Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival returns following COVID-19 hiatus

The Downtown Jamaica Festival returns with live performances on the front lawn at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center in May. (Courtesy of JCAL)

The Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival is returning next month after a pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.

The free, two-day event will take place on the lawn of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, from noon to 7:30 p.m. both days.

In the past, JCAL’s Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival has paid tribute to such legends as the late Milford Graves while also showcasing some prominent emerging musicians. This year’s lineup — curated by Rio Sakairi, artistic director of The Jazz Gallery — is especially strong, starting with Grammy-nominated saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as a headliner.

The son of legendary jazz artists John and Alice Coltrane. In the course of his long career, Coltrane has worked as a sideman to many, recorded noteworthy albums for himself and others, and founded a prominent independent record label, RKM.

“It’s true. Our Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival is coming back to life, live on the JPAC lawn,” Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning Executive Director Leonard Jacobs said. “This wouldn’t be possible without many people coming together, starting with the generous support of our colleagues in city government. And look at that lineup. Kudos to Rio Sakairi of the Jazz Gallery and to Courtney Ffrench, our interim artistic director, for creating this incredible roster of top-tier talent.”

The two-day festival features eight musicians, including the likes of Joel Ross, who released his Blue Note debut with KingMaker to critical acclaim, and Melissa Aldana, who was an audience favorite during JCAL’s second Thursday Night Jazz season, which has been livestreamed every month since last October from JCAL’s black-box theater.

“This is a collaborative experience, a true celebration of life, of music, in every sense,” Ffrench said. “In addition to this lineup, we are seriously blessed to have a staff and production and backstage team that is second to none, and an audience that we think is really ready to come out of their homes and safely enjoy amazing jazz here on the JPAC lawn. Everyone is welcome, and we’re looking forward to seeing you.”

During the Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival, all COVID-19 protocols will be observed, with only 100 people at a time permitted inside the grounds of JPAC, with social distancing. The festival is made possible by the Queens delegation of the City Council and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the city Department of Cultural Affairs, Flushing Bank, Con Edison, and individual supporters of the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.

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