palm springs international jazz festival

Jazzed Up

The inaugural Palm Springs International Jazz Festival is destined to hit a high note among jazz enthusiasts and local festivalgoers, but it also promises to remind audiences about one of the country’s most vibrant art forms.

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

palm springs international jazz festival
Stacey Kent helps kick off the inaugural Palm Springs International Jazz Festival, Nov. 23-24, at the Annenberg Theater.

Bass drums will ignite the heart. Trumpets will stir the soul. A muse or two are bound to win you over.

Any way you spin it, the inaugural Palm Springs International Jazz Festival seems primed to leave an indelible imprint on the Coachella Valley when it kicks off for a two-day whirlwind of jazz and celebration Nov. 23 and 24 at Annenberg Theater.

The event features some of today’s jazz greats, including the incomparable jazz vocalist Stacey Kent and trumpet titan Arturo Sandoval, a 10-time Grammy Award winner/six-time Billboard Award and Emmy Award-winner. And that’s just on Day One.

Eight-time Grammy nominee Tierney Sutton, a marvel with The Great American Songbook, and the jazz-soul-blues arrangements of René Marie —also a powerhouse composer-arranger to boot — fill the weekend bill. John Beasley, a former keyboardist for the legendary Miles Davis, backs Sutton and Marie on Nov. 24, bringing his 18-piece big band MONK’estra band along for the passionate ride.

“We’re over the moon about this festival,” says Festival Organizer Michael B. Seligman. “Palm Springs is going to love it for a number of reasons but mostly because we have top talent and a great show planned.”

Seligman, a Palm Springs resident and a dynamo awards show producer who has given birth telecasts of the Oscars and Emmys, says that in addition to bringing exceptional talent to the area, the event will remind attendees that jazz is a revered American art form and often includes a bevy of educational components.

“The whole thing about jazz is that the performers can take any tune and just like Frank Sinatra, who could change the feeling of the tune because those tunes are made up of a number of notes, they can take those notes and turn it inside out, and change it and make it more lyrical,” he adds. “These jazz performers can make so much more out of the basic song and it feels as if every song is a new creation. That’s what’s so special about jazz.”



John Beasley, a former keyboardist for the legendary Miles Davis, will bring his 18-piece big band MONK’estra band to the jazz fest.

Beyond the musical acts, the festival features an all Artists Reception from 4:30-6:45 p.m. Nov. 23 in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s atrium (check website for additional ticket costs). There’s also a Sunday brunch with the Marshall Hawkins Trio, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Good to know: A limited number of VIP All-access passes are available, which guarantee preferred seating for all concerts, plus access to the Saturday night artists reception and Sunday brunch.

For those keeping track … a local jazz outing was first proposed back in the late 1950s. It would have been part of a three-day festival to be held at the Polo Grounds and included some Dixieland touches with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie headlining the first two days, and jazz music to be presented on the final day. The city nixed the idea due to — more or less — the eclectic vibe of jazz at the time and a concern that a younger demographic (read: rowdy teens) might attend, which, the consensus was at the time, might spawn a less than favorable ripple effect.

But over the decades, interest in jazz prevailed and performers near and far — especially from Los Angeles — were big-ticket draws at local clubs. Back in 2013, Gail Christian and her partner, Lucy DeBardelaben, founded the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival, which eventually became a part of Palm Springs Women’s Week.



Tierney Sutton is an eight-time Grammy winner.

Jazz found a real outlet in Palm Springs. But there still was a hunger for more. “I’m so glad this festival is happening,” Seligman says. “The talent is everything in jazz.”

Stacey Kent should inspire Saturday’s audience when she takes the stage. (It also happens to be her first trip to Palm Springs.) The mezzo-soprano American jazz singer is revered for her indelible takes on standards as well introducing new music into the jazz canon. A deeper dive onto YouTube is a good musical appetizer—Kent’s voice is flawless and her songs in French are positively captivating.

“I can’t think of anything more beautiful to do with my life than share music with people,” Kent says. “That excitement of sharing something you love with somebody—that’s what it feels like onstage. I’m happy to be at this festival in Palm Springs.”

Curiously, Kent never set out to have a music career. She excelled in academia but thanks to her unique experiences with music as a child, fate eventually intervened.

“It was never my desire to be one of those kids and get up on stage and go, ‘ta-da, here I am!’ It was never that,” Kent admits. “For me, I had this group of little friends and they would ask me to sing for them in a very quiet way. I can remember friends sitting to me at lunchtime and they would turn to me and say, ‘Will you sing into my ear?’ So, it became this intimate delivery. It was a kind of lift-your-spirits thing. It was the thing I always used to do to help people feel better.”



Stacey Kent will make her first appearance in Palm Springs.

To date, Kent has sold more than 2 million albums.

When asked what creative elements jazz contributes to the world and why it’s important culturally, the performer is candid.

“There’s a freedom in jazz,” she says. “One of the reasons I sing within this genre is that I love its harmony. I love the harmony and the groove. I love that it can be so many things but still be so personable. I can be who I am on stage and another artist can be who they are. I can sing from The Great American Songbook and another artist can sing from it, and yet we can both interpret that song differently. I love that aspect of it.

“And I love that honesty—that it’s your personality. You can be shy and introverted or aloof or extroverted. You can be so many things but still be just who you are with jazz.”

The Palm Springs International Jazz Festival unfolds Nov. 23 and 24 at the Annenberg Theater, 101 N. Museum Dr. in Palm Springs. For the full lineup, tickets, additional information visit