6 Great International Jazz Festivals

Autoslave performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Simon Jacquier/Wikimedia)
Autoslave performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Simon Jacquier/Wikimedia)

Want to jazz up your vacation? Each year, a growing number of travelers with a yen for “fascinating rhythm” as well as far-flung destinations do just that by including international jazz festivals in their vacation plans. And, while many of us are more familiar with the venerable North American jazz gatherings in cities such as New Orleans, Monterey, Toronto, and Montreal, we might not be as well versed on all the events taking place each year from Denmark to Indonesia.

So, depending on where you’re planning that big trip in the near future, maybe you’d like to add some vibrant vibes to your plans. If so, here’s just a small sampling of the many jazz options and opportunities outside the U.S. and Canada:

  1. Montreux Jazz Festival. Each July, more than 200,000 visitors flock to the lakeside Convention Center of this picturesque Swiss town for a 2-week event to hear more than 1000 artists on 12 different stages. (Happily, 10 of these stages host free shows.) In addition, Montreux offers “jazz boats” to glide across Lake Geneva, “jazz trains” to travel the nearby countryside, art shows, music workshops, and even film screenings. Founded 47 years ago, Montreux is now the world’s second largest jazz fest. Learn more.
  2. Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Also held each July, Denmark’s largest city and capital plays host to more than 200,000 visitors as well with more than 1000 concerts. In recent years, jazz icons from Sonny Rollins to Keith Jarrett have played there. The event also offers an intriguingly eclectic selection of venues, ranging from the stately and historic Royal Danish Theater to the grounds of the Carlsberg Brewery, to a defunct printing plant. Learn more.
  3. Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival. If you happen to be traveling to the other side of the world in March, Indonesia to be exact, the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival would be quite an experience to behold. In just 8 years, it’s turned into a major jazz event, drawing more than 1500 artists and groups and more than 100,000 visitors to 17 stages each year. Artists who’ve appeared in recent years range from George Benson to Santana. Learn more.
  4. Santa Lucia Jazz Festival. Closer to home—on the sunny, sandy Caribbean island of St. Lucia to be exact—the local community hosts a major jazz fest of its own each spring. The event his spread around numerous venues near the island’s capital, Castries, from bustling Derek Walcott Square (named after the famed poet) to nearby Pigeon Point National Park. Learn more.
  5. Nice Jazz Festival. Held on the French Riviera since 1948, this July spectacular may very well be the flashiest and splashiest of all jazz fests. Over the years, it has headlined some of the biggest names in jazz from Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis to (more recently) Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra. Another highlight is an amazing Roman amphitheatre, where many of each year’s top acts appear. Learn more.
  6. San Sebastian Jazz Festival. Held in the Basque city of Donostia (also called San Sebastian and also known for its beautiful scenery, cultural vitality, and excellent cuisine), this event hosts approximately 100 concerts on 12 stages located throughout the city each July. The venues are both open air and indoor, and many of the concerts are free. Going strong since 1966, San Sebastian has the distinction of being Spain’s first regular jazz festival. Learn more.

There are, needless to say, many more wonderful jazz festivals held outside North America each year that we didn’t include. If there’s one or two you believe should absolutely be on our list, feel free to post a comment telling us about the festival and why it’s special. We’d love to hear from you.

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