Some food for thought: more than 75 countries host a combined 500 jazz festivals every year. From Cape Verde’s Kriol Jazz Fest to China’s Beijing Jazz Festival to Cyprus’ Internation Kourion Festival to Colombia’s Pastojazz, you could spend a lifetime exploring the many different local jazz festivals scattered around the globe.
Why are jazz festivals so popular? Maybe it’s the universal appeal of the genre, which is as easy to dance to as it is to sit back and take in with your eyes closed. Maybe it’s the versatility, with a show on a huge, open-air stage being as enjoyable as a performance in a small, smoky bar.
Whatever it is, there’s something about immersing yourself in the magic of a jazz festival on a perfect summer day. If this sounds good to you, then you’ll want to check out of the following jazz festivals—they’re among the very best in world.
Montreal International Jazz Festival (Montreal, Canada)
What happens when you combine 3,000 artists, 650 concerts and 2.5 million jazz lovers? You get the Montreal International Jazz Festival (or the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, in French), the 2004 Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest jazz festival.
If you’re looking for a big, well-executed event, look no further than Montreal. The downtown core transforms into a pedestrian-only zone for the entire ten days of the festival, with free shows taking place around the clock in tiny jazz clubs, stately halls, and lush parks alike.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, “Jazz Fest” (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Since 1970, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (better known as Jazz Fest) has been the place to go to experience the music and culture of New Orleans in all its glory.
From blues to Cajun music to gospel to folk music, Jazz Fest is a celebration of the unique talent found in New Orleans. Twelve stages come alive with various acts performing throughout the weekends, with two additional stages showcasing the fabulous local cuisine—so don’t forget to save room to sample that delicious Cajun cooking!
Montreux Jazz Festival (Montreaux, Switzerland)
Nearly 50 years after the first Montreux Jazz Festival, the world’s second-largest jazz festival is bigger and better than ever before. For two weeks, the city comes alive with the sound of jazz pulsing through the streets and into the dance clubs. Artists range from traditional jazz musicians to big-name acts of different genres. The backdrop couldn’t be more idyllic, with Lac Léman looming behind the many different venues. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy jazz music into the wee hours of the night.
Havana International Jazz Festival (Havana, Cuba)
This December, Havana will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Havana International Jazz Festival. Held in venues throughout the city, the festival offers the perfect opportunity to explore the city, guided by the sounds of top international jazz performers.
Approach the Havana jazz festival with a laid-back attitude: schedules aren’t typically posted until the first day of the festival, but stumbling upon spectacular performances is all part of the fun. An impromptu street jam might just end up being the stand-out show of the event!
Cape Town International Jazz Festival (Cape Town, South Africa)
A relatively young festival, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival first came to life in 2000. It is now the largest jazz festival on the continent, and the fourth largest in the world. Referred to as “Africa’s Grandest Gathering”, the Cape Town jazz festival features an even mix of South African talent and international artists. Fashion, photography and other forms of art are also celebrated throughout this two-day event in late March or early April.
Copenhagen Jazz Festival (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Since the 1960’s, Copenhagen has been home to a flourishing jazz community. Many American jazz musicians have spent some time immersed in the Copenhagen jazz scene, so it’s no surprise that the city hosts one of the world’s best jazz festivals.
Every July, roughly 260,000 music-lovers gather to enjoy 1,100 shows in cafes, in concert halls, throughout the city’s streets and in massive open-air venues. The festival has events catered to everyone from children to seniors, proving that jazz really is timeless.
Not sure where to start? More than 35 states hold their own jazz festivals—many with multiple events (23 in California alone!), so finding a festival nearby shouldn’t be too difficult!