1948, the first jazz festival in the world. Well, yes, it was in Nice and not in America that the first jazz festival in the world was born. This year we celebrate the 67th anniversary of that event of February 1948, at the end of the Carnival. It took place in a place dedicated to classical music – the Opera! Another establishment, the Municipal Casino, since disappeared from the place Masséna, lent its Belle Époque decor to this high-profile première, and several concerts were broadcast live on radio by Radiodiffusion française. The greats were there, starting with Louis Amstrong, the undisputed star of the first edition, along with other big names, Claude Lutter, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt. On the final evening, at the Negresco, the party ended at dawn with a red-hot jam session after songs by Suzy Delair and Yves Montand. This festival was a historic moment -jazz had reached a wide audience in France. Through his immense talent and his magnetic presence, Louis Armstrong revealed to many new listeners the beauty of this music. In 1948, the capital of the Côte d’Azur celebrated its wedding to jazz, before a long separation of 23 years then an emotional reunion.
The reunion at the Théâtre de Verdure. The experience was not repeated in Nice until 1971, this time at the Théâtre de Verdure and the Albert 1er Garden. The artists flocked to the capital of the Côte d’Azur for the great comeback: Ella Fitzgerald, Pharoah Sanders, T-Bone Walker, Stéphane Grappelli, Herbie Hancock quintet, Oscar Peterson trio, Roy Elridge, John Lewis, Al Grey, Percy Heath, Connie Key, Dizzy Gillespie, Daniel Humair, Sonny Stitt, Canonball Adderley, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach Trio…
The “Grande Parade du Jazz” at the Cimiez Arenas. But we had to wait until 1974 and La Grande Parade du Jazz to witness the full renaissance of jazz in a sylvan setting, that of the gardens of the Arenas of Cimiez. The festival drew a breath of fresh air and enjoyed into something of a boom, boosted by the support of the City of Nice and the producer George Wein. Every summer, dozens of bands and more than 200 musicians took to the different stages amidst the olive groves and the Roman ruins. A huge popular outdoor festival! The biggest names in jazz including several now gone, performed there: Stéphane Grappelli, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Mi Davis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Carlos Santana...
Grand Parade becomes the Nice Jazz Festival. Whilst preserving the festive nature of the Grand Parade, the Nice Jazz Festival showed its determination to shake up the traditions by opening up to diverse musical styles. A choice acclaimed by the public.
Live from the Jardin Albert 1er. The then Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, made the twin decision to take over the running of the festival and bring it to the city centre. Forty years on, the festival returned to the Jardin Albert 1er and the Théâtre de Verdure, while Jazz Off took performances to neighbourhoods all over the city.
The revival year. In 2013, a record audience of nearly 38 000 people attended the Nice Jazz Festival. They were there to see, among others, C2C, Earth, Wind and Fire, Ben Harper, Maceo Parker, Chick Corea and George Benson.
A prestigious festival with the new setting of the “Promenade du Paillon”. The Promenade du Paillon was opened in October 2013, and the Nice Jazz Festival took full benefit of this delightful new setting. The official Nice Jazz Festival and the “Off” fringe hosted more than 45,000 spectators who came along to the open-air party, which locals had awaited with anticipation. High-profile artists once again trod the boards of the Masséna and Théâtre de Verdure stages, like Richard Galliano, Keziah Jones, Ibrahim Maalouf, Joshua Redman and living legends such as The Gipsy Kings, Deep Purple and Dr John…
The Nice Jazz Festival, a big impression in the history of jazz. The Nice Jazz Festival continued hosting the best of the national and international music scenes with more than 60,000 coming to see the official festival and the “Off” fringe. 2015’s godfather, the iconic figure of young jazz, Jamie Cullum, shared the bill with legends such as Charles Lloyd, Kenny Barron, Cerrone, The Roots and Kool and the Gang. Lovers of current music or fabulous voices were not neglected with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ibeyi, Yael Naim and Benjamin Clementine.
Festival cancelled. Following the terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais on the evening of 14 July 2016, the Prefecture of Alpes-Maritimes and Nice City Council took the decision to cancel the Nice Jazz Festival, which was due to commence on 16 July.
The Nice Jazz Festival is back and you could feel the emotion rising throughout the whole event. From the godfather Herbie Hancock’s speech at the opening ceremony advocating for hope and peace, to the next 5 gala evenings where each single artist gathered with the audience to commemorate the July 14th 2016 victims.
Ibrahim Maalouf, -M-, IAM, De La Soul, Deluxe, Youn Sun Nah, Abdullah Ibrahim & Terence Blanchard, Kamasi Washington, Mary J. Blige and many others headlined last year’s Nice Jazz Festival and brought together around 43 000 festival-goers which is an all time high.