If we’re talking Jazz Festivals then we have to start with the big one: Canada's Montreal International Jazz Festival. Officially the largest in the world, it’s even certified as such by the Guinness Book of Records.
The festival was first held in 1980 with Ray Charles, Vic Vogel and Chick Corea among others on the bill and hasn’t looked back since. A true must for all serious Jazz fans of any stripe the festival offers free outdoor shows across 10 stages and brings the whole city to a glorious celebratory standstill for 10 whole days of music during June and July.
Staying in North America, the Monterey Jazz Festival boasts the title of longest running Jazz festival in the world. It began way back in 1958, when the organisers persuaded the San Francisco city council to approve the event by arranging for Cool Jazz pioneer Dave Brubeck to perform for them. He’s performed at the festival in the picturesque surroundings of Monterey County Fairgrounds a full 14 times since he convinced them.
A little closer to home and back in Europe, no list of Jazz Festivals would be complete without Montreux’s more than famous festival. With a peerless pedigree of bringing the very best performers to the stage, this Swiss festival is a real bucket list moment for many who make the pilgrimage to the shores of Lake Geneva.
Originally a straight-up jazz festival, Montreux now combines an ever-expanding lineup of well-curated genres and artists from across the musical spectrum - it’s almost easier to list those who haven’t played the event. And though Jazz still takes pride of place - Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny United Band, Chick Corea and Trombone Shorty all appeared last year - there’s sure to be something for everyone when the party kicks off once again.
Holland has hosted one of the most loved and critically acclaimed Jazz festivals of recent years, Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival. With 15 stages, 1200 artists and about 25,000 visitors a day it’s easy to see why this festival gets the fan's juices flowing. In the space of one feverish day you can quite literally enjoy anything from traditional New Orleans jazz to bebop and fusion, through blues, funk and gospel right up to the present day with drum’n’bass and electronic acts. The problem is fitting it all in.
Those looking for warmer climes could do a lot worse than to check out Umbria’s Jazz Festival in Italy. Blessed with warm July sunshine and the idyllic surroundings of Perugia, last year’s big draw was the incomparable Sonny Rollins. With a location just north of the Spanish border, France’s Jazz in Marciac festival is another real must for those who like their jazz cool but their climate warm. Don’t miss it this August if you’re planned a summer holiday.
On the other end of the climatic spectrum is Norway’s Molde Jazz. Amazingly, this little town on the North Sea has been hosting a top notch jazz festival every July since 1961 and that makes it one of Europe’s very oldest.
While we’re in Norway - a nation completely obsessed with Jazz - the recently established Bodo Jazz Open Festival will be held this January and offers fans the chance to enjoy music north of the Arctic Circle while the Northern lights dance overhead. A young untested festival for sure, but one that comes with a very unique and seductive selling point, especially if you’re also curious about the tiny country’s world famous avant garde scene.