Many of the region’s celebrated jazz festivals now schedule mainstream acts By: Mark Rogers
Annual jazz festivals have been going strong in the Caribbean for decades. But, in more recent years, they’ve attempted to broaden their appeal, morphing from events with an all-jazz lineup to “jazz” festivals welcoming an eclectic bunch of musical performers and groups, from reggae groups to U.S. pop and soul musicians.
Some islands have also taken to spreading performances across a variety of venues, providing a more intimate and diverse experience for audiences. Regardless of which format an island chooses, however, an island jazz festival represents a significant add-on to a Caribbean vacation.
Saint Lucia Jazz
Started in 1991, this is one of the oldest jazz festivals in the Caribbean. The festival was previously held on Pigeon Island National Landmark, a scenic and historic piece of land reached via a causeway. The festival’s dates have shifted more than once, but in 2017, the festival was again scheduled in May, the month most closely associated with the original Saint Lucia Jazz festival.
The main events of the 2017 festival were held at Pigeon Island, with Royalton Saint Lucia Resort & Spa hosting two nights of performances. In the past, in addition to contemporary jazz artists, the festival included mainstream acts such as Robin Thicke, Flo Rida, Jimmy Cliff, Air Supply, Gipsy Kings, Ziggy Marley and Vanessa Williams.
Dates have yet to be announced for Saint Lucia Jazz’s 2018 festival.
Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest
You won’t find bands such as Air Supply headlining the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest. This is rock-solid, true-blue jazz for fans who know their stuff. The four-day event is most often held in March at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in San Juan and focuses on Latin jazz. Past performers have included the man himself, Tito Puente, as well as Pat Metheny, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Clarke, Ramsey Lewis, Arturo Sandoval, Chick Corea and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Last year’s festival had Ellis Marsalis and Spyro Gyra on the lineup.
Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival
The 11th edition of Aruba’s annual Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival kicked off this month, from Sept. 15-16. The venue for the event is the Renaissance Festival Plaza in the island’s capital city of Oranjestad.
Previous acts on the bill have included George Benson, David Sanborn, Prince Royce, Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind & Fire. The confirmed 2017 lineup included Maceo Parker, Ruben Blades, and Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles.
If past years are any indication, Oranjestad will host lots of pre- and post-party action, including a four-day warm-up to the festival with performances at a variety of intimate venues.
St. Kitts Music Festival
This is another long-lived festival, which has been showcasing a wide range of styles over the years, from smooth jazz to cutting-edge reggae. Originally called the Shak Shak Festival in 1996, the St. Kitts Music Festival has grown from showcasing Caribbean music to staging a wider array of musical genres, with only a slight shading of jazz.
Past lineups have included Nas, Steel Pulse, Wyclef Jean and Bounty Hunter, as well as crowd favorites such as John Legend, Michael Bolton and Kool & the Gang.
June 2018 dates are unconfirmed.
Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival
While the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival got its start in 2010, it didn’t manage to mount an annual festival in 2017, due to what organizers called a lack of availability of headlining artists. There are plans for a 2018 festival, though dates haven’t been announced.
The festival is customarily held in September and near the island’s capital city of Willemstad. The Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival skews more mainstream than classic jazz. Headliners have been impressive in the past and have included such superstars as Stevie Wonder, Prince, Sting, Diana Ross, Enrique Iglesias, Alicia Keys and Rod Stewart.
Tobago Jazz Experience
This three-day event is customarily held in April. Performances during the Tobago Jazz Experience are spread across this laidback island at a variety of venues. The dynamic lineup in 2017 featured Grace Jones, Wyclef Jean and Shabba Ranks, and was filled out with talented Tobago acts. Past bills also have included Keyshia Cole, Brandy, Dionne Warwick, George Benson and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Barbados Jazz Excursion & Golf Tournament
Barbados takes a creative approach to mounting a jazz festival by combining it with a golf tournament. There’s still time to squeeze in a visit, since the event is scheduled for Oct. 6-8. 2017.
This year’s lineup includes Barbadian jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman, Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown and Barbadian soca singer Alison Hinds. Performances will be held at a variety of resorts, including The Crane Resort, Barbados; Hilton Barbados Resort; and Ocean Two Resort & Residences.
The golf tournament will be held Oct. 8 at Apes Hill Club.