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2023 National Grid Jazz Fest

Have you ever thought of a Jazz Festival as being a sort of patriotic event? Malfitano has. “This is the music of America,” he explained. “Presenting the music of America to Americans – that’s Jazz Fest.”

While also acknowledging that putting together such a huge and highly anticipated event is sometimes “like giving birth to a cactus,” Malfitano is clearly thrilled that the 37th Annual National Grid Jazz Fest is just a few weeks from its due date, and promises to be bigger, better, and more exciting than ever before. And for Jazz Fest, that’s saying a lot.

The event has always been one of the most exciting “festival season” options in a city that loves its festivals. And Malfitano isn’t shy about acknowledging that his aim is to be able to say “We’ve got it here.”

The “it” is an amazing lineup of big stage acts, small-setting groups that will rotate through the many and varied Syracuse downtown clubs and restaurants, plus the food, drinks, friends and families that draw us out of our homes on a warm early summer day to go and enjoy ourselves.

As with so many things, Jazz Fest went dark during Covid, and as Malfitano explained, this year’s event is “Phase 2” of its return. Last year there was a great effort to bring the festival back after its hiatus, and it was stellar. This year, he explained, “isn’t just a ‘do it again’ year, it’s a ‘do it even bigger and better’ year. Shoot for the stars in size, scope, and vision. We want to magnetize our community, bring everyone together, and bring everyone here to Syracuse to see what a great city we are.”

By “everyone,” Malfitano isn’t reluctant to acknowledge that includes the sponsors, restaurants, civic leaders and businesses that benefit whenever an event as big and as popular as Jazz Fest occurs. “Let me draw an analogy to one of Syracuse’s passions – basketball. Syracuse gets very excited about basketball season. And especially when we field a championship team. Jazz Fest is like getting to the Final Four – except it’s every year.”

“In 2022,” Malfitano said, “we heard from people that they’d like to see the Fest come back downtown. And last year, through Amazon, the county, and even the Federal government, we were able to do that. This year, we have even greater support, from of course National Grid, Syracuse University, Amazon, Price Chopper, Visit Syracuse, the county, the state – and so many more.”

Malfitano sees an event like Jazz Fest as an opportunity to put a community on the map. “Over our first 36 festivals, we pulled over one million visitors from out of town into our community. And that of course benefits the many restaurants and clubs and shops and hotels in our area.”

But in his soul, Malfitano is a “presenter” as much as a businessman. In other words, a showman. His aim is not just to have a festival, not just to boost business, not just to provide gigs for the many local and regional stars of jazz. It’s to wow you; to knock your socks off with entertainment. “To bring together everybody in the community with pure show-biz entertainment of, by and for The People.”

“Imagine,” he adds, “An act like Gladys Knight is on the big stage. You’re there – in the audience. You look around and see your friends, neighbors, family, the larger community. Aren’t you going to feel proud and special?”

Something must be going right, given that the Syracuse Jazz Fest is the 13th longest running jazz festival in the country, and the 24th in the world.

Part of Malfitano’s passion for the work comes directly from his own life experience. “I was there for so many of the stages of music from the 50s on forward – in the cities where the music was born and experienced. I loved it, and it meant a lot to me, so wanting to bring that to other people was the next step.”

He wanted to stress that even he would be challenged to do this alone – and he was proud to run through a list of the many and varied people and organizations who have devoted time, energy, funding and cooperation in putting the event together. “And thanks to all of them, we’ve got it. The clubs and restaurants with local and regional talent – we’ve got it. The BIG national acts, from Herbie Hancock and Gladys Knight to Tower of Power, Spyro Gyra, Postmodern Jukebox and Tuba Skinny – we’ve got it. Five full days and nights of entertainment – we’ve got it. And a closing Gospel Jazz Service at SU’s Hendricks Chapel – we’ve got it.”

Malfitano noted the many individuals and organizations that came forward – and have done for many years in some cases – and couldn’t thank them enough for their support. “Visionaries,” he called them, adding that “they can see this and its potential, and most of all, they’re doing it for all of you, all of us, here in Syracuse. Time to get excited again!”

Downtown Syracuse

June 21- 25, 2023

Various Locations Throughout Downtown

Hanover Square, Visit Syracuse Stage, Clinton Square, Amazon Stage, Syracuse University, Hendricks Chapel

“Syracuse,” said presenter and Jazz Fest “Father” Frank Malfitano, “you deserve this. Don’t miss it.”

Nancy Roberts