Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival returns with free programming at Rufus King Park

Jazz Fest
Grammy nominated Cuban artist Pedrito Martinez will perform at the Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival at Rufus King Park on Saturday, May 20. (Photo courtesy of Martinez)

The Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival, known for presenting legendary jazz artists and providing a platform to emerging musicians, is returning this year with free programming for the community at Rufus King Park

The festival begins Friday, May 19, at 6:30 p.m. with an opening reception and performances at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center at 153-10 Jamaica Ave. On Saturday, May 20, the festival will continue outdoors at Rufus King Park at 150-29 Jamaica Ave. with a music marathon from noon to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, and people are encouraged to RSVP to the event. 

The festival is curated by Rio Sakairi, artistic director of The Jazz Gallery. The flagship cultural event celebrates the rich jazz heritage rooted in southeast Queens and promotes generations of talented musicians from diverse cultures residing in the community today. 

“I’m really excited about presenting the festival in the park on Saturday! I have been wanting to do this from the time I have produced the inaugural festival. I have noticed that the community in Jamaica is really hungry for arts and the Jazz series at the JCAL is always packed with curious and eager listeners with open ears,”  Sakairi said. “My hope is that by moving the festival to the park, the whole family, young and old, can come out and enjoy the music together in a fun and relaxed environment. The JCAL has done an amazing job bringing arts to people in the community and it has been such a pleasure to be able to contribute to that.”

The 2021 festival was opened by Samara Joy, who won Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2023 Grammy Awards as well as Best New Artist—only the second jazz artist in history to be so honored.

The Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival will bring back the Grammy-nominated Johnathan Blake – who led an explosive performance at the 2022 event. Blake was a late addition to the star-studded lineup, replacing a previously scheduled Ravi Coltrane. The event will also feature some of Jazz’s biggest names, like the Grammy-nominated Pedrito Martinez and Jaleel Shaw.

Grammy-nominated artist Johnathan Blake. (Photo courtesy of Blake)

Other highlights include southeast Queens’ own Marcus Gilmore, who recently headlined JCAL’s “Thursday Night Jazz” series before a capacity crowd.

JCAL’s Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival 2023 is supported by the Mellon Foundation and Resorts World New York City, with additional support from Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Council Members Selvena Brooks-Powers and Nantasha Williams, and general operating support from the mayor’s office and the city Department of Cultural Affairs.