The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is an iconic annual event that celebrates local music and culture. Held at the Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Jazz Fest has been drawing thousands of visitors to the city every year since its first edition in 1970. But what was the first jazz festival like? Let's take a look back at the history of this beloved event. The first Jazz Fest was held in Congo Square with four stages. It was more of an impromptu performance than a planned event, but it still featured some of the biggest names in jazz, including Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Pete Fountain, The Preservation Hall Brass Band, and Mardi Gras Indians.
The festival ran from April 22 to 26 and was capped off with a Duke Ellington concert at the Municipal Auditorium. In 2004, AEG Live joined forces with Jazz Fest, allowing for even more international stars to appear at the Festival. This collaboration has helped to maintain the authenticity of the celebration and turn it into a cultural force. The festival also moved to the Fair Grounds racetrack stadium in 1975. In addition to the performances, the first Jazz Fest also featured a Dixieland Jazz parade that took place in two nearby hotels and included the participation of former Ellington drummer Sonny Greer. Sharkey Bonano also joined the Kings of Dixieland in the Municipal Auditorium for one of the nightly concerts. To commemorate the event, the Jazz Fest decided to release a limited-edition screen-printed poster in 1975. This tradition still continues today.
The New York Times noted that the jazz festival had “become inseparable from the culture it presents.”.