The annual Montclair Jazz Festival starts next week and will take place over the course of three months. 

The free event kicks off its 13th year on Wednesday, July 13, with the Soundcheck Series in Lackawanna Plaza. 

The festival will host more than 200 artists and more than 100 vendors throughout the summer. Sponsored by BDP Holdings and produced by Jazz House Kids, it is expected to draw tens of thousands of people; last year, more than 40,000 attended over the course of its run. 

Ted Chubb, associate artistic director of the festival and vice president of programming at Jazz House Kids, said the planning process for the festival is a long one.

“We start the general logistical planning in early to mid-fall, almost a month after it ends,” Chubb said. 

Though the festival began in 2010, this is only the second year that it will take place over several months. 

When people were essentially confined to their homes in the summer of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Chubb and those at Jazz House Kids were inspired by the lack of music that resulted. 

He said people were “yearning for live music,” which led to the idea for the Soundcheck Series for 2021, which changed the festival’s span from its usual one day to three months. Through the Soundcheck Series, which this year takes place on July 13 and 27, alumni of Jazz House Kids and emerging artists are given the chance to hit the stage before the featured artist performs.

Originally, the festival was created exclusively to show off the talents of the young people who participated in the Jazz House Kids summer program. 

“The festival started as a final performance for our students 10 years ago in Nishuane Park,” Chubb said. “That was the birth festival, and it was all of our students and then a couple of Christian McBride’s friends and the faculty.” 

Students from ages 12-18 are allowed to participate in Jazz House Kids (JAZZ HOUSE KIDS)
Students from ages 12-18 are allowed to participate in Jazz House Kids.

McBride, artistic director for Jazz House Kids and an eight-time Grammy Award winner, will host a dance party at Lackawanna Plaza Aug. 13 under his pseudonym, DJ Brother Mister. 

Staying true to its roots, the festival will have the Jazz House Kids students join the lineup on Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Montclair Jazz Festival Lackawanna Block Party.

"Some 130 students will take the stage in Lackawanna Plaza and demonstrate what they learned," spokesperson for Jazz House Kids Nancy Klein said.

Organizers describe it as all-day “mini-fest,” where the students will perform followed by two professional acts: Nicole Glover Quartet and Winard Harper and Jeli Posse with its nine-piece band. From 7-10 p.m., McBride will spin funk and soul for the DJ Brother Mister Dance Party.

When choosing who will grace the stage at the festival, McBride and his team curate a list of artists both from around the world and locally. 

“We make sure we have a diverse amount of styles and that we have some of the legends of the music world represented, and that we have something for everybody that's going to come,” Chubb said. 

“We believe jazz is for everybody, and we want everybody to see themselves onstage in some way. We also want people to hear some music that they like and that they may already know while also hearing some new surprises while learning and expanding their knowledge of the music as well.” 

Performers like Akiko Tsuruga, a jazz organist originally from Japan, will be experiencing the festival for the first time. “Montclair is like the center of jazz in New Jersey, so I’m excited to be a part of it,” she said.

The Jazz Fest on the streets of Montclair last years. (Photo by Tony Turner)
The Jazz Fest on the streets of Montclair last years.
(Photo by Tony Turner)

Tsuruga gave a teaser on what attendees can expect during her performance at the second Soundcheck, on July 27. “We’re going to play traditional organ and groovy jazz, which will be good for the outdoor event. I hope everyone likes our music,” she said.

As the Soundcheck Series kicks off, attendees can look forward to a blend of cultures on July 13. It will begin with Jazz House Kids alum Birsa Chatterjee, combining the sounds of Indian musical traditions with American jazz. Craig Handy & 2nd Line, inspired by the sound of New Orleans, will follow.

The festival’s grand finale on Saturday, Sept. 10, will be a Downtown Jamboree from 1 to 9 p.m., with an afterparty at the Wellmont Theater from 9 to midnight.

For the complete schedule of the festival visit