The Detroit Jazz Festival is a major cultural institution, providing year-round concerts and educational programming that culminates in one of the world’s premier jazz festivals on Labor Day Weekend.
The festival takes place over several city blocks in downtown Detroit – from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius – with five stages and 100 acts over four days. It also offers educational activities for adults and children, fireworks, late-night jam sessions, rare opportunities to meet the artists and much more. And it’s all FREE.
Our mission is to:
- Foster the history and nurture the development of jazz
- Perpetuate Detroit’s significant jazz legacy through educational and collaborative opportunities accessible to all
- Present a world-class signature event that makes Detroit a tourist destination
The Detroit International Jazz Festival was founded in 1980 by Robert McCabe and the Detroit Renaissance. Along with the Detroit Grand Prix and the International Freedom Festival, Jazz Fest was intended to bring people into the city and to provide all segments of the population with world-class entertainment. It quickly became a Labor Day Weekend tradition at Hart Plaza, a city park along the Detroit River designed by Isamu Noguchi and Shuji Sadao.
From 1980 to 1991, the festival flourished through a partnership with the highly regarded international jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland, sharing performers and commissioned poster art. In 1991, the festival merged with Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, where it resided until September 2005.
In March 2005, Detroit philanthropist and Mack Avenue Records Chairman Gretchen Valade emerged as a major sponsor of the festival. With additional support from the Knight Foundation, the festival expanded programmatically and physically. The new footprint, covering three blocks of Woodward Avenue north to the newly developed Campus Martius Park, provided two additional stages and more space for food vendors and other activities. The result was record-breaking attendance and revitalization of the festival.
The Detroit Jazz Festival is now managed and produced by the Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 2006. Through the generosity of Detroit philanthropist and Mack Avenue Records Chairman Gretchen Valade, the Foundation also established a $10 million endowment to support festival operations. The festival staff and advisory committee work throughout the year to raise the balance of operating costs through corporate partnerships, contributions, and earned-income opportunities.