After the obligatory covid year off, the 2021 Nice Jazz Festival is back July 12 – 17, 2021, …but it is going to be a liiittle different this year. The normally massive festival has scrambled to accomodate the post-pandemic crowd control requirements, and the result will be much more calm and intimate, and possibly really great…
In normal times, the Nice Jazz Festival 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 beautiful gardens between Place Massena and the seaside, the festival nomally 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.
THIS year however, the acts are limited to just one stage (Massena), so just 3 concerts a night with socially-distanced seating only, so no thronging standing crowds (that’s the plan anyway… we’ll see how long that lasts!)
Also, this year’s festival has a break in the middle: it kicks off Sunday and Monday, then goes dark for a break on Wednesday (Bastille Day), followed by three more nights Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Multi-night passes are not available this year.
Reduced price tickets are available for:
- -Teens and young adults between 16-25
- -Seniors over 65
- -Pre-seniors over 55 with a Nice Senior Plus card
- -Students of any age with student ID
- -Two parents paying for 2 or more children’s tickets
- -Disabled persons
Children from 10-16 are 19€, and children under 10 are 7€.
Free Concerts: The Nice Jazz Festival hosts the OFF Festival (think Off-Broadway, or “off the beaten track”…) with a whole slate of free concerts and events popping up all over town: in vineyards, gardens, galleries, shopping malls, open-air markets, on Promenade du Paillon, in the tramways… and all for free. Particularly interesting this year are the nightly 7pm free ‘Apero Concerts’ on top of the Nice Chateau from July 5 to 11, and also the Musicuz party in front of the Eglise de la Vœu on July 6 from 7:30pm.
Access: The in-town seaside location has super easy access via the tramway, 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.
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. I recommend arriving around 8:15pm – you will miss a little of the first concert, but you will get right in plus avoid overheating in line, as that’s just when the sun dips behind the palms… perfect!
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; one stage has seats but the other main stage is standing room only. Between the two stages, you’ll find plenty of picnic tables and grassy space to relax. Bring a wrap to spread on the grass, which will also soften your seat if you are seated on the steps at the Verdure stage (Note: for 2021 only, the Verdure stage will be closed.)
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.
How it 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 Carnival, 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 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 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 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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