Notes and tones: Jazz festivals stretch through summer into Labor Day weekend

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Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column covering upcoming jazz festivals. Part one covered a pair of iconic U.S. fests, as well as some Canadian options.

Let’s begin somewhat chronologically, with a smattering of festivals taking place sooner rather than later.

San Francisco Jazz Festival

If you follow jazz, you likely know SFJAZZ is essentially the West Coast counterpart to New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. It’s a dedicated, 35,000-square foot complex that presents jazz year round in its Joe Henderson Lab, a 100-seat venue named for the iconic saxophonist, and the 370-capacity Robert N. Miner Auditorium, named after the late Oracle Corporation founder.

Under the direction of founder and Executive Director Randall Kline, the 40-year-old organization has evolved a number of times over and grown into a jazz powerhouse and one of San Francisco’s seminal cultural entities.

What Kline started as a two-day San Francisco Jazz Festival in 1983 now stands as an ongoing parade that includes many of the genre’s best-known artists, supplemented by a diverse set of purveyors who toil in other genres.

Grammy winner Gregory Porter
Grammy winner Gregory Porter

This year, the festival runs June 8-19 — which means you better get on the stick if you want to participate — and incorporates 40-plus shows. The star-studded cast of artists includes vocalists Gregory Porter and Dianne Reeves; the Pacific Mambo Orchestra; pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdés; saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Christian McBride.

Performances take place in the aforementioned pair of “home court” venues as well as the 900-seat Herbst Theatre — located in San Francisco Civic Center — and Oakland’s 3,000-capacity Paramount Theater. To see the complete lineup and absorb the sum total of SFJAZZ Center’s activity, visit

Iowa City Jazz Festival

Moving right along, we have the venerable Iowa City Jazz Festival that, since 1991, surfaces right before the July 4 holiday. This year’s gathering runs July 1-3, with fireworks taking place on July 2 as the evening concludes.

Sponsored in part by the city itself, the festival is one of the many free seasonal gatherings produced under the umbrella “The Summer of the Arts.” Festival artists are an amalgam of local, regional and national talent. This year’s touring artists include saxophonist Camille Thurman with Darrell Green Quartet, and a duo endeavor with vocalist Kurt Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter. I’ve attended this festival on more than one occasion and it’s worth driving northward about five hours, give or take.

Litchfield Jazz Festival

July 29-31, there’s the Litchfield Jazz Festival, located 100 miles northeast of New York City. The three-day affair opens with a gala and closes with a Sunday brunch. The 2022 edition features up-and-coming vocalist Samara Joy, the Litchfield Jazz Camp faculty ensemble, accomplished harmonica player Gregoire Maret, veteran guitarist Mark Whitfield, and an all-star band that includes clarinetist Ken Peplowski, saxophonist Houston Person, pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Willie Jones.

Litchfield overlaps with the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, so depending on your energy — and patience for traffic — you can take the two-hour drive between the two events.

Detroit Jazz Festival

If it’s Labor Day weekend, then there are jazz festivals galore; Detroit's fest runs Sept. 2-5.

Thanks to an influx of serious cash from the Carhartt family, which endowed the fest several years ago, the four-day affair, runs for the entire holiday weekend, including Labor Day itself. The multi-stage event, whose epicenter is Hart Plaza, remains free to all.

Chucho Valdés serves as this year’s artist-in-residence, which in Detroit Jazz Festival lingo means he will appear several times in varied configurations, large and small — including with the Yoruban Orchestra and a series of duets with Dianne Reeves and saxophonist Joe Lovano.

If you are thinking about attending, go for the duration. Aside from the festival itself, which runs midday to something like 11 p.m., there’s “The Hang” across the street at the Marriott/Renaissance Hotel. That’s where most of the visiting artists reside and are readily accessible.

A partial list of this year’s list of artists includes Donny McCaslin; Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya; Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band; Bill Frisell Trio; vocalist José James presenting the music of Billie Holiday; Cécile McLorin Salvant; Ethan Iverson Trio; John Scofield; and Emmet Cohen Trio.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Just 300 miles west of Detroit’s Hart Plaza is Millennium Park and the likewise free Chicago Jazz Festival, Sept. 1-4. Coordinating with the City of Chicago, the Jazz Institute of Chicago produces one of the country’s oldest festivals.

Detroit tends to incorporate some of its originally-homegrown but long-since national/international talent into its schedule; and Chicago similarly puffs its chest out, periodically highlighting some of the many artists whose careers began there.

Guitarist Bill Frisell
Guitarist Bill Frisell

Some artists manage to appear at both festivals; this year, Frisell will do just that. However, there are differences between the festivals, with Chicago falling a tad on the more adventurous side. Among those taking the stage this year are Henry Threadgill and Zooid, William Parker, Miguel Zenón, Linda May Han Oh and Jazzmeia Horn.

Vail Jazz Festival

About to start its 28th season, the Vail Jazz Festival offers a different production model by presenting numerous activities — performance and educational, some free and others ticketed — throughout the summer.

Beginning June 30, the culmination arrives on September 1, just ahead of Labor Day weekend and continues through the holiday itself. While the entirety of what goes on is labeled a festival, the final weekend is called a “Jazz Party.” Unlike its Midwestern counterparts, it’s a ticketed affair.

Among the summer’s performers are Dee Dee Bridgewater, Matthew Whitaker, Warren Wolf and Tony Monaco. At press time, the final weekend slate had not been released; however, it will be dedicated in part to the late alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton, who had been a near-perennial performer.

Road trip, anyone?

Jon W. Poses is executive director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Notes and tones: Jazz festivals stretch through summer into Labor Day weekend