From November 22 to 24 of this year, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary. This impressive event has become the flagship of its kind in Mexico, and is now recognized as one of the ten best Jazz Festivals in the world.
10 years after having started this adventure, the director of the Jazz Festival, musician Fernando Toussaint, talks about the early years, the challenges, the stories and the importance of the event, which since the year 2002 has brought together national and international musicians in a unique setting on one of the most spectacular beaches of the world in the center of Playa del Carmen.
The Jazz Festival originates from a conversation between friends, remembers Fernando. During a get together, Jean Agarrista, who is the president of the Riviera Maya Hotel Association, introduces Fernando to Martin Ruiz, who at that moment was the director of the Riviera Maya Destination Marketing Office.
From the beginning, the interest was to bring Jazz music to the people and to organize a high quality international event in the destination that would be an added value for those vacationing in Riviera Maya. The enthusiasm was overwhelming, but the budget very limited, and the first year the cast was basically Mexican talent. The exception was the master George Duke, who as a favor to us accepted to perform, charging way below his normal fee. Approximately 2000 people attended the first edition of the festival.
Over these 10 years, more than half a million people enjoyed the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival , and close to 100 groups and musicians of the jazz genre including George Duke, Four Play, Sergio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, Ivan Lins and Stanley Clarke have performed on its stage.
This has contributed to providing Riviera Maya with the label of being a cosmopolitan world-class destination. Achieving this has not been easy, one of the main challenges of the festival is the limited budget that is has always had considering the magnitude of the event and the high level of celebrities that have performed throughout the years.
Particularly difficult was the 2005 edition of the festival, remembers Fernando. The weather conditions put the performances of some of the artists at risk, because only a few weeks prior to the festival the destructive hurricane “Wilma” had hit the northern part of the state of Quintana Roo, and its ravages were still present in the form of heavy rainfall.
Another harsh moment was the loss of Eugenio Toussaint in February of 2011, brother of Fernando and considered a legend within the Mexican jazz scene. He was the most representative musician of this genre in Mexico and, together with his band Sacbé, he performed in almost all editions of the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival.
As in all stories, there have been interesting and funny anecdotes as well, like when the manager of George Benson, upon arrival at Cancun International Airport, thought that Fernando was the driver of the limousine.
A decade later, the Riviera Maya Jazz festival has gained international fame because the musicians and the staff that accompanies the groups on tours speak highly of the organization of the festival, says Fernando. “That has helped to spread the word internationally; several fellow musicians have told me openly that musicians care a lot for this festival, precisely because the conditions are optimal. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that the technical conditions are optimal, the security very strict, and that the treatment of the musicians, the logistics, the transportation and the host hotels are top notch” states the musician.
It is hard to imagine Riviera Maya without its Jazz Festival. Those who have been there and have sat in the powdery white sand of the beach underneath the stars while enjoying the night breeze that accompanies the performance of the artists cannot but wish a long life to this great event. For now, during its 10th anniversary, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival celebrates with a spectacular lineup starring Nortec, Pete Escovedo, Victor Wooten, Poncho Sanchez, Big Band Joe D'Etienne, Level 42, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield and Aguamala.
The event is free of charge and promises to be one of the best, so do not miss it!