JME Staff Picks | 2023 Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Jazz fest performers press photos
Some of the performers at the 2023 Jacksonville Jazz Festival that the JME staff is excited to see: (Clockwise from left): Marcus Miller, Eddie Palmieri, Ron Carter, Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y, LPT | Courtesy of the artists

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival will return to the city’s Downtown on Memorial Day weekend, kicking off with the storied Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition at the Florida Theatre on Thursday, May 25 and continuing with three days and nights of performances on two stages in the heart of the Urban Core. 

The buzz on this year’s fest is that it might just be the jazziest lineup in recent memory. From the most influential Latin-jazz pianist (Eddie Palmieri) to two of the best living bassists (Ron Carter, Marcus Miller) to the indisputable champion of jazz traditionalism (Wynton Marsalis), the 2023 festival is heavy with icons. Throw in some hard-hitting locals (LPT, Let’s Ride Brass band, Ulysses Owens Jr.) and a few mainstream stars (Chaka Khan!) and you have yourself a recipe for a rather tasty weekend of live music. Plus, the whole thing is free. 

It’s a lot of jazz to parse. But the team here at the Jacksonville Music Experience has you covered. In addition to our interactive guide to this year’s jazz fest, JME contributors shared an in-depth look at a handful of artists we jazzed to see and hear. (You can also find Grammy-winning Jax drummer and Jax Jazz Fest performer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s picks here.)

Ron Carter’s Foursight Quartet

Groovin’ Stage | Friday, May 26 | 7 pm

Ron Carter is the most-recorded jazz bassist in history, with a staggering 2200 albums buckling his discography. Aside from being a Guinness Records-holder, since the 1960’s Carter has been a key icon to help re-invent, re-direct, invigorate and ultimately revolutionize the role and freedom of the upright jazz bass. Carter was trained as a classical cellist and bass player, and his applied wisdom of centuries of composition and the past century of jazz improvisation, are featured on crucial sessions by Miles Davis, Roberta Flack, Wes Montgomery (and a few thousand more) in addition to the innovative and engaging solo and ensemble-led albums Carter has released.–Daniel A. Brown

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 

Swingin’ Stage | Friday May 26 | 9:30 pm

The Marsalis family has been professionally acquainted with Northeast Florida since the 1980s, and that relationship continues as Wynton Marsalis closes out the main stage on Friday night with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, arguably the world’s preeminent big-band. Wynton Marsalis founded JALC Orchestra (which also played the 2019 Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival) in 1988, and they have since released at least 32 albums, not counting the 56 released under Marsalis’ own name, or the 20 others recorded with the likes of Katheen Battle, Art Blakey, Eric Clapton, Placico Domingo, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Shirley Horn, Elvin Jones, Willie Nelson, Duval’s own Marcus Roberts and even Yo Yo Ma, as well as his own family, all of whom have played here before. The current JALC lineup includes UNF alum Marcus Printup, himself a longtime friend and facilitator of the local jazz scene, and the lengthy list of legends among the band’s alumni, guest soloists and current personnel includes many veterans of our jazz festival. Collectively, Marsalis and his team have led the way in maintaining the commercial viability of jazz, while also helping to develop the infrastructure through which new jazz talent will continue to develop for decades to come.–Shelton Hull 

Eddie Palmieri 

Swingin’ Stage | Friday, May 26 | 6pm 

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival continues to hold space for Latin jazz, this year booking the best and most influential living pianist of the style. A decade before salsa took over the five boroughs, and subsequently conquered the world, Palmieri, as a composer, arranger and player for several big band projects, was turning jazz and Latin dance music on its ear. A Grammy winner and unimpeachably great player, Palmieri’s played with icons of Latin music, from Tito Rodriguez to Fania All-Stars, and an A-list cast of artists from jazz to pop and everything in between. At 86-years young, Palmieri’s performances can still inspire, and literally move you.–Matthew Shaw


Swingin’ Stage |  Saturday, May 27 | 4:45 pm

Jacksonville’s own salsa orchestra LPT has become an entirely self-contained institution in local culture. Their critically acclaimed debut, Sin Parar, was one of the best albums of 2020, and their 2021 follow-up, Se Quema El Mundo, was even better. No band embodies the aspirational nature of Northeast Florida’s music scene than its very own supergroup, which includes past and present members of bands like Antique Animals, Bronero, Carlyle Group, Let’s Ride Brass Band, Nightcrawler, Raisin Cake Orchestra, Von Barlow’s Jazz Journey and the UNF Jazz Orchestra; lead vocalist Josue Cruz is also a contributor to JME. Everyone in the band is a leader in their own right, on and off the stage, and their legend continues to grow.–Shelton Hull 

Ulysses Owens Jr. and Generation Y 

Groovin’ Stage | Saturday, May 27 | 6 pm

After securing his third Grammy Award – his latest as the drummer for the pandemic-era production Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra – there’s no slowing down for Duval musician, author and educator Ulysses Owens Jr. In addition to filling out the rhythm section for this year’s Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, the in-demand drummer will lead a quintet, Generation Y, comprised of up-and-coming musicians culled from the ranks of the Juilliard Jazz program, of which he is an alumni of the inaugural class and where he continues to teach. Owens Jr. also found time to share his picks for this year’s fest. How does he do it?–Matthew Shaw    

Marcus Miller 

Swingin’ Stage | Saturday, May 27 | 7:45 pm

Marcus Miller first came to prominence in the 1970s, when fellow electric bass guitarists like Stanley, Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Jeff Berlin began liberating the plugged-in four string from the confines of playing solely in the pocket. Miller was the bass man for Miles Davis’ resurgence in the early 80s, and has been featured on 500-plus albums by a diverse cadre of jazz and pop artists, including Wayne Shorter, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, McCoy Tyner, Eric Clapton and Beyoncé and is a multiple Grammy winner. Miller’s inventive technique runs the gamut of the electric bass, yet his proficiency never overshadows his savviness as a soloist, side player, and leader of his own ensembles.–Daniel A. Brown

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