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Tucson Jazz Festival: America’s Only January Jazz Festival

Tucson has been a favorite vacation destination for decades as travelers have flocked to the city and its unique blend of cultural influences and breathtaking natural surroundings. The second largest city in Arizona features plenty of can't-miss attractions and festivals, and is also home to the University of Arizona.


The Tucson Jazz Festival has become one of the city’s top jazz events in just three years. It features a collection of the best jazz musicians on the planet with jazz masters George Benson and Dee Dee Bridgewater headlining the event. The celebration attracted roughly 15,000 people last year, and event planners expect a similar or larger crowd this year. Multiple venues will host nightly concerts during the ten days of the event including TCC Music Hall, Rialto Theater, Fox Tucson Theater, and more. The signature activity is the Downtown Jazz Fiesta, which is a day-long jazz spectacular with concerts held on two outdoor stages off Fifth Street and at individual venues. We got the chance to interview Yvonne Ervin, Executive Director of the festival, to talk about this world-class event.


RAL: How long has the event been running?

YE: 2017 will be our third year.   


RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?

YE: The first year we had 5,000 people at the free Downtown Jazz Fiesta and another 7,000 at other concerts. In 2016, those numbers were 8,000 and 7,000 respectively.


RAL: What is the typical demographic makeup of the event? Children? Families? Couples?  

YE: Our typical paid concert goer is over the age of 55, but lots of children and families attend our free Downtown Jazz Fiesta on January 16 (Martin Luther King Day).


RAL: What makes this event unique?

YE: It is the only jazz festival in the country in January.


RAL: What dining options will attendees encounter?

YE: When you attend the nightly concerts, there are plenty of great places to eat downtown or en route in the UNESCO City of Gastronomy. There is often a jam session in a nearby downtown restaurant that you can enjoy as well.


RAL: Take me through a day at the event.

YE: The music begins at 10:00 am at the Mercado San Augustin on Avenida del Convento at Congress Street during the Downtown Jazz Fiesta. Festival goers are encouraged to park there, have breakfast, listen to the band, and then hop on the streetcar to get to the rest of the festival. After music on five downtown stages, there is a jam session at Elliot’s on Congress that goes until past midnight, and we expect some of our guest artists to sit in.


RAL: What is the weather like at this time of year.

YE: It has been sunny and 72 degrees at the Downtown Jazz Fiesta the past two years. We can only hope for a repeat of the beautiful weather, but even if it’s not perfect, we have indoor venues, tents, sweatshirts for sale, rain ponchos, and gas heaters ready to go


RAL: Is there maybe one place in particular that guests have been flocking to since the event started?

YE: The Hilton El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort has a special rate on their website. Many of our artists stay there as well as at the elegant and historic Arizona Inn. The local bed and breakfasts, especially Adobe Rose and La Merlita, accommodate jazz fans well.


RAL: What does this event mean to the community?

YE: With 35 % of the audience coming from more than 50 miles away and the majority of the visitors staying five nights or more, this is a major economic driver for the tourism industry. We estimate that the festival brings in $1.1 million to the local economy. The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona takes donations during the day-long Downtown Jazz Fiesta, and we support a regional high school jazz band invitational on the second weekend. Lodging doesn’t max out like it does during the Gem and Mineral Show later in January into February, but it might in another year or two!


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

YE: There’s nothing like Jazz in January. The weather is typically glorious, and the world-class jazz is unrivaled by any other festival. The local cuisine is award-winning, and it’s a perfect place for couples of a certain age to escape the madness of the holidays.


For more information about the Tucson Jazz Festival, please visit their website.