The First-Ever Cambridge Jazz Festival Is This Weekend

The city is "beyond ready" for it.


Terri Lyne Carrington photo by Annette Brown via

The Cambridge Jazz Festival, despite being the city’s first ever, is drawing big names in jazz. Both locally and nationally recognized jazz artists will perform at the festival, which takes place Sunday, July 27.

“The community is beyond ready for a jazz festival in Cambridge,” says Larry Ward, executive director of the festival, adding that he thinks there has been a resurgence in jazz’s popularity recently.

“People are leaving their home states to find jazz festivals to go to,” he says, “So that tells me: If we build it, they will come.”

Ron Savage, the festival’s artistic director and chair of the Ensemble department at Berklee College of Music, was instrumental in booking the performers, Ward says, adding that the music planned for Sunday is “out of control.”

Motown legend Valerie Simpson—known for her work with late husband Nickolas Ashford—will perform in the evening on Sunday. As half of Ashford & Simpson, Simpson co-wrote songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” She will perform alongside two-time Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington, a Medford native and current percussion professor at Berklee. Her most recent Grammy win was in 2014, when she won the award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Other acts that will be at the Cambridge Jazz Festival include the Ron Savage Trio, who combine varied musical styles like gospel and R&B, and Dominique Eade, a New England Conservatory faculty member and jazz vocalist who has performed at jazz festivals internationally.

One goal of the Cambridge Jazz Festival is supporting education. With that in mind, the festival also inaugurates the Johnny Hodges Fund, created to provide college scholarships and music education to Cambridge residents. All the money raised beyond the cost of putting together the festival will go to the fund, which was named for the Cambridge-born saxophonist who played with celebrated artists like Duke Ellington.

While the Johnny Hodges Fund will benefit Cambridge students, the jazz festival will also help to support local businesses, Ward says. While entry is free, attendees need to present a Cambridge Jazz Festival button. You can pick one up at the entrance, but they may also be picked up in advance at local businesses. In addition, food trucks and vendors from local restaurants will be at the site, and guests over 21 will have access to a beer café.

The best part of the festival will be “bringing people together for a great cause with great music,” Ward says. “We know and understand that jazz can be a culture in Cambridge, and could be a force of nature in Cambridge.”

The city has been excellent to partner with, Ward says. “They get it—how important it is to bring things like this to the city and to have people be able to enjoy it. So the fact that we’re able to make this a free concert with this level of talent is big.”


Free, Sunday, July 27, 12-6 p.m., University Park Commons, Sidney St., Cambridge, If it rains, the performances will be moved to MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, where seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.