By Sharon Williams
The St. Lucia Jazz Festival is advertised as the “Best Party in the Caribbean”. George Wein, producer of 30 festivals worldwide, ranked St. Lucia Jazz among the top three festivals in the world, while the late Grover Washington Jr. placed St. Lucia Jazz among the best he’d ever attended.
The event rakes in millions of dollars a year in visitor expenditure that covers accommodation, transportation, meals and even handicraft sales, which earned a whopping two million dollars in 2006.
In 2000, eight years after its inception, officials expanded the event to encourage more public involvement. “The fringe activities” were born, bringing free jazz concerts to the whole island.
First came “Jazz on the Square” a collaboration of the Tourist Board and the local Chamber of Commerce. The week-long, open-air concert in the middle of the capital Castries at the Derek Walcott Square, offered working stiffs a chance to enjoy jazz music during their lunch hour.
Officials in the south launched “Jazz in the South” organizing jazz concerts in Vieux Fort, at the Rudy John Beach, the town square and at an old plantation estate – Balenbouche.
These concerts provided a stage for local artistes and afforded residents the opportunity to enjoy the talents of regional and international performers.
The Balenbouche concert, steeped in history and to-die-for atmosphere, had to stop in order to preserve the historical landmark. In 2006, this leg of the concert was relocated tothe town’s secondary school campus bringing to life “Jazz at the Campus”.
Fond d’Or Jazz set in the coastal fishing village of Dennery combines the picturesque beauty of a natural amphitheatre setting with the warm hospitality of villagers. This is one of the most successful fringe events.
Now into its seventh year, Fond d’Or Jazz is touted as a family affair, accomplishing its commitment to bring jazz to the people.
There’s “Jazz on the Beach” at the Reduit Beach - put on by the Rex St. Lucian, Papillion and the Royal St. Lucian – a beautiful venue that allows patrons to enjoy free open-air jazz. The audience is invited to wear bathing suits and other skimpy wear.
“Jazz on the Green” at the Cap Estate Golf and Country Club, features a golf tournament in honour of the late Tourist Board Chairman, Desmond Skeete. It is set to the background of jazz performed by international musicians.
Bocage Jazz was launched in 2002. This show targets the residents of the rural area of Bocage and takes place at the community school.
Kirby Allain, Public Relations Officer of the Tourist Board says these decentralized concerts make St. Lucia Jazz “a true St. Lucian experience. Visitors and locals are guided into various venues around the island; areas such as Fond d’Or that they might not normally visit.”
Another successful event of St. Lucia Jazz is a four-day concert at the duty-free shopping complex of La Place Carenage, in the middle of Castries.
The shopkeepers of the deluxe shopping centre host a late afternoon programme entitled “Tea-Time Jazz”. This showcases the talents of local and regional artistes, and permits patrons coming from Jazz on the Square to prolong the fun by walking over to La Place Carenage.
“Jazz on the Pier”. This event is a one-shot affair, held on the Friday before the climactic end of St. Lucia Jazz.
Today, St. Lucia Jazz benefits the economy of the entire island.