonville-jazz-fest-interactive-guide. It includes the schedule, information on artists, performance schedules and food trucks.


Be aware of multiple road closures around Jazz Festival venues, many starting on Thursday and all through Sunday night:

  • Hogan Street from Water Street south to the riverfront.
  • Independent Drive from Hogan to Laura streets.
  • Hogan Street south from Bay Street.
  • Laura from Bay Street to Independent Drive.
  • Independent Drive from Hogan to Newnan streets.
  • Newnan Street from Bay Street to Independent Drive.
  • Full closure of the Newnan Street northbound exit on Main Street Bridge.
  • From Friday to Sunday – full closure of pass road from Independent Drive to Bay Street under Main Street Bridge. and partial closure of southernmost lane of Bay Street from Hogan to Market streets.

For a full list of travel, boat and road information, go here.

Festival FAQ

  • The festival is free. But any food, beverage or item purchases at festival sites will be cashless, so bring credit or debit cards.
  • A chair and an umbrella are suggested.
  • All entry points will be staffed with security teams that will do a brief bag inspection for those who have one. Larger bags take longer to search and will cause delays, so guests should bring only what is necessary. All guests and their belongings may be searched upon entry.
  • The festival is a rain or shine event. As for parking, the street festival and all venues are ADA accessible, city officials said. Downtown public parking garages will be open with disabled parking on a first-come, first-served basis, including the Jax Center Garage and Yates Parking Garage.
  • Boaters are welcome to dock along the St. Johns River during the Jazz Festival. Docks are open 24 hours, first come, first served.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.