Downtown Crowd

Pensacola Jazz Fest


One of Pensacola’s most famous and well-attended community events, JazzFest, is back this year with lots of activities planned, including some big names scheduled to play, scholastic bands showcasing their talent, activities for kids and food vendors for adults. The Pensacola JazzFest started 32 years ago when WUWF began facilitating the event as a way to spur local interest in the oft-forgotten genre.

In 1999, The Jazz Society of Pensacola (JSOP) took over and presented it as a free gift to the city, with financial support coming from state grants, ACE Pensacola, and revenue from vendors.

It costs about $40,000 to put on the festival, but former JSOP president Crystal Albert says the 5,000 people who attend make it worth every penny.

“It started with musiclovers getting together and forming our society,” said Albert. “In a way, it is still about that. It’s a great opportunity for those who love jazz and those who have never heard it to enjoy it.”

The fest attracts a wide array of people, most of them 20- to 50-year-olds and many with kids who will enjoy the kiddie jam session, which allows children to bang around on instruments while being led by a pro musician at 2 pm on Saturday. There’s also seven to eight food vendors who will provide attendees with a delicious plethora of cuisine to accompany the music floating through the Seville Square air.

This year’s headliner is Dukes of Dixieland, a New Orleans group well known in jazz circles for their ability to play traditional standards, new classics and even gospel songs with a decidedly southern twist.

“When you’ve been playing music for several decades, 300 nights a year, you like to keep it fresh,” said John Shoup, the Dukes’ manager. “We’re always reinventing ourselves. I tell the guys, ‘People get bored. Do something different. Write new material and rearrange it’.”

The Dukes’ performance will be indicative of other performances during the fest, too, as jazz groups are known for bringing a unique energy to the stage and really engaging the audience.

“Our tunes are catchy and our attitudes are infectious,” said Shoup. “We want people to enjoy themselves, so we try to really capture the audience.”

Other bands playing the fest include the Guffman Trio, Gino Rosaria, and Holly Shelton along with Steve Gilmore, John Pink, Brent Purcell and Chuck Schwartz. Jazz bands from area middle schools, high schools and universities will also be on hand, previewing the next generation of bebop masters.

Ragtime enthusiasts from our area and even around the country count on the celebration to provide unparalleled entertainment and a chance to be with friends old and new, all during an ideal time of year to sit outside in historic Downtown. Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair and sit on the green while enjoying the best jazz this region has to offer. The festival is good for jazz and good for Pensacola. If this is your first or 32nd time enjoying the event, you’ll find it’s good for you too.