With myriad home-spun sounds from reggae and calypso to soca and son, the Caribbean has a smoking hot musical heritage and strong appreciation of a good tune. With its roots in blues and the African diaspora, jazz is a natural fit for the region with a flush of festivals filling the region's events calendar from January through to December.
Each island adds a distinctive flavour to proceedings – from the Latin vibes of Cuba to laid-back rhythms of Jamaica – but each shares a love for a musical fiesta along with a clutch of blissfully scenic venues.
Attracting the best international talent and showcasing local creative flair, events such as St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival and Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival have become popular with jazz aficionados, tourists and locals alike. The term ‘jazz' is used loosely to describe the musical offering at the festivals where steel pan, pop, funk, reggae, RandB and soul acts also pepper the bills, and big names such as Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and Mariah Carey draw in the crowds.
If you are planning a trip to the Caribbean, visiting during one of these fizzing festivals will certainly jazz up your holiday. Like anywhere in the world, the bigger shows sell out quickly so consider getting some tickets in advance.
The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival
Wise travellers escaping the onset of UK winter are in for a sunny delight in the Dominican Republic from 5-8 November, when the annual jazz festival fills venues across the country with sweet sounds. The best places to catch a show include the cosmopolitan beach town of Cabarete and the popular resorts of Puerto Plata and Sosua, all located within a short distance of one another along the country's north coast. The classic Caribbean scene of white crescent beaches silhouetted with palms makes an idyllic backdrop for open-air jazz.
This year Cabarete Beach sees performances from world-famous jazz bassist John Patitucci and locally-born pianist Josean Jacobo, whose avant-garde jazz is spiced with island sounds. In Puerto Plata's Independence Square, the line-up includes renowned jazz saxophonist David Sanchez, while Sosua's Casa Marina Amphitheatre will play host to a swingin' Big Band and contemporary jazz from virtuoso pianist Roy Assaf. Accommodation options close to the action include Hotel El Magnifico and Millennium Resort and Spa. For more info go to: drjazzfestival.com
Havana International Jazz Festival
In a region bursting with local rhythms and musical creativity, Cuba somehow has the edge. Its capital, Havana, lives and breathes music and understands improvisation better than most, making it a natural fit for an international jazz festival. Between 15-21 December 2015, the festival will celebrate its 31st year welcoming jazz legends from all over the world and showcasing the island's enormous home-grown talent.
The place where it all started – the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza hall – is still one of the festival's main concert venues, while all downtown Havana's music halls, plus venues in Vedado such as the Jazz Cafe, host gigs from the genre's brightest lights. Visitors to the city can also find impromptu street jams along the city's seafront promenade – the Malecon. For more details and tours see: jazzcuba.com
Barbados Jazz Festival and Naniki Caribbean Jazz Safari
Rumoured to be making a comeback at an as-yet undetermined date, the Barbados Jazz Festival once enlivened the island's capital Bridgetown with all-star performances from the likes of James Blunt, Lionel Richie, Boney James and Angie Stone. The annual week-long celebration was held in January, but in its absence another event – the Naniki Caribbean Jazz Safari – has filled the gap.
For the last few years, the jazz safari has kicked off its Caribbean tour in Barbados before moving to Antigua, Grenada, St Vincent and on to Suriname. From 14-17 January 2016, the Sea Rocks Dome, close to Maxwell beach in the south of Barbados, will host a 4-day jazz extravaganza featuring a mix of international talent and local fusion artists playing everything from trad jazz to calypso- and pan-jazz. More details are available at: www.nanikicaribbeanjazzsafari.com
Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival, Haiti
Not as well known as some of its Caribbean counterparts, the Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival is a feast of jazz fusion that offers travellers a chance to get off the tourist trail and discover a country less developed but just as beautiful as its neighbouring Dominican Republic. In its 10th year, the festival is much more jazz-centric than some of the region's other fiestas, showcasing jazz from all over the world, as well as excellent local ensembles.
The next event is slated for 23-30 January 2016 when American jazz star Kenny Garrett will kick off proceedings alongside the Haitian Jazz Allstars and Alexis Bosch and the Cuban Jazz Project in Sugarcane Historic Park. Venues are dotted across Port-au-Prince and the Hotel Karibe and Marriott Hotel will also host shows, making them great places to stay if you want to be at the heart of the action. The full festival package includes access to after-hours parties, cocktails and even a special festival t-shirt, as well as entry to all the shows. See papjazzhaiti.org for more information.
Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival
Now entering its 20th year, the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival has become a huge event attracting crowds of more than 30,000. Thankfully there's plenty of room for everyone at the Trelawny Stadium in Falmouth, which hosts the festival on the last weekend of January.
In 2015 the headliner was songstress Mariah Carey, and other famous names performing included RandB soul icon Charlie Wilson, renowned jazz saxophonist Arturo Tappin, global reggae sensation Soja, and Magic, whose reggae-ska style single ‘Rude' was a recent radio hit. The venue is not far from the popular resort of Montego Bay, making it the perfect festival to combine with a relaxing beach holiday. For more information, go to: jamaicajazzandblues.com
Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival
End of March
The US's Caribbean outpost takes its jazz festival seriously, showcasing a medley of Latin jazz and local talent with world-famous names such as George Benson also peppering the bill. Held every year towards the end of March, dates and acts for 2016 are as yet unconfirmed. The festival is usually held at the atmospheric Tito Puente Amphitheatre in the island's charming capital of San Juan. Full details of the next event will be published at: prheinekenjazz.com
Tobago Jazz Experience
Tobago's hills come alive with the sound of music during 16-24 April 2016 when its biggest annual music event fills up scenic spots around the island. Venues include the pretty coastal village of Speyside, picturesque Signal Hill, the island capital of Scarborough's esplanade and the fishing village of Castara, bounded by a beautiful sweep of creamy sand.
The main stage is situated in the simply stunning Pigeon Point Heritage Park on the island's northern tip, where palm-tufted sugary sands melt into turquoise seas. This beach jazz and hilltop fiesta celebrates classic jazz alongside Trinidad and Tobago's indigenous music, while also welcoming regional reggae and soca stars. Past performers include George Benson, Erykah Badu, Chaka Khan, Emeli Sande and Dionne Warwick. For the latest details go to: tobagojazzexperience.com
St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival
29 April-8 May
The little paradise island of St Lucia becomes heaven for music lovers every spring when it hosts the popular St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival. Performers and spectators alike seem to agree that Pigeon Island National Park – which is the festival's focal point – is one of the world's most beautiful venues and that the event itself is easily one of the best jazz jamborees. Fast approaching its 25th anniversary on 29 April – 8 May 2016, the event has grown year-on-year to become one of the Caribbean's premier music events and has the format down to pat.
A mixture of huge stars, jazz greats and local fusion bands play venues that range from an open-air stage surrounded by beautiful scenery to an intimate bar overlooking Rodney Bay. The festival's main home is the idyllic hump-backed islet of Pigeon Island National Park, swathed in tropical vegetation and notched with white sand, where you can go for a dip or hike up to Fort Rodney and still hear sweet music carrying on the breeze.
The accompanying Fond D'Or fringe festival showcases island sounds in a bucolic plantation setting, while in Castries there are lunchtime concerts in Derek Walcott Square. Most recently, global stars Robin Thicke, Flo Rida and Jimmy Cliff graced the main stage, and though it's too early to tell who will perform next year, music lovers making the journey are guaranteed a great experience. For more details, see: stluciajazz.org
Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival
It might seem like an unassuming little island of silky sand and azure vistas, but Curacao's annual jazz festival is a big deal. Artists who need no introduction – Lionel Ritchie, Enrique Iglesias, John Legend, Gregory Porter, Emeli Sande and Usher – performed in 2015; Rod Stewart, Joss Stone, Seun Kuti, Chaka Khan and Bruno Mars played in 2014. Every year the line-up is staggeringly impressive, though far from strictly jazz. For music fans, it's well worth crossing the Atlantic for. From 1-3 September 2016, the historic waterfront capital of Willemstad will once again effervesce with live music from the world's best.
Don't be put off by the business-like name of the festival site – the World Trade Centre – it actually contains an open-air stage beside a beach, as well as another big outdoor stage, an indoor auditorium and excellent facilities to keep you fed and watered during the festivities. Every year the event opens with free concerts, and this time round festival-favourite Juan Luis Guerra – ‘the King of Merengue' – has been confirmed, alongside carnival-style zouk band Kassav'. More information is available at: www.curacaonorthseajazz.com
Aruba Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival
Smaller and shorter than some of the other Caribbean festivals but packing a very cool, jazz-infused punch, Aruba Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival is one of the region's hottest tickets. From 23-24 September 2016, funk masters Kool and the Gang and nu jazz virtuosos Snarky Puppy will light up the stage, with more artists to be confirmed.
The water-side Renaissance Market Place in Aruba's colourful colonial capital of Oranjestad is the centre of the festival, lined with food stands and bars to keep everyone refreshed. A lively crowd and intoxicating music create an unforgettable experience – most recently sizzling salsa trumpeter Maite Hontele performed a joyful hip-swaying set that had the audience dancing all night. Find out more at: caribbeanseajazz.com