Behind the magic of Jazz Fest posters

Hannah May-Powers, Arcade Editor

The first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest happened in Congo Square in 1970 to a crowd of 350 people. In the 50 years since its inception, the event has garnered widespread attention and attracts thousands of attendees annually. Though Jazz Fest was unable to happen in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans of the festival can look to posters from years past to appreciate everything it has to offer.

The first Jazz fest poster was not officially sponsored by the festival. This, however, did not stop artist Bruce Brice from designing a piece that was worthy of becoming a promotional piece for the soon-to-be iconic festival. It features a black-and-white overhead shot of Armstrong Park. This hand-drawn piece marked the beginning of Brice’s 45-year-long relationship with the festival.

first jazz fest poster
1970 Jazz Fest Poster by Bruce Brice

Brice’s involvement with Jazz Fest is emblematic of how the festival has sought to operate through the years — create long-standing relationships with artists and musicians to create an event that is truly unlike any other of its kind. Perhaps this is best exemplified with the next poster.

jazz fest poster of woman holding an umbrella
1975 Jazz Fest Poster by Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton

It was not until 1975 that the festival had its first limited-edition silk-screen poster. The work, which was designed by Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton, became a classic for jazz fans around the world, partially due to the fact that only 1,000 prints were made initially. Though 300 more prints of the poster were made years after the event, many collectors remain empty-handed.

jazz fest poster with 55 artists
2019 Jazz Fest Poster by Scott Guion

Though the posters traditionally only feature a single artist or group, the 50th anniversary poster features 55 artists who have contributed their talents to the festival over the years. This poster, which was released in 2019 and designed by self-taught artist and New Orleans native Scott Guion, functions as a snapshot in the rich history of Jazz Fest as a whole as well as the numerous artists who have helped make the festival what it is over the years.

jazz fest poster feature man walking towards piano
2020 Jazz Fest Poster by Scott Guion

That this year’s festival was not able to happen did not stop Guion from once again designing a poster that honored another chapter in New Orleans storied music history. The poster, which features Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., better known as Dr. John, shows an idyllic version of the St. Louis Cathedral amidst a bed of clouds. This work is an homage to the late artist’s contributions to rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and blues, as well as the numerous accolades he collected throughout his career.

As iconic as they are timely, Jazz Fest posters offer the chance for fans to reminisce about New Orleans’ profound connection to the genre and the artists who make the music possible.

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