|Jacksonville Jazz Festival|
1998 Jacksonville Jazz Festival poster
|Dates||May 26-29, 2016|
|Years active||1979-1981 (Mayport)
|Founded by||Jake Godbold
The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is a weekend celebration of Jazz music held in Jacksonville, Florida. Coinciding with Memorial Day weekend, the event has been dubbed by "experts" as "one of the 20 best in the nation", according to the Florida Times-Union. Admission is free with the exception of VIP areas, and events and performances take place throughout downtown venues.
Current performances are scheduled to be located at Hemming Plaza, the Jacksonville Landing, the Florida Theatre, and the main stage at Monroe Street (between Main and Ocean streets). The Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, a 30 year tradition, takes place at the Florida Theatre. Five finalists are awarded a cash prize and a chance to perform on the festival's main stage. Arts and crafts vendors are located throughout the downtown areas. Art mediums include clay, digital, drawing, fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting, sculpture and wood. Patrons can view these works from around the nation while still being in ear shot of performances.
Over the years the festival has featured such notable artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Michael Bublé, Diane Schuur, Patti Austin, Branford Marsalis, Count Basie Orchestra, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Diana Krall, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Chuck Mangione, Chris Botti, Rippingtons, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, David Sanborn, Pamela Williams, Spyro Gyra, Dianne Reeves, Chick Corea, David Benoit, Boney James, Karrin Allyson, Grover Washington, Jr., Kenny G, Harry Connick, Jr., Natalie Cole, Mavis Staples and Greg Adams, to name a few.
In 1979, Jake Godbold was elected Mayor of Jacksonville. He and aide Mike Tolbert founded the jazz festival and envisioned it as an event that would help the struggling fishing village of Mayport. It began as a one-day free concert featuring regional talent and a major headliner at Mayport. The producers expected a few hundred people to show up, but a crowd of twenty five thousand turned out. The following year, attendance was even higher and Mayport could not handle the crowds, and the Mayport Naval Base was uncomfortable with so a big crowd on their border, so the event moved to the newly opened Metropolitan Park in 1982. Costs were low (Dizzy Gillespie headlined the 1981 show for just $7,500) and sponsors were willing to support it, so it remained a free show. Churches and other groups provided food and drinks which helped them to make money. At one time, before Channel 7 decided to use it as a fund raiser, 100,00o people would attend.
The production was turned over to public television station WJCT in 1985 and they used it as their primary fund-raising event for many years. In the mid 80s, big name entertainers started raising the rates they charged to perform. The 1986 festival featured Miles Davis for approximately $25,000, more than three times the cost of the headliner five years earlier. Costs began to rise faster than sponsorship money, so the show in 1995 included a $5 admission to help cover the shortfall. Vic DiGenti, who produced the event from 1993 to 2000 stated, "We probably lost some of those people who just want to come and hang out and drink beer." In the late 1990s attendance had risen to 20,000, but that wasn't enough to cover shrinking sponsorships and inflated artists' contracts. After the show in 2000, WJCT announced their withdrawal of sponsorship, citing large losses, resulting in no festival in 2001 and 2002.
The City of Jacksonville resurrected the event in 2003, and named Tony Bennett as the headliner. However, Bennett was the most expensive act in Jazz Festival history. He was paid $100,000 for his 75-minute performance at Metropolitan Park, plus $10,000 for expenses. The festival in 2003 once again did not charge admission. It was a sunny weekend and nearly 60,000 people attended, but the festival's overall profits were half a million dollars short of its expenses. When it rained in 2004, attendance numbers fell to 22,000 and the festival lost another half million dollars. In 2006, the city decided to begin charging admission, but the deficit stayed around $500,000. The 2007-8 budget included significant cuts that required the Jazz Festival to be scaled back. Saturday and Sunday music was limited to Metropolitan Park whereas in 2007, concerts were also held at the Florida and Ritz theaters.