10 Great European Jazz Festivals

 

Looking for some help deciding which European jazz festivals to check out this year?

Obviously there are hundreds to choose from, but we’ve picked a small selection from the European jazz scene and asked some of the musicians who performed there to explain what made it special for them.

The result: your recommended list of where to go this year to see some great concerts, in some very special locations.

Looking to discover some new music? Check out this run down of 11 of the most influential European jazz musicians of all time, or these great European jazz blogs & websites…

European jazz festivals
  • Montreux Jazz Festival (July, Switzerland)

One of the mot legendary jazz festivals in the world, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland has been running for more than 50 years. For two weeks each July, more than 250,000 music fans descend on the small municipality on Lake Geneva.

Past headliners read like a who’s who of jazz history: Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder… Prince & Deep Purple even name-checked the festival in songs.

But alongside the biggest names in music who perform each year, the festival presents multiple strands of fresh, contemporary jazz programming which keep audiences on their toes and provide rising talent the opportunity to add one of Europe’s best jazz festivals to their tour history.

“Montreux Jazz Festival is huge and the programme is extremely varied. It also has a special programme for emerging talent with an award for the best act.

Our gig was wonderfully received and we sold a lot of CDs right after the show!” 3 words to describe it? “Big, Diverse, International” Andrew Neil Hayes, Run Logan Run (UK)

More info via montreuxjazzfestival.com

  • We Jazz Festival (Dec, Finland)

Established in 2013, We Jazz is one of the newest festivals on this list. Taking place around Helsinki, the organisers are regularly looking for new venues and spaces to add to the programme.

The result? Expect your preconceptions about a jazz festival to be challenged, with handpicked bands providing a cross-section of the contemporary music scene.

As a bonus: We Jazz takes place in December, when most other festivals are on a break. So, aside from the music, it’s a great excuse for a winter break to Scandinavia…

The jazz musician’s view: 

“Our concert at G-LiveLab was sold out, the concert was burning, the sound was great, the audience very engaged.

What makes this festival special is that there are a lot of venues, a lot of acts & super promotion.” 3 words to describe it? “Exiting, kicking, burning!”Muriel Grossmann, Austrian saxophonist 

More info via wejazz.fi

  • Mai Jazz Festival (May, Norway)

Taking place in Stavanger, Mai Jazz is one of the most established and popular festivals in Norway. Built on a foundation of strong local support (sponsors, politicians and an army of volunteers) it’s been bringing international jazz to the region since 1989.

Previous headliners at Mai:Jazz have included Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheney, Herbie Hancock, E.S.T and Joe Zawinul, to name just a few. But, as a busy student city, the smaller venues and contemporary jazz artists who perform are a big draw too.

The jazz musician’s view: 

“I played there with my Trio in a double bill with Kinga Glyk Trio. It’s a great program, lovely people and Hasse the programmer really cares about good music.

We also watched some great concerts at the festival (like Gregory Porter with Orchestra) and I particularly remember the many fjords we saw on that Norwegian tour.” 3 words to describe it? “adventurous, exciting & caring” – David Helbock, Austrian pianist 

More info via maijazz.no

  • Jazz & The City (Oct, Austria)

Taking place in the Austrian city of Salzburg, this European jazz fest lives up to its name by taking over more than 50 different venues around the city to present 100+ gigs.

Alongside the headliners, visitors can see a whole bunch of free concerts in cafés and bars, Baroque churches and even factories.

And, on top of this, they present one very unique idea as part of the festival. As the organisers explain: “international performers and local musicians will hook up for so-called “Blind Dates”, that will definitely prove once and for all that music knows no borders or language barriers.”

The jazz musician’s view: 

“I played a couple of gigs there. The venues were absolutely packed and the audiences were really enthusiastic and open minded. I think the blind date gigs are a unique part of the festival.
 
It’s a great idea to bring musicians together in one-off secret line ups, so they play with people they wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to otherwise.” 3 words to describe it? “Eclectic, open, brave” – Elliot Galvin, British pianist & composer
 
More info via salzburg.info
 
  • Smida Jazz (Aug, Romania)

Taking place in the stunning Apuseni Natural Park, Smida Jazz, according to the event organisers, means “serenity and good vibes.
It’s a classic festival in its set up: camping, surrounded by woodland and a lake. But musically, not so much. They stake their artistic vision front and centre on the website: avant-garde jazz.
 
So, if you’re looking for a family-friendly festival holiday, surrounded by nature, caves and high level contemporary jazz, this might be the one for you…
The jazz musician’s view: 
 
“We had a wonderful show with a dedicated and sophisticated audience. In Romania, we have serious followers; the respect and understanding for rhythmically complex but grooving music is high.
 
Like the Garana Jazz Festival, Smida has an own independent atmosphere. There’s wonderful landscape around the festival which in combination with the music, makes it an ideal experience.” 3 words to describe it? “Independent groove music”Nik Bärtsch, Swiss pianist & composer
 
More info via smidajazz.ro
  
  • Novum Jazz Festival (Nov, Poland)

Running for more than a decade now, Novum Jazz Festival presents the ‘New Jazz Hope‘ competition alongside the full artistic programme, meaning you can check out up-and-coming young jazz musicians.

Musically it leans towards contemporary jazz, as well as supporting plenty of artists from the Polish jazz scene; previous performances have included Tim Hagan, Szymon Mika, Marek Konarski & Swiss trio VEIN.

The jazz musician’s view: 

“There was a special atmosphere as the venue was quite small but completely packed. People even were listening from outside.

There was no stage, so all was very familiar. It’s definitively a programme created by people who care about good music”Florian Arbenz, Swiss drummer 

More info via radionadzieja.pl

  • Belgrade Jazz Festival (Oct, Serbia)

Taking place across a week in late October each year, Belgrade is one of the biggest and most established jazz festivals in Serbia.
The concerts take place in the Dom omladine Beograda (‘Belgrade Youth Centre’) which has various spaces, ranging from a 100-seat club through to the main hall which has a standing capacity of 1,200 people.
 
With an average audience age between 20-40, they mix the programming between well-known international headliners (Nicola Conte is a recent example) with homegrown talent. In fact, they have a rule: the first concert of the festival is always a special programme by a renowned local band, with a guest from abroad.
 
The jazz musician’s view: 
 
“What makes this festival special? International artists, big names and attentive audiences! We were so well looked after and  enjoyed meeting new fans and seeing Serbia.” 3 words to describe it? “Mixed international names” – Henry Spencer, trumpeter & bandleader
 
More info via bjf.rs
 
  • Fest Jazza (July, Croatia)

Held each summer in the city of Koprivnica in Northern Croatia, Fest Jazza takes place in the main ‘Zrinski’ square, with some smaller venues dotted around.

It may be one of the lesser-known European jazz festivals on this list, but it certainly has a worldwide outlook. Previous performers have come from as far afield as Cuba, America, Spain & India.

Don’t miss the late night festival jam session which kicks off around midnight…

The jazz musician’s view: 

“Every single act was spectacular, from all around the world, and the production was top-notch. But our best memory of the trip was probably the audience reaction!” 3 words to describe it? “Unique, Open, Novel” – Bodhi Ghosh, The Bodhisattwa Trio

More info via festjazza.com

  • Enjoy Jazz (Oct-Nov, Germany)

Taking place across the cities of Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen over more than 6 weeks, Enjoy Jazz must win the award for being one of Europe’s longest jazz festivals! 
 
As such, they manage to pack in a huge range and depth of jazz talent into the programme, but with one interesting caveat: they usually only presents one concert per evening and city.
So whilst you might not be able to stay for the whole festival, you can take your time with concerts and enjoy a festival which has previously featured artists such as Archie Shepp, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman & Herbie Hancock.
 
The jazz musician’s view: 
 
“Last year there was a “Spotlight Polen” event where we performed among some dope modern jazz Polish bands.
Apart from performing, hanging out with everyone after the concerts was a great memory.” 3 words to describe it? “open-minded, young, varied.” – Immortal Onion, Poland
Find out more via www.enjoyjazz.de
 
NEXT:
Best Jazz Clubs in New Orleans

That’s it for now – hope you found some useful information there! We’ll be adding more in the coming weeks, so do check back. 

And, if you’re a jazz musician looking to get booked at more festivals yourself, you might like to check out this survey of international jazz promoters or the Jazzfuel guide on how to get more jazz gigs