Jazz festivals are held around the world in large and small cities and in beautiful countryside. You will find that the largest concentration and most prestigious of the top jazz fests will be held in the United States and Europe. However, you will find famous and long-standing ones elsewhere in the world. The Havana International Jazz Festival in Cuba dates to 1978, and draws on a long and venerable tradition of blues and jazz on that Caribbean island.
Today, summer jazz festivals are among the most heavily attended festivals. The Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island is one of these. It is also considered the "granddaddy" of American festivals, having begun in 1954, and is one of the top jazz fests in the world. It is usually held on the weekend in early August after the equally venerable and prestigious Newport Folk Festival. If you attend the Newport Jazz Festival, you will hear some of the legends of the genre from around the world.
Other famous summer jazz festivals include the international event held in Marciac in southern France and the Montreux Jazz Festival (July) in the Swiss town of the same name. The latter is Europe's most important event, and after the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada, is the world's second-largest. It was begun in 1967 and held in the Montreux Casino on the shores of Lake Geneva. Like many music festivals around the world, it has grown in scope to include other forms of music, including folk, blues, and rock. The casino burned spectacularly in 1971, having been ignited by a fan during a Frank Zappa performance. A year later, the event was memorialized in the Deep Purple song, "Smoke on the Water."
The largest of the jazz festivals in the world is the Montreal International Jazz Festival. It is held over ten days at the end of June and beginning of July, and features as many as 3,000 artists in close to 700 concerts and representing more than 30 different countries. Millions of visitors attend, and large portions of the city are closed to motorized traffic during the festival.
More of the top jazz fests include the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, which is the longest continuously held such event. It was begun in 1958 with Billie Holliday and Louis Armstrong as the headliners. Look also for the New Orleans Jazz Festival (April/May) and the late-June Hampton Jazz Festival in Virginia.
There are even jazz festivals in Africa, with the Cape Town Jazz (South Africa) Fest held in March. The roots of jazz lie on the African continent. Slaves shipped to the New World from Benin and other West African countries brought their strong music traditions with them. Large summer jazz festivals featuring this music (often blended with newly-learned Christian hymns) were held from New Orleans to New York from the early nineteenth-century until the Civil War. This evolved into the ragtime of the late 1800s and early 1900s to the Golden Age of Jazz of the 1920s and 1930s, and ultimately to the jazz tradition that many believe is uniquely American today.
Image: gordonwatts (flickr)