A History of the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival
The Jazz Festival was launched 26 years ago. The interim period saw much change: in the size of the event, the music content, even the name. Let us fill you in.
The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival kicked off back in1992 as a way to boost tourism during the then relatively quiet month of May. The team behind this innovative idea faced opposition as some believed that jazz would not pull in the crowds – the music did not have a huge following in Saint Lucia plus other islands had tried to establish jazz festivals but had not succeeded. With limited resources but plenty of dedication, the Lucian pioneers organised jazz performances in Rodney Bay, Castries, Vieux Fort and Soufriere. The first festival did not receive much fanfare but the seeds had been sown.
Each year saw refinement and progress towards a more professional programme. In 1994 BET Television began to cover the event, giving the festival a major boost and garnering for it international recognition. As the number of patrons grew, the festival’s time-frame increased, as did the number of performance venues. Pigeon Island, a national park steeped in history, became the location for the finale.
In the early days, the emphasis was on jazz music with an element of R&B. Aficionados came to revel in the sounds and sights of jazz giants such as Al Jarreau and George Benson. Over the years the pure jazz aspect softened and the festival evolved to showcase international crowd-pullers including Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Patti La Belle, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Jeffrey Osborne, Smokey Robinson, R. Kelly, and the Isley Brothers. The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival was on the world map – up there with the likes of Montreux!
As the years passed the music moved further away from jazz but audience numbers were still high due to the likes of celebrities on stage such as, Air Supply, John Legend, Kassav, Santana, Seal, and Kool & The Gang. But then the festival seemed to forget its roots; reggae and “pop” took over. Established bands such as UB40 and Third World were better at crossing the divide and appealing to the middle-aged fans. Amy Winehouse and Rihanna were definitely A-list but there was discontent amongst many local and international jazz fans when artists such as Shaggy and Shabba Ranks were billed as the headline acts. This was not jazz!
On the plus side, Saint Lucian artists gained exposure. Boo Hinkson, Carl Gustave, Irvin Loctar, Rob Zi Taylor, Barbara Cadet and Teddyson John performed main-stage at the final weekend performances on Pigeon Island, much to the delight of the local population; other local acts featured at fringe events around the island.
In response to the distinct lack of jazz, the festival was rebranded in 2013 as the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. The new look included dance, art, crafts, theatre and culinary experiences as well as a phenomenally successful fashion show – Saint Lucia Hot Couture.
In June 2016 Saint Lucia went to the polls and voted in a new governing party. One of its early tasks was an analysis of the cost and benefits of the Jazz and Arts Festival. The result was a new format: the Saint Lucia Summer Festival encompassing not only music but food, rum, arts, heritage and our carnival.
The Summer Festival features an event each month from May to October. This year’s Saint Lucia Jazz takes place between 04-12 May 2019 and will thrill jazz music lovers. For more information visit www.soleilsaintlucia.com.