No JA Jazz in January

Freddie McGregor.

Jazz aficionados who annually combine a mid-winter vacation in Jamaica with family and friendly reunions to nightly variety concert may be disappointed that the 19th staging of the island’s foremost jazz festival is cancelled next year.

The announcement to vacation planners was posted on social media recently saying: “We are taking a year off to re-group and focus on planning a spectacular 20th anniversary celebration in 2017.”

The social media posting prompted mixed responses from patrons who had already booked tickets to the often billed month-end series of concerts in January.

A few patrons of this year’s festival said the handwriting was on the wall due to declining audience support, the worst of which was earlier this year when Mariah Carey headlined.

One individual expressed dissent at the late announcement because she had already reserved airline tickets to the reputed music festival.

“While we are disappointed to not be back for 2016 (and we know how much you were looking forward to the show) rest assured we really tried to make 2016 a reality, however, things just did not work out. Therefore, instead of trying to push and stage afestival that would not be of our usual standard, we decided to postpone it,” the explanation read.

The organizers promised a stellar return in 2017 with celebrations of their 20th anniversary outing.

“Thank you for your support and understanding. We will see you in 2017.”

First introduced as the Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival, an alluring lineup introduced Jeffrey Osborne and a myriad of talented rhythm & blues talents from the United States.

Billed to perform in the second city of Montego Bay during the October-November tourist slump of the season, the three-day festival was plagued by heavy downpour of rains during the first few outings.

A location change proved worthy when January was decided an alternative and more appropriate timeframe.

From that destination change, the festival’s appeal to Jamaicans residing abroad seemed to steadily grow with groups of Jamaicans from Florida proving to be the most consistent patrons. A name-change to Jamaica Jazz Festival may have contributed to a decline with patrons when the national carrier ceased using its logo to promote the outdoor revelry. However, through the years under the guidance of Walter Elmore and his Turnkey Production since 2004, stellar acts such as Air, Supply, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Patti Labelle, Natalie Cole, Dionne Warwick, Tony Braxton, John Legend, Roberta Flack, Smokey Robinson, Maroon 5, Alicia Keys, Michael Bolton, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Al Green, Billy Ocean, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, India Arie, Jill Scott, George Benson, Boyz II Men, Julio Iglesias, Robin Thicke, Harry Belafonte, Norah Jones, Charlie Wilson, Babyface and a long list of mostly R&B artists boosted attendance to the Caribbean music mélange.

While the super-names have been touted for crowd appeal, regular guests claim the biggest crowds have been those filling the space to see the reggae lineup that beckoned Third World, Shaggy, Beres Hammond, Sanchez, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffith, Maxi Priest, Wayne Wonder and the local hit-makers.

Hopefully, this one-year hiatus will enable the producers to renew the attraction Jamaicans at home and abroad felt compelled to attend when tourists joined the fray to jazz Jamaica.

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