Jacksonville Jazz Festival Poster A Nod To City's History As 'Harlem Of The South'

May 20, 2019

This year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival poster pays tribute to the city’s legendary reputation as the “Harlem of the South” in LaVilla's heyday.

2019 Jacksonville Jazz poster
Credit Keith Henry Brown / Via Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Brooklyn, New York, artist and jazz aficionado Keith Henry Brown was commissioned for this year’s poster. Brown said he was drawn to LaVilla’s musical history, noting Ray Charles got his start in Jacksonville.

Charles played piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla as he was working to establish himself, earning $4 a night, according to The Jaxson.

“The large figures in my picture, looming over the once ecstatic downtown of Jacksonville at its music–fueled height are meant to imply the ghosts of the past that inform the future,” Brown wrote on the Jazz Festival's website

Other famous musicians that played in LaVilla include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, according to Downtown Vision.

LaVilla's African American music scene flourished in the 1940s. A history of LaVilla is available on The Jaxson, which is a partnership between WJCT and Modern Cities.

In addition to jazz musicians and the Ritz, Brown also plays tribute to the now-defunct Manuel’s Tap Room.

Owned by Manuel Rivera, Manuel’s Tap Room was a 24 hour lounge, grill and popular place for drinking, dancing and dining on Ashley Street.
Credit Courtesy of The Crisis, January 1942 / Via The Jaxson

The 1942 issue of The Crisis – an NAACP magazine – called it “the finest of its kind in the South,” according to MetroJacksonville.com

Brown has also created posters for  Jazz Appreciation Month for the National Museum of American History and The Newport Jazz Festival while also contributing jazz album covers for artists such as Christian McBride, Kevin Eubanks, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Wynton Marsalis.

This year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival starts Thursday with a piano competition and runs through Sunday night. Gladys Knight and Brian Culbertson will be the headliners.

Related: WJCT Launches Pop-Up Jazz Station To Celebrate Jazz Fest

Other performers set to appear include:

  • Monty Alexander
  • Ledisi
  • Kirk Whalum
  • Alfredo Rodriguez Trio
  • Avery’s Sunshine
  • Terence Blanchard feat. the E-Collective
  • Norman Brown
  • Camila Meza Quartet
  • Greg Adams & East Bay Soul
  • Moonchild
  • Jazmin Ghent
  • Amina Scott
  • Jamison Ross
  • Brass-A-Holics
  • The Noel Freidline Quartet with Maria Howell
  • LPT
  • The Delfini Jazz Sextet feat. Jacksonville University jazz faculty and alumni
  • Dennis Marks
  • Clyde Connor
  • The University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble

Credit Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Copies of Brown's poster will be available to purchase during the festival at the official Jazz Fest Store at 232 West Adams street, according to festival spokeswoman Torey Vogal. 

Brent Fine, the jazz festival’s special events manager, will be on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross on Tuesday, May 21, at 9 a.m. on 89.9 FM.

Additional information and the full festival schedule is available on the Jacksonville Jazz Festival website.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.