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Gear up to make the most of your jazz festival visit

Local composer Glenn McClure offers tips for maxing out your time at Rochester's biggest musical event.
David Byrne and St. Vincent
Roger Hodgson
Peter Frampton

From June 21–29, The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival will a typically quiet downtown into a thriving ecosystem of jazz.  It can also transform a casual fan into a hard core explorer of the jazz universe. Attending a concert or two is like looking at the festival through a pair of binoculars. So, grab your walking shoes and let’s explore the diverse world of the Rochester Jazz Festival.

Club Passes

Club Passes offer access to most of the venues. While this may be easier on the locals who can walk from nearby neighborhoods, other jazz fans from further away can still leverage this access by planning ahead and arriving at least an hour early.


If you are a driver, look for parking either North or South of Main Street around the center of the festival. This will shorten your walk to the downtown stages. Paul Nelson, a die-hard jazz fan from Geneseo, likes the lots across from the Harro East Theater. Also, keep an eye out for new shuttle routes coming out this year on the festival website.

Get your priorities in order

I have my “hot list” of artists and venues, but I also have my backup list. Long lines or closed out venues need not be a disappointment if you have a plan to find the lesser known gems of jazz, especially the international musicians. Last year, there were more than three dozen jazz groups that needed a passport in order to play the festival.  

Look for some of the small clubs and church venues that are dedicated to a particular ethnic jazz variety.  The Italian and Scandinavian groups were among the greatest untold stories. For me, this is the genius of our Jazz Fest. Like the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which reaches way outside the most liberal definitions of jazz, Rochester is committed to an international exploration of this profoundly American art form. This year, there will be new ways to check schedules and the latest updates on your phone. These also will go live on the festival website soon.  

Don’t forget to come hungry

The food offerings at clubs and street stands are as diverse as the jazz offerings. One of the best ways to pass the time between your early arrival and the show is to stretch your taste buds a bit. Make sure to look for the artichoke stand; you will be amazed what artichokes and jazz can do together. If you’d prefer to sit inside for your meal, the Lower East Avenue has a well-developed fine dining, ethnic and bar scene—from a Belgian brewpub to dim sum. Book your table in advance, and leave time to possibly walk a few blocks to the south where there are about a dozen more places to eat around East and Alexander.

A learning experience for kids

You should bring the children to enjoy many free family concerts in the center of the festival on Gibbs Street. If you don’t have children, offer to take the little ones from your friends and family members so they can have some quality jazz time. Show the kids how to explore new music.  Ask them, “What instruments did you hear in that group?”  “How did that music make you feel?” and “What dance moves would you add to that music?” Show them how to try new music and food so the next generation of jazz lovers will be ready for the future.

Glenn McClure is an award-winning composer and arts integration consultant who is on the adjunct faculty at the Eastman School of Music and SUNY Geneseo. Learn more about Glenn’s work at his website

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