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USF Libraries Exhibits

Jazz Festivals

Clearwater Jazz Poster 1981

The 1981 Jazz Holiday Source: 


By: Amanda Mikos

      Music festivals offer the chance for both fans and musicians to come together to share unique experiences and enjoy many different artists playing music in one place. For jazz music in particular, festivals have been a way for the genre to stay alive throughout the years of the rise of rock and pop music. In the past, fans have had to rely on nightclubs to be able to see live performances from jazz musicians. Since then, jazz has come a long way because “jazz festival[s] represented a major shift in jazz performance from its origins in nightclubs to performance settings emphasizing the type of appreciation accorded high art performance.”[1] By the 1980s, jazz had long lost its place at the center of popular music, replaced by numerous other genres of music such as country, rock, rap, and pop.[2] Two long-standing festivals in Florida, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Clearwater Jazz Holiday, have worked for over thirty years to bring artists from all over the United States to perform jazz and each draws crowds of thousands of loyal fans. The jazz scene in Florida is not as widely known as other areas such as New Orleans, but jazz is very much still present after all of these years.

            The Jacksonville Jazz Festival (formerly called “Mayport and All That Jazz”) began in 1981 and has brought in a variety of artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Tony Bennett, and it continues to grow each year.[3] The first year of the festival, the crowd was estimated to be only a couple hundred people, but soon would attract just close to twenty-five thousand people, demonstrating that while jazz may not be talked about often in the mainstream, there are many people who remain dedicated to the genre after all these years. The festival began as a free admission festival, which remains true today. It also features other events such as youth music competitions and other performances by musicians before or after the actual festival, in addition to the jazz artists scheduled to perform. The Clearwater Jazz Holiday began in 1980 and has featured jazz artists such as Woody Herman and Nat Adderley, and even more widely known pop artists such as Earth, Wind, & Fire.[4] Just like Jacksonville, this festival also prides itself on having free admission to the public, and has attracted crowds as large as one hundred thousand people.[5]

      The Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Clearwater Jazz Holiday have both become a sort of hub for listeners of jazz to celebrate the genre and view performances from skilled jazz artists that come from different regions of the United States. With the rise of other types of music throughout the years, nightclubs in Florida that were originally dedicated to jazz have changed their main music genres or have closed their doors, making it difficult for those not connected in the scene to stay up to date with both new and old artists and to find jazz musicians that are still performing regularly. Unless a jazz artist is very popular, it can be extremely hard to gain exposure from new listeners because jazz is not talked about regularly in Florida. Jazz festivals allow for a large amount of exposure because they are visible and advertised well, meaning casual fans of jazz are still able to connect with the community and support the scene.

     With the rise of both of these festivals throughout the years, it has become apparent that jazz needs its fans to support events such as these in order to allow the musicians to keep the genre afloat. The community-driven approach of these two festivals gives power to the people to help the jazz community live and stay strong through the changing music landscape. However, it could be argued that the mix of jazz, pop, rock, R&B, folk, and other genres at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in particular has caused the festival to stray from its roots and anger loyal fans of the genre. “Since 2012… the lineup has skewed more toward pop and soul headliners like Bonnie Raitt, Chicago, and Earth, Wind and Fire,”[6] instead of focusing on a strictly jazz lineup. However, it could be argued that had the festival not adapted with the rise of other popular forms of music today, it would not have been able to survive for thirty-six years because jazz is not as mainstream as it used to be.[7] Nevertheless, these two festivals have worked to build a loyal fan base in Florida that attends the events every year. Even today, with mainstream pop artists dominating the music charts and many radio stations, the jazz festivals still manage to bring in tens of thousands of people eager to listen to some of the best artists of the genre.

     When examining the history of jazz festivals in Florida, it can be hard to find information that dates earlier than the 1980’s. Putting the focus on the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday allowed me to examine more historical information on how these two festivals were built from the ground up, and why they are still around and thriving today. With an emphasis on periodicals and scholarly articles, I believe I acquired knowledge of how important festivals are to music, especially for less popular genres such as jazz. As more and more people hear about large events such as these, they tend to tell their friends about them as well, bringing in an even larger crowd, where hopefully the jazz artists can gain new fans. Thus, the large numbers of people bring in more money to support jazz, and allows for the festivals to put on bigger acts each year. By featuring many different types of music that fall into the jazz genre, attendees are able to be exposed to new things they have never heard before, along with classics, all in one convenient place.

The term “jazz” means many different things for different people. For Florida and its festivals, “jazz” stands for a community filled with dedication and support in keeping the music alive. The music scene would not be the same without the support of thousands who come out to festivals each year to enjoy the music and voice their opinions on the artists who perform. In the words of a loyal jazz fan in Florida, “We love the music…and the whole atmosphere of the festival. It’s just fun.”[8] The Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Clearwater Jazz Holiday remain relevant and important after all of these years because they give the opportunity for anyone to attend and discover new and old talents in the jazz scene. By continuing to book incredible lineups of artists performing each year, these festivals don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

[1] Paul Douglas Lopes, The Rise of a Jazz Art World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 234.

[2] Larry Starr and Christopher Alan Waterman, American Popular Music: The Rock Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 233-234.

[3] “History of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.” JaxHappenings.

[4] “Jazz Holiday Previous Artists.” Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

[5] “Alive: 20 Years of Jazz.” Clearwater Jazz Holiday. 7 October 1999.

[6] Jay Cridlin, “Sheryl Crow Headlines Jazz Holiday Lineup,” Tampa Bay Times 9 May 2015.

[7] Sean Daly, “Listen, It’s a Fab Lineup at a Great Price,” Tampa Bay Times 18 October 2012.

[8] Teresa Stepzinski, “A time for all at Jazz Festival; Many come out to enjoy the weather, sights, sounds and food of event.” The Florida Times Union 2013.



“Alive: 20 Years of Jazz.” 1999 Clearwater Jazz Holiday. October 7, 1999. Accessed November 12, 2015.

Cridlin, Jay. “Sheryl Crow Headlines Jazz Holiday Lineup.” Tampa Bay Times. May 9, 2015 Saturday. Accessed December 7, 2015.

Daly, Sean. “Listen, It’s a Fab Lineup at a Great Price.” Tampa Bay Times. October 18, 2012 Thursday. Accessed December 7, 2015.

“History of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.” JaxHappenings. Accessed November 15, 2015.

“Jazz Holiday Previous Artists.” Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Accessed November 14, 2015.

Lopes, Paul Douglas. The Rise of a Jazz Art World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Starr, Larry, and Christopher Alan Waterman. American Popular Music: The Rock Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Stepzinski, Teresa. “A time for all at Jazz Festival; Many come out to enjoy the weather, sights, sounds and food of event.” The Florida Times Union,  2013. Business Insights: Essentials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 15, 2015).|A332798837/f64e37624e867b2332a01d78f2855cc7?u=tamp44898.