Saratoga Jazz Festival turns 40

Saratoga Jazz Festival turns 40

The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival turns 40 this year. Founded in 1978 by George Wein, the jazz impresario who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is one of the longest-consecutive-running jazz festivals in North America. To mark the milestone, the two-day extravaganza at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) has announced a lineup that both honors its illustrious history and celebrates its role as a platform for emerging artists.

“The 40th anniversary Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be an extraordinary tribute to the history of our festival and to the future of jazz music,” said Elizabeth Sobol, President and CEO of SPAC. “Artists like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Jack DeJohnette established Saratoga’s place amongst the great American jazz festivals. Today’s young artists like Corey Henry, Jacob Collier, and Cecile McLorin Salvant represent the future of jazz. Forty years from now, we will look back with a sense of the great fortune we have to experience their current work on the magnificent SPAC stage.”

This year’s headliners are Chaka Khan and The Gipsy Kings, as well as Bridgewater and Ponty, who both performed in the inaugural 1978 festival. Khan, of course, is a 10-time Grammy winner best known for her hit “I’m Every Woman.” A singer, songwriter, artist, author, actor, philanthropist, activist, and mother, Khan has released 22 albums and won countless awards. The Gipsy Kings will make their Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival debut with music from their ninth studio album, Savor Flamenco. Known for their “distinctive blend of traditional flamenco styles with Western pop and Latin rhythms,” the Gipsy Kings’ songs have been included in films such as The Big Lebowski and Toy Story 3. Bridgewater returns to SPAC for her sixth festival appearance. A three-time Grammy winner, the producer and vocalist has also taken home a Tony Award and a Laurence Olivier Award. She’ll perform songs from her forthcoming “Memphis-inspired” album. Ponty, the jazz and rock violinist, offers his fourth Saratoga appearance. As SPAC points out, Ponty is the recipient of lifetime achievement awards in four countries, as well as the 2016 Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, the highest civilian honor in France. In other words, these headliners, who each have an impressive set of hardware, are legendary, pioneering performers.

“In presenting the 40th edition, the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival continues to be in a powerful position to honor the musicians who’ve given us the rich legacy of jazz heritage, and to present a new and diverse generation of artists and visionaries who embody a community that’s a life force for new ideas and social change,” said Danny Melnick, the festival producer and President of Absolutely Live Entertainment.

Emerging artist are a feature of the Festival. This year, three young virtuosos from the UK will make their Festival debuts – Jacob Collier, who has been described by The Guardian as “jazz music’s new messiah”; Jack Broadbent, who the Montreux Jazz Festival named “the new master of the slide guitar”; and Shabaka Hutchings, whose work explores his Caribbean heritage alongside western classical traditions. Other artists making their debut this year include Cecile McLorin Salvant, The Suffers, the Adam O’Farrill Quartet, Corey Henry and The Funk Apostles, and many others.

“SPAC is committed to emerging artists,” Sobol notes. “The Festival gives artists the visibility they need to build their careers.” Of course, the two-day, two-stage event also brings a stunning array of international talent to Saratoga Springs.  

In her first year on the job, Sobol seems especially attuned to the variety of experiences SPAC can offer the greater Capital Region community. The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival brings visitors to SPAC from far and wide, but it is a Saratoga summer staple, for going on 40 years.  

“The Jazz Festival kicks off our summer season, a season that we believe is very community-oriented,” she says. “SPAC’s postcard-perfect setting in the majestic Saratoga Spa State Park creates the perfect atmosphere to sit back and enjoy this world-class line-up. There is truly no better way to welcome the summer.”

For more information on the Festival’s line-up, tickets, and schedule, visit


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