Most in the workday world look forward to summer as an opportunity to kick back and relax, either through less hectic weeks, leisurely weekends or outright stretches of vacation. Jazz musicians enjoy the summer months because work is plentiful and often steady.
Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, literally hundreds of jazz festivals take place during the summer months. Big cities, rural resorts, the pastoral countryside, valleys and mountaintops become settings for a robust amount of music just about everywhere except inside the Arctic Circle.
It's a phenomenon whose roots stretch back 49 years to the first American Jazz Festival, held on the stately grass courts of the Newport Casino tennis club in Newport, R.I. By the following year, the granddaddy of today's festival format had become the Newport Jazz Festival, an event that has had a checkered history.
While a lower key festival continues in Newport today under the same steady hand of founding producer George Wein and the sponsorship of the Japanese electronics maker JVC, more attention is given to festivals modeled on the Newport format.
They include the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Switzerland's acclaimed Montreux Festival overlooking Lake Geneva, Umbria Jazz in medieval Italian town of Perugia, France's Jazz en Marciac, Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival, the Madarao Jazz Festival at a resort in the mountains near Tokyo, and California's Playboy Jazz Festival.
In his newly published autobiography, "Myself Among Others: A Life in Music," Wein credited the important contributions of countless other festival producers who have extended the legacy that he began in Newport in 1954.
"Whether it's one of the many festival producers throughout the world or the concert promoters, or the individual nightclub owners struggling night to night -- their contributions are essential to the history and future of this music," Wein wrote. "I'm glad to have been part of this process: in the development of the jazz festival; the acceptance of this music as art; the efforts to bring jazz to a larger audience worldwide."
Among the major draws or showcases this year are a series of performances by bassist Dave Holland's creative Big Band; saxophonist Wayne Shorter's new quartet; and an extensive U.S. and overseas tour by trumpeter Roy Hargrove's new 10-piece band RH Factor, an exciting, genre-busting blend of jazz, R&B and hip-hop. The festivals also will introduce more jazz audiences to the R&B of singer India.Arie, the pop-singing of multiple-Grammy winner Norah Jones and the pop and rock influenced jazz trio, The Bad Plus.
The 2003 JVC Jazz Festival in New York, June 15-28 at multiple venues in the city, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is taking a page this year from the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
For years, Montreal has included an "Invitation" series that features one or two musicians performing in different contexts and with different "dream" bands over four or five nights apiece -- and sometimes overlapping on the middle night of the run.
JVC New York will feature drummer Paul Motian over five nights at The Village Vanguard, with a different band each night from June 24-28. It will present Motian's Electric Bebop Band; Tethered Moon with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock; Trio 2000 plus 1 with Tony Malaby, Drew Gress and Masabumi Kikuchi; a trio with Marilyn Crispell and Mark Helias; and a sextet with saxophonist Bill McHenry, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and guitarist Ben Monder.
JVC New York headliners include Chick Corea in one night with three different bands; Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden's American Dreams project, Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck and Shirley Horn, India.Arie and Me'shell Ndegeocello, Hargrove's RH Factor and a concert exploring the route Latin music took in traveling from Cuba to New York. The latter event features Los Van Van, Adalberto Santiago and Ray Barretto.
Montreal's Invitation Series will feature four nights apiece with saxophonist Lee Konitz and drummer Jack DeJohnette with varying bands from duo to nonet -- but no overlap. The wide-ranging festival has 500 events over nine days, June 27-July 7, including a gigantic free, outdoor Fiesta Nuevo Latino dance party with the Venezuelan group King Chango.
Back in Newport one of the more interesting developments of the past three years has been a second Harbor Stage to showcase emerging artists and established groups lacking the star power draw of the main stage. Without fail, it has produced the weekend's most interesting music, as should be the case this Aug. 9-10 with singer Lizz Wright, Kendrick Oliver and The New Life Jazz Orchestra, the Dewey Redman quartet, The Bad Plus, The Detroit Experiment and The Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
Labor Day Weekend's annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox, Mass., includes a live taping of pianist Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio program for NPR with special guest Norah Jones on Aug. 30.
Chicago's huge annual free jazz festival at Grant Park Aug. 29-31 will include "The Message Lives" a tribute to late drummer Art Blakey featuring saxophonist Branford Marsalis's quartet and Jazz Messengers Alumni All-Stars band.
European band combinations this summer include pianist Chucho Valdes and his old band Irakere, the Herbie Hancock-Bobby Hutcherson quartet and the Randy Brecker-Bill Evans SoulBop Band.
In the fall, look forward to the 46th annual Monterey, Calif., Jazz Festival with wide-ranging lineup including the "Four Brothers" jazz vocal project with Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Kevin Mahogany and Kurt Elling. Hargrove's RH Factor lit up Monterey with two electric opening night sets last September in the band's major event debut.
And as the tropical sun diminishes, a variety of Caribbean festivals will pop up, as will at least four jazz festivals at sea aboard Miami-based cruise ships.