Jazz Festivals of Montclair

There was a long history of jazz festivals in Montclair, which eventually gave birth to the popular Montclair Jazz Festival.

Montclair jazz festivals throughout time.

Jazz trio
© Jan Sebera | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For those that moved to Montclair after 2000, most don’t even know that Montclair had a Jazz Festival prior to the now Montclair Jazz Festival, which is produced by Jazz House Kids. The fact is that we have had three since 1982. But of the three, one stands out from the rest, having had a 14 year run. Yet many residents never even knew that we had a Blues & Jazz Festival at all.

Yes, Montclair does have a history of producing jazz festivals that goes back to 1982. In 1982, “May in Montclair” produced Montclair’s first jazz festival, which was called “Jazz Festival ‘82.” The festival was held on Saturday, May 8, 1982 in the Montclair High School Auditorium.

Appearing on that date were Jay Duke and  the All Stars Band, Tayata and the Tap Ensemble, which featured the legionary “Leslie ‘Bubba’ Gaines,” who appeared with world renowned artists Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Kate Smith, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and numerous other legends in the history of Jazz and Vaudeville.

Festival ’82 was supposed to be the first of what was anticipated to become an annual event, but that never happened. It would be another four years before the opportunity presented itself again. In 1986, the Montclair Blues & Jazz Festival became a reality as a result of having to do a fundraiser to replace sound equipment that had been stolen.

The first Annual Blues & Jazz Festival became a reality on July 25, 1986. It was held at Fletcher Hall in the Unitarian Church in Montclair. The featured artists on that date were Billy Hector and the Fairlanes, Des Dimona’s Diamond, The Tyler/Ransom Duet, The Surd Synergy Dance Company and solo artist Freddie Dell. Over the years, the Blues & Jazz Festival featured some of the more well-known local and regional artists that were appearing in the clubs in and around New York and New Jersey. Just to name a few were The Essex County College Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of the late Dr. Aaron Bell, Billy Hector and the Fairlanes, Tayata, Sweet Revival, Oliver Lake, Chris White, Steve Colson, Jacque Johnson, Flip Peters, Jeanie Bryson, Spanky Davis, Jay Duke, Rorie Nichols and a whole lot of others.

Here are a few highlights of the festivals 14 year run: in 1989, Trumpets Jazz and Supper Club became the first co-sponsor and they remained the festivals sponsor for several years. Number of artists appeared: 326, No of Venues booked: 56, No. of Multi day festival years: 9, Pub Crawl: 1994-1999, First major sponsorships 1994(2), Working stage crew: The Montclair Blues & Jazz Festival Strike Team, not only was it the main crew, but was available to work other events if asked to do so. The crew could do everything from running a sound reinforcement system to staging and ushering during events. That crew consisted of Bruce Tyler, Michael Mendlovitz, Jeff Dunston, Michael Middlesdorf and Karen Lee. The festival had a good 14 year run.

A third festival, “The Montclair Jazz & Heritage Festival,” was a one day event which was supposed to be held at Nishuane Park on Sunday, Sept. 17, 1995. It was to commemorate an area that was a memorial Garden, but due to inclement weather it was moved to Montclair High School. Appearing on that bill were: Cecil Brooks’s lll, Mike Logan Quartet, Warren Vacche’s Syncopated Seven and Wallace Rooney.

There were jazz festivals before the Montclair Jazz Festival. The Montclair Jazz Festival has brought Montclair into the realm of a major Jazz Festival that is presenting young aspiring jazz artists as well as world renown cutting edge jazz artist that are making lasting musical statements in the world of jazz presentation and performance.

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