Jazz Festivals in Mexico to Keep an Eye On

By: Estefanía Romero

Cover photo by: Salvador Bonilla @photolivemusic

Even through this year’s difficulties and the uncertainty we have on our plans, it is important to look at the effort that certain institutions bring for us to get high culture and entertainment.

Since 2020, many jazz festivals in Mexico have had to adapt to the new laws concerning the health crisis amidst the Covid19 problematic. Thus, transforming their showcases into a virtual format and/or delaying their usual kind invitations to other countries, which is plausible because this demonstrates how much we are trying to take care for each other.

Therefore, on this article I recognize the jazz festivals that have survived against all odds, achieving (in the majority of their performances) concerts and more activities that makes us feel proud to show to the world.


6. Festival de Jazz de la Escuela Superior de México (Mexico City)

This year, the festival accomplished 47 annual editions in total. It was created by the Escuela Superior de Música after Francisco Téllez, considered one of the founders of jazz education in Mexico, created the Jazz Bachelor’s Degree on the same institution.

Most of the performances I’ve seen on this festival have been worthy. It also produces open public workshops and presentations of internal and external ensembles. It is cost-free.



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NAWI at the 46º Festival de Jazz ESM, Homage to Pablo Hidalgo. Photo from: https://www.facebook.com/festivaldejazzesm/posts/2684184871656560


5. Eurojazz (Mexico City)

Eurojazz has proven to be an international reference of quality and union, thanks to the collaboration between Mexico and European countries. This event doesn’t bring worldwide famous or widely publicized projects (at least in Mexico), but you can certainly find great musicians making excellent music.

The free entrance includes master classes, and the concerts are usually held on the gardens of the Centro Nacional de las Artes, where families and students may gather as in a picnic. There are usually food trucks, and the events are during the daylight.

Mexico City offers many jazz festivals, but many of them haven’t managed to survive and some others could have a better taste; even though, the Eurojazz fest and the Festival de Jazz de la ESM have surpassed those issues so far.



Eurojazz. Photo from: https://www.cenart.gob.mx/2019/03/eurojazz-2019-continua-este-fin-de-semana-con-una-segunda-jornada-de-conciertos/


4. Festival de Jazz de León

So far it is a small and homely festival, still very well managed. It brings the audiences the possibility to consume a not very common music considering the region where it takes place.

The fest uses different venues, such as bars and coffee shops, but its distinctive mark is the reunion of people on natural open spaces, reason why the nicest parks in León open their arms for every individual to feel comfortable on a family environment to dance and listen.

At the same time, this magical place (without cover fee per entrance) prepares food stands with delicious handmade edibles. The cartel usually shows local talents and from time to time it presents international musicians. There are extra activities, like conferences (I was actually invited back in 2018 to present my lecture on the History of Jazz Critic) or round tables on jazz.

In the end, this small encounter, or big kermesse, portraits the sweet and intelligent personality of its Founder and Director, Cynthia Calderón.



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Photo from: https://www.facebook.com/FestivalJazzLeon/photos/807917749369399


3. Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, aka “RMJF” (Playa del Carmen)

All the concerts are costless. They are presented in front of the Mamita’s beach club in Playa del Carmen. I mean, you can even go in your swimming suit.

It is complex to talk about this project that was founded on 2003 by the beloved and respected drummer Fernando Toussaint. In one hand, this is definitely the place where you will find popular renowned jazz talents in Mexico. There had been Chick Corea, Earth, Wind & Fire, Béla Fleck, Pat Metheny, Gino Vannelli, Wayne Shorter, Spyro Gyra, Bobby McFerrin, Lalah Hathaway… and many other iconic talents.

However, and the reason why I’m not giving this festival the number one is that you can also find poor quality shows with “musicians” lacking an actual musical formation. Also, punctuality is not an RMJF’s thing. I remember waiting for four hours for the McLaughlin’s concert to start. The audience was really upset.



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Bobby McFerrin. Photo by Salvador Bonilla (Tw: @photolivemusic) for Bop Spots: https://bopspots.com/2018/12/04/riviera-maya-jazz-festival-2018-fotoreportaje


2. Festival de jazz de Nuevo León (Monterrey)

The Huasteca in Nuevo León is a zone in the North of Mexico, known as a perfect open space to live great adventures from climbing to swimming in small lakes in the middle of the desert, or walking in the arid parks filled with stars at night in this fantastic lands.

However, we must mention a high-level cultural attraction that takes place once a year in Monterrey. I am talking about the Festival de Jazz de Nuevo León, which is so good that it’s always exceeding in audience.

Since the composer and culture promoter Oscar “Zensei” González created the jazz fest, it has been promoting local musicians, sometimes accompanied by international great players. You can take for sure that the energy and caliber of this gathering of expertise gets to reach the same level as the cosmopolitan New York, Paris or Tokyo. And the activities are cost-free!





1. Festival Internacional JazzUV (Xalapa, Ver.)

Xalapa, Veracruz. The world should know that this is a city with a growing jazz culture since the 60’s. Its actual jazz fest is presented by the Centro de Estudios JazzUV, the jazz department of the Veracruz University, which is always creating academic activities, such as conferences, master classes and jam sessions among students, professors and professional guests.

The concerts presented here are usually brilliant because the organizers tend to reach for emblematic names to bring. In my experience, I will never forget the presentations of Giovanni Hidalgo, Steve Turre and Donald Harrison Jr.

The audience attending is always delighted. In Xalapa, a city that smells like coffee, the jazz code goes normal (something not usual in Mexico): there are constant applauses, shouts, people dancing… you can even see creative people (from the Dance or Theater careers… or just any person!) improvise movements with their own talents.

In each edition, the festival takes place in many different venues, from the headquarters of the Centro de Estudios JazzUV, to theaters, coffee shops, restaurants and other great music scenarios. This is one of the warmest musical festivities that you’re going to find in the world.

The cost depends on each activity, some of them are free.



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Donald Harrison Jr. Photo by: Ángel Ramírez, for Bop Spots: https://bopspots.com/en/2017/11/26/love-is-the-answer-anything-is-possible-donald-harrison-jr/