Ulysses Owens Jr. On Who to See & Hear at the 2023 Jacksonville Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest with U

Press photo collage of Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, Samara Joy, Marcus Miller, Shemekia Copeland
Grammy-winning drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (center) shares his must-see performers for this year's Jacksonville Jazz Festival, including (clockwise from bottom) Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, Samara Joy, Marcus Miller, Shemekia Copeland

As a supporter of the Jacksonville Jazz Fest since I was about 16 years old, I look forward to the lineup announcement annually. And what excites me about this 2023 lineup is that is includes some of the most dynamic jazz musicians relevant today and still playing at a high level. This year’s fest also includes a vast array of talent from both traditional and contemporary jazz, paired with neo soul, R&B and Latin jazz — there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy. 

Below are some artists whose performances I can absolutely guarantee will be transformative experiences. I should mention that I’m personally thrilled to be a part of the fest this year. I’ll be performing in the rhythm section of this year’s Jax Jazz Piano Competition with bassist Reuben Rogers (Thursday, May 25), as well as with my band, Gen Y (Saturday, May 27), which features some of the most dynamic young jazz musicians in the world. 

Here’s who I think you need to see and hear at this year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival:

Samara Joy

Sunday, May 27 | Swingin’ Stage

Several years ago, I remember getting a message from various musicians about a young girl from Newark, NJ who sounded like Ella Fitzgerald re-incarnated. I also remember smiling after hearing a clip of her. Flash forward a bit, and this young lady has just changed the world. She also won Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards in January. Joy is currently touring the world with her incredible group, singing so beautifully. She’s a star, and has been headlining g just about every jazz festival in the US and abroad. So please do yourself and go hear her. 

Eddie Palmieri

Friday, May 26 | Swingin’ Stage

Eddie Palmieri is Latin jazz royalty. He’s also Grammy Award-winning pianist who has maintained an incredible career spanning more than 60 years. If you want to experience authentic latin jazz at the highest-level rooted in the culture of New York Salsa parties, Palmieri’s is the band to make time in your calendar to hear. 

Marcus Miller

Saturday, May 27 | Swingin’ Stage

Marcus Miller is a dynamic bassist, who everyone has been listening to indirectly for years. He can be heard on Luther Vandross’ songs, including “Never Too Much” and “Power of Love.” Miller also plays on Miles Davis’ “Tutu,” and countless movie soundtracks; not to mention his own incredible albums. I have seen this band on the road several times over the course last 10 years. You’re in for a dynamic show full of energy, funk and bass artistry. You will not hear anyone else on the planet play the electric bass like Marcus.

Shemekia Copeland

Sunday, May 28 | Groovin’ Stage

The blues is a necessary component to Jazz, because it’s the roots of this music. I have been hearing about Shemekia Copeland for more than 20 years. She is one of the most talented Blues Singers alive. After you hear Copeland sing, you will understand how she has earned and maintained this reputation. Her most recent album, Done Come Too Far, is incredibly soulful. 

Charlie Wilson

Sunday, May 28 | Swingin’ Stage

A big part of my musical upbringing is R&B music. Thanks to my father, The GAP Band was required listening for us, from songs like,  “Early in the Morning” to “Yearning for your Love” to other countless hits. “Uncle” Charlie Wilson is the man with the golden voice and you will not be disappointed because he delivers every time. This will be a high-energy show with incredible vocals, and your heart will be serenaded with so much joy that only Charlie “last name Wilson” can deliver. 

Eric Roberson

Friday, May 26 | Groovin’ Stage

Eric Roberson is a neo-soul treasure. An underrated talent, Roberson continues to be regarded as an in-demand performer. This will be a great show for fans of both soul and R&B.

Wynton Marsalis

Friday, May 26 | Swingin’ Stage

The reason I am even able to write this is because of the fact that I got a chance to hear Wynton Marsalis play when I was about 16 years old in Fernandina Beach. After that performance, I vowed to follow in Maralis’ footsteps. Twenty years later, I have had a chance to hear his band in so many variations. He’s one of the greatest trumpeters on the planet. And he has maintained an ensemble rooted in the tradition of swing and jazz. It’s imperative for audiences to hear him.

From the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition to three days/nights of Jazz Fest programming to Jazz Fest After Dark, there’s a lot happening at and around this year’s festival. To help you sort through the jazz, we’re putting together an interactive guide to the 2023 Jacksonville Jazz Fest. Stay tuned.

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