Nice Jazz Festival

Nice Jazz Festival by Alain Morana

The Nice Jazz Festival  July 15-19, 2024 is the French Riviera jazz festival with the most bang for the buck: a sprawling musical extravaganza with bargain ticket prices for 6 concerts each evening.  Held in the gardens between Place Massena and the seaside, the festival bounces between two outdoor stages, each with 3 concerts a night, so you can pop back and forth between the musical offerings, between forays around the numerous food and drink venues.

 

 

De la Soul at Nice Jazz Festival photo by Alain Morana

Cost:  45€ for a full night of 6 concerts.  Multi-night passes are 80€ for 2 nights, or 150€ for all 4 nights.

Reduced price tickets of 32€ are available for:

  • Students of any age with student ID
  • Teens and young adults between 16-24
  • Seniors over 65
  • Pre-seniors over 55 with a Nice Senior Plus card
  • Two parents paying for 2 or more children’s tickets
  • Disabled persons

Children from 10-15 are 20€, and children 4-9 years old are 9€.

Access:  The in-town seaside location has super easy access via the tramway (tram stop Massena), or you can arrive by bike up the Prom, but definitely leave your car at home because parking is a bear.  If you must drive, best to leave the car in one of the three Parc Azur park-and-ride lots along the tramway route, where your parking is free upon showing a round trip tram ticket, and on concert nights the tramway will be reinforced with extra trams from 9pm to the end of the night.

Free Concerts

The Nice Jazz Festival hosts the OFF Festival (think Off-Broadway, or “off the beaten track”…) with nightly free concerts at 7pm  on top of the Nice Chateau.  Unfortunately the elevator is closed by then so you have to hike up the hill on foot, but the easiest way is to come up on the Garibaldi side (just take a right out of the Garibaldi line 2 tram stop) and follow the shady street access up the hill.  You can also come up from the sea side but there are about 500 steps in full sun, so you will arrive a sweaty mess.

Insider Tips  

Arrival:  Tight security causes a bit of an entry bottleneck at the start of the concerts, with the line sometimes wrapping around the block, but once the first concert gets underway the lines quickly abate. Those in the know arrive around 8:15pm, just as the sun dips behind the palms… you miss a little of the first concert, but you will get right in and avoid overheating in line, which up until then was in full sun.

What to bring: To stay hydrated, bring an empty plastic bottle that you can refill in the water filling stations.  Wear comfortable shoes or flip-flops: the Verdure stage has seats but the Massena stage is standing room only.  Between the two stages, you’ll find plenty of picnic tables and grassy space to relax.  Bring a sarong to spread on the grass, which will also soften your seat if you are seated on the stone steps at the Verdure stage.  And something to fan yourself with could also come in handy.

What to eat: Best food trucks are chez Pipo for socca, and Mother Trucker for artisanal cheeseburgers.  The food truck lines are slow, but the music is great, so nobody seems to mind.  At the drink stands you have to buy a reusable Nice Jazz Festival cup, so if you kept yours from last year, bring it!

Fan fun: After each set, the headliners on the Massena stage often pop out the side entrance behind the right side of the main stage to meet the fans, so that is where to hang out if you want to get an autograph or a quick selfie.   Also, most are staying at the Hotel Radisson Blu, so this is the spot for nightly after-hours jam sessions in the bar.

Best hotels for the Nice Jazz Festival

  • If you want to experience the Nice Jazz Festival from your own private skybox, book a sea-view room from the glamorous new 5-star Anantara Hotel or just have a cocktail or late dinner on their vast rooftop bar, where you can hear everything from the Massena main stage.   
  • To hobnob with the musicians, the 4-star Radisson Blu is the place to stay; the hotel is on the other end of the Prom but this is where most of the artists and musicians are housed, and their bar hosts nightly after-hour jam sessions into the wee hours that can be quite star-studded!   
  • The 3-star Hotel Albert 1ere might seem like a bargain and a great location just steps from the festival site, but you will get blasted with sound from both stages, so it is pure cacophony.  However, if you plan to spend each night actually at the festival from start to finish, this hotel is super convenient.

How the Nice Jazz Festival Started

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 Carnaval, and the headliners included Django Reinhardt and Louis Armstrong.

The original venues were the Nice Opera, the Casino on Place Massena at the epoch, and the final night wailed at the Hotel 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 up to Cimiez hill, 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 everyone is very nostalgic for the magical ambiance the festival had 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 trees, the neighbors hated it and did everything they could to enforce sound and time restrictions, the venue was too small so the ticket prices had to be higher, 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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