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Syracuse JazzFest features Herbie Hancock & Gladys Knight in an expanded schedule this June

Jazz band E.S.P. at press conference for festival
Chris Bolt/WAER News
Syracuse Jazz group ESP will be among many that will perform in the upcoming, and expanded, Syracuse JazzFest this June 21-25.

Syracuse JazzFestwill return to downtown Syracuse this summer for the second time since a hiatus caused by lack of financial support and the pandemic. This year’s festival expands in days, acts and, organizers say, value to the growth of the community.

JazzFest founder and organizer Frank Malfitano says increased sponsorship was key in helping the event grow. He argues events such as Syracuse Jazzfest help to improve the region as a whole.

“We need to expand our cultural menu so that we can bring those big firms in, bring jobs in. And it’s nice to see our elected officials and community leaders understanding that things like Jazzfest can play a role in it.”

Frank Malfitano and Danny Liedka at Syracuse JazzFest press conference
Chris Bolt/WAER News
JazzFest founder and organizer Frank Malfitano (L) is joined by Visit Syracuse Director Danny Liedka in front of posters of headliners Gladys Knight and Herbie Hancock. Visit Syracuse is sponsoring stages and concerts in Hanover Square to expand the festival.

Malfitano, thanks to unprecedented sponsor and government assistance, was able to schedule iconic performers to attract both a core Jazz and broader music audience. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock headlines the Friday night schedule, preceded by Tower of Power. R & B singer Gladys Knight tops the Saturday lineup, with Spyro Gyra taking the stage beforehand.

(See entire Jazzfest Lineup for June 21-25 here)

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh explains American Rescue Plan Act funds were used to kickstart arts events and festivals. Helping JazzFest back up and running, he argues, aligned with the purpose of those federal dollars, to help communities recover.

“One of the ways we knew we had to do that was to help our arts and cultural institutions and specifically our festivals, and we created a festival fund. That was our contribution to getting it back, … and as that funding was intended to do, it helped to encourage others to rally around this event to make it sustainable, … and it’s very exciting.”

Walsh particularly likes the festival returning to Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse, saying Jazz is “intrinsically linked to cities.”

County Executive Ryan McMahon lent support to the value of the event to the growth of the community. He singled out Amazon and Micron economic developments as benefitting from things such as JazzFest to help encourage companies to grow or relocate here.

“It’s not just about land; it’s not just about incentives or ability to recruit workforce. It’s about retention of workforce and looking at the community and what people are going to do. Is it a vibrant community. You talk about Clinton Square; you talk about downtown; you talk about arts and culture.”

He concludes events of this quality are a major part of recruiting.

Syracuse University is taking a bigger role in the festival than in years past, hosting a Sunday Gospel Jazz service in Hendricks Chapel to close out JazzFest on Sunday June 25th. Vice President of Community Engagement Cydney Johnson says the university is proud to partner with JazzFest this year.

“…to help ensure that it will be a big success for our community. This is a huge opportunity to both support the local community and for us, to open our campus for an exciting event on Sunday, showcasing our wonderful students, faculty and to open our doors to our neighbors.”

Malfitano credits a positive response to last year’s festival with being able to attract support for this year’s larger event.

“For the first time, we have a shot at long-term sustainability, which is the goal. We don’t want to do this on a year-to-year basis. People count on it, people need it. … The cultural menu we have is crucial and instrumental to recruiting, to bringing businesses here.”

He says business partners and civic officials are seeing JazzFest in a different way now, as having a role in engaging the entire community and helping with urban revitalization. He says he hopes that means their support will be around for awhile. WAER has a sponsorship agreement with Syracuse JazzFest.

Syracuse Jazzfest headliner poster
Syracuse JazzFest returns to downtown's Clinton Square this summer with an expanded lineup thanks to increased government and corporate support.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.
Isabel Flores is a graduate student studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2023. As a multimedia reporter, she helps to present as well as produce audio and digital content for WAER. In her free time, Isabel enjoys working out and listening to all genres of music.