Faced with the need to increase the numbers of passengers travelling to the island, Allen Chastenet, the then Vice President of Air Jamaica envisioned an event that would solve his problem by encouraging visitors to come to Jamaica.
Enlisting the support of well established and experienced producer Walter Elmore, he put together a team and in November 1996, with an audience of 1,500 persons, the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival was born overlooking the sea, on the beautiful lawns of the historic Rose Hall Great House. Over the next three years, the Festival presented a variety of exceptional musicians including George Benson, Erykah Badu, Najee, The Isley Brothers, Black Uhuru and many more.
In 1998, the Festival moved to James Bond Beach in Ocho Rios, a new venue not yet known by the public, where it remained for five years. During this time it featured the likes of Gladys Knight, Kenny G, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Kool and the Gang, Chaka Khan, Eric Benet, Al Jarreau to name a few.
In the first years, the Festival was held in November and October, dates chosen to fulfil the objective of increasing visitor arrivals to the island during the soft tourist season. In 1999 there was no Festival as this proved to be a decision year as to the future of the Festival. Rain had haunted the event year after year, resulting in either cancellation or shortening of performances, and this combined with the worry about decreasing sponsorship for the event, created grave concerns for the organisers. Hence, after serious consideration the decision was made to postpone the Festival. January 20-23, 2000 became the new dates, a period which now marks what is now considered to the kick off of the Jamaican entertainment calendar.
In 2001, the Festival was lured back to Montego Bay by a group of hoteliers and the move was made to what was soon to become the favourite venue for the event, Cinnamon Hill golf course. For five years, many unforgettable experiences were created under the magical Jamaican skies on these precisely manicured lawns surrounded by hillside bonfires. Patrons were thrilled with the performances of Kenny Rogers, Air Supply, Dionne Warwick, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Nora Jones, Bo Diddley, Monty Alexander, Third World, Shaggy, Pattie Labelle, Al Green and others. They sang and the people came, and under the guidance of Walter Elmore, the current owner of the event who took over the reins in 2004, it became Jamaica’s largest Festival, bringing thousands of visitors to the islands and thousands of Jamaicans to Montego Bay.
As the reviews about the Festival got out both locally and internationally, the attendance grew to over 35,000, forcing yet another move and in 2006 the Aqueduct at Rose Hall became the new home. At this venue patrons were treated to legends such as Earth Wind and Fire, Diana Ross, Chicago, Lionel Richie, Anita Baker, Spyro Gyra, Randy Crawford, Koko Taylor, plus new entrants such as Nikki Yanofsky, Matisyahu, Estelle.
In 2009, the national airline relinquished the title and the event became the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival with the Jamaica Tourist Board as the new title sponsor.
Not to be stop by challenges and never afraid to be the trend setter, the Festival once again pulled up its roots in 2010 and moved to the Greenfield Stadium in Trelawny. Amidst much criticism and skepticism, the organisers worked tirelessly to ensure that the Festival would retain the ambiance and style that it has become known for, and on opening the gates of its new home on January 24, 2010, their efforts were rewarded by unanimous approval of the new venue by the patrons. The new home provided convenience and comfort and resulted in one of the best Festivals in its 14 year history. Hall and Oates, Joss Stone, Machel Montano HD, Jon Secada, Babyface combined with crowd favourites Gladys Knight, Monty Alexander, Third World and Billy Ocean, made for three nights of mind-blowing musical delights.
For its 15th Anniversary, the Festival welcomed Maroon 5, Natalie Cole, Diana King, Tavares, SWV, Regina Belle, Alison Hinds, Laura Izibor, Taurus Riley and Committed, winner of NBC’s Reality show The Sing Off, to its stage.
In 2012, Jamaica celebrates 50 years of Independence. Being the first major event of the year, the Festival will serve as the kick off for the year of celebrations.
To commemorate this milestone achievement, the Festival will be making every effort to impress to deliver an event that is bigger and better than ever before and make the month of January truly unforgettable.