New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, also known as simply Jazz Fest, is an annual festival dedicated to the music and culture of New Orleans and the entire state of Louisiana. The term Jazz Fest is also applied to the days surrounding the festival and a variety of unaffiliated shows and other events throughout New Orleans scheduled during the festival.

In 1970 the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association hired American jazz promoter and producer George Wein to create a unique music festival for New Orleans. Wein was contracted to produce the festival because he was the producer of two successful music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival.

The city of New Orleans is famous for its rich and diverse cultural heritage, so Wein decided that the new festival should showcase the traditional music of all ethnic groups in New Orleans. Of course, the focus was still put on jazz because Louisiana is the birthplace of this music genre. Originating amongst African Americans in New Orleans, jazz has since spread all over the United States and abroad.

The inaugural New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival took place from April 22–25, 1970. It wasn’t a particularly large-scale event; the first line-up received an audience of only 350 people. However, the numbers grew exponentially in the following years. Today’s Jazz Fest is one of the biggest music festivals in the United States by attendance. It attracts an audience of over 400,000 annually.

The program of the festival features all genres and styles of music associated with New Orleans and Louisiana including blues, gospel music, R&B, Cajun music, Afro-Caribbean, zydeco, Latin, folk music, rap music, rock, bluegrass, country music, and more. And of course there is lots of jazz, both traditional and contemporary. Early editions of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival featured mostly local artists, but things are different now. Each spring New Orleans welcomes artists from all over North America. The festival has over a dozen stages and tents of various sizes.

Along with its extensive music program the festival also features an arts and crafts fair offering an impressive selection of handmade items from local, national and international artisans. At the marketplace, one can find leather goods, handmade clothing, painting, sculptures, jewelry, musical instruments, hand-colored photographs, and more. Many artisans conduct live demonstrations of their craft.

Jazz Fest also has large areas dedicated to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. They include the Native American Village, the Louisiana Folklife Village, and the Grandstand. And of course there are food vendors offering traditional food items such as cochon de lait sandwiches, crawfish beignets, Cajut jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, crawfish Monica, red beans and rice, and more.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Photo: Josh Brasted




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