Nice Jazz Festival

Nice Jazz Festival logo with Melody Gardot

Nice Jazz Festival with Melody Gardot (2016) Photo by Alain Morana

The Nice Jazz Festival, running from  July 17-21, 2017 is the French Riviera jazz festival with the most bang for the buck: a massive musical extravaganza with 30 concerts over five nights at bargain ticket prices for 6 concerts each evening.

Held in the beautiful gardens between Place Massena and the seaside, the festival bounces between two outdoor stages, each with 3 concerts a night, and your ticket gives you access to all, so you can pop back and forth between the musical offerings, between forays around the numerous food and drink venues.

Early Bird Deal Alert:  Reserve a 5-night pass before the acts are announced for the super-bargain price of just 99€.  The great thing about the Blind Pass is that it is non-nominative, so you can pass it to a friend if you don’t want to go every night.

The Music:
 This 5-night festival has a two-pronged approach:  the more intimate Theatre de Verdure stage which is devoted almost exclusively to jazz, and the massive Massena stage (6000 spectators!) offering a bit broader scope, including rock, pop, soul, hip hop and funk to attract a larger (standing) audience.

This year’s edition headliners included Herbie Hancock, Trombone Shorty, Becca Stevens Band, Woman to Woman, Ibrahim Maalouf, Deluxe, Con Brio, Mary J Bilge, Chinese Man, and so much more.  Click here for the full program (in English).

Every year on Sunday, there is a free Gospel Mass at 11am with the London Community Gospel Choir which is not to be missed.

Cost:  Nightly tickets are 39€ … a bargain for 6 concerts a night!  …And only 35€ if you buy before May 31.  Click here for all ticket info.

Reduced price tickets of 29€ are available for:

  • Teens and young adults between 16-25
  • Seniors over 65
  • Pre-seniors over 55 that have a Nice Senior Plus card
  • Students of any age with student ID
  • Two parents paying for 2 or more children’s tickets
  • and disabled persons.

Children from 10-16 are 17€, and children under 10 are free.

Passes:  Two-night passes are available for 60€ and 5-night all-access passes for 130€, but the best deal is the early-bird Blind Pass, available up until the moment that the acts are announced, for just 99€ and non-nominative, so you can pass it to a friend if there is a night you don’t want to go.

Off JazzFree ‘OFF’ program:  Besides the free Gospel Mass on Sunday, the Nice Jazz Festival hosts a whole slate of free concerts and events all over town, and all for free.  Here’s my post on the 2017 Off program.


Nice-Jazz-OrchestraAccess:  The in-town seaside location has super easy access via the tramway, you can arrive by bike up the Prom, but leave your car at home because parking is a bear.  If you must drive, best to leave the car in one of the three free Parc Azur park-and-ride lots where festival hostesses will give you a free tram pass for the night.

History:  Jazz came to Nice with the WWII servicemen that took their R&R’s in the South of France, and the music scene in Nice was never the same.  The first jazz festival in the world (true!) was in Nice in 1948 after Carnival, and the headliners included… Django Reinhardt and Louis Armstrong… whose silver trumpet will be on display at the Nice Hard Rock Cafe for the entire month of July 2016, to commemorate that very first Nice Jazz Festival.

The original venues were the Nice Opera, the Casino on Place Massena at the epoch, and the final night wailed at the Negresco, where they jammed until dawn.

After a 23-year absence, the festival was reborn in 1971 in its current location, the seaside Theatre de Verdure and Place Massena.  These years saw such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, T-Bone Walker, and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1974 the festival moved to Cimiez, a almost magical venue with stages set in the ruins of a Roman coliseum, in an ancient olive grove, and against the beautiful Matisse Museum, where the Nice Jazz Festival stayed for the next 37 years.   The walking paths in the Cimiez gardens are all named after the jazz greats that played the festival during those golden years.

In retrospect we are all nostalgic for the festival on Cimiez, but at the time it was a problematic venue: the sound bled badly from one stage to another making a very disagreeable listening experience, the olive grove was very dusty and had terrible sight-lines due to all the olive trees, the neighbors hated it and did everything they could to make sound and time restrictions, the venue was too small so the ticket prices had to be high (up to 55€ for the best nights!), and there was no parking so we had to get up there and back packed like sweltering sardines in city shuttle buses.

… So, in 2011, in a controversial move, the festival moved back down to where it started, the seaside Theatre de Verdure and Place Massena, enabling lower ticket prices, easy public access, and cooling sea breezes.

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