MusicAugust 11, 2015

mjfsquareLong before Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, the state of New Jersey was home to some of the most popular and influential jazz artists of the day. Count Basie, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Sarah Vaughn and James P. Johnson are just some of the artists who lived in the Garden State. In fact, during the early 20th century, the jazz scene in Newark rivaled that of Harlem, Kansas City or anywhere in the world.

Just a few miles down the road, the sounds of jazz are celebrated each year with the Montclair Jazz Festival. Now in its sixth year, the festival returns on Saturday, August 15 to Nishuane Park, a beautiful 17-acre park in Montclair.

Attendees will enjoy award-winning jazz artists, fun activities for the kids, artisan craft vendors and businesses on display, numerous food vendors to choose from and a beer garden for the adults.

Best of all, admission to the festival is completely free. Just bring a folding chair or a blanket and enjoy the day. The festival takes place rain or shine.

And, for the first time, the festival will be streamed live on the web so music fans anywhere can watch online at

Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actor S. Epatha Merkerson (best known for her role as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on “Law and Order”) is the Mistress of Ceremonies and will introduce the artists.

This year’s festival is headlined by José James, a native of Minneapolis who moved to New York to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Learning with jazz luminaries and fellow students with diverse musical tastes helped James develop a unique sound of his own — a mixture of jazz with touches of hip-hop.

“No Beginning No End,” James’ breakout album, was released on Blue Note in 2013. His latest release, “Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday,” is a tribute to the woman he calls “the greatest jazz singer who has ever lived,” as well as his “musical mother that he goes to listen to when he wants answers.” The record came out earlier in the year in honor of Holiday’s 100th birthday. The album, which was produced by Blue Note president Don Was, features a stellar band including pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland.

The festival also includes performances by Grammy Award-winning artists such as the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, led by the saxophone and clarinet legend with 14 Grammys to his name.  Born in Havana, Cuba, D’Rivera is revered across the world for his artistry in Latin Jazz.

In addition to his live set, D’Rivera will also be found reading children’s stories in Spanish at the festival’s Family Jazz Discovery Zone.

The Christian McBride Big Band is another Grammy Award-winning artist, which features Montclair Jazz Festival Artistic Director and four-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride.  The band, along with Melissa Walker, won the Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album for 2012’s “The Good Feeling.”  This 17-piece big band offers a very modern sound alongside Walker’s sultry vocals.

The festival also includes performances by the Jazz House Faculty Collective, The Jazz House Big Band, Radam Schwartz + Organized and more than 150 up-and-coming jazz musicians.

Be sure to bring the kids, for whether or not your kids are fans of jazz music going in, chances are they will be when they leave. The festival’s Family Jazz Discovery Zone, partnered by the Montclair Public Library and the Montclair Art Museum, is a special place where kids can hang out and learn about the jazz music being played.  Between the Discovery Zone and seeing the performances by Jazz House Kids student ensembles and the festival headliners, kids might be inspired to take up music as well.

jazzhousekids“We are thrilled that the Montclair Jazz Festival has evolved into much more than one great music day in the park,” said Melissa Walker, jazz vocalist and recording artist who is the President and Founder of Jazz House Kids. “The Montclair Jazz Festival in the summer has become part of the fabric of our community, solidifying this town’s standing as a thriving arts and cultural destination all year round. We are thrilled that our festival’s expanded footprint continues to grow, bringing jazz to all quadrants of Montclair’s business and arts districts.”

There are several parking options (!getting-there/cpis) within a short walk to the park as well as two shuttle locations (one at Hillside School, Hillside Avenue side and another at Nishuane Park, Cedar Avenue side). The free festival shuttle will run on a loop approximately every 20 minutes from 11 AM- 10 PMbetween the parking areas and festival site.

As with all great jazz shows, the day isn’t completely over until the artists have a jam session. In this case, the post-festival jam takes place at Egan & Sons in West Orange. The jam begins around 9:30 PMwith no determined end time.

Additionally, if the festival peaks your interest in jazz, you might want to plan a trip to the Institute of Jazz Studies at the Newark campus of Rutgers University. Open 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, the institute has the largest library of jazz and jazz related items in the world. For more information visit


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About Author

Gary Wien
Gary Wien

Gary Wien is a music journalist from Belmar, NJ. A three-time winner of Asbury Music’s Music Journalist of The Year, his writing and photographs have been seen in publications like Upstage Magazine, Backstreets Magazine, Gannett Newspapers, and Princeton Magazine. He is the also the author of two books: "Beyond The Palace" (about the history of rock music in Asbury Park) and "Are You Listening?" (his picks for the Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists) and is the publisher of New Jersey Stage magazine.