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Cambridge Jazz Festival at Danehy Park — all that jazz (and so much more)

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Cambridge Jazz Festival at Danehy Park — all that jazz (and so much more)
Vocalist Gabrielle Goodman performing at last year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival.PHOTO: MUTSUKO OHNISHI

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For one weekend in July, Danehy Park in Cambridge transforms into a dance party, a celebration of community, a local business market, a cookout, and most importantly — a two-day jazz concert. The Cambridge Jazz Festival brings local and national acts to the stage with the goal of making jazz music accessible and enjoyable for all.

What began in 2014 as a half-hour brainstorming session between Cambridge City Councilor Larry Ward and Ron Savage, dean of the Professional Performance Division at Berklee College of Music, became a sprawling annual festival that welcomes hundreds of jazz-lovers to Cambridge.

Percussionist Eguie Castrillo performing at last year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival. PHOTO: MUTSUKO OHNISHI

“In the origins of what we call jazz, it was community music, it was done in the community, in the streets,” says Savage. “And if you’re a young person and you go to the park with your family and you have a great time on a beautiful day … that’s your impression of jazz.”

Now in its ninth year (with two years missed due to the pandemic), the festival continues to grow. The 2024 lineup features talent from Berklee such as Puerto Rican percussionist Eguie Castrillo y Su Orquesta and vocalist Gabrielle Goodman performing a tribute to Roberta Flack, as well as Savage himself performing with special guests saxophonist Bill Pierce and jazz guitarist and composer Bobby Broom.

In addition, the festival with have a music therapy tent and dance therapy demonstrations in partnership with the Berklee Center for Health and Wellness, and a senior citizen tent made possible by AARP and designed to make the outdoor outing comfortable for jazz-lovers advanced in age.

The crowd a last year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival. PHOTO: Mutsuko Ohnishi

“This is all part of our ongoing goal to make sure that jazz is accessible to everyone, no matter where you are in your station in life,” says Savage.

The festival will continue to offer its many usual amenities and activities, including a local marketplace with musical instruments, jewelry, art pieces and more, food vendors and a beer garden. The festival team also distributes an annual Cambridge Jazz Foundation scholarship to a Cambridge student to apply toward their college education and recognizes local jazz community heroes with the annual CAMMY awards.

As an educator at Berklee, history and education are important to Savage’s mission. The festival features a jazz museum with installations discussing the genre itself and its history here in Boston, where musicians like Johnny Hodges and Roy Haynes got their starts in Cambridge and Roxbury, respectively.

Beyond all the activities offered, joy remains the central goal of the Cambridge Jazz Festival. Flutist Kristalis Sotomayor is performing at the festival for the second year, both with Castrillo and in her own set. Sotomayor says the beauty of the festival struck her last year when it rained and attendees continued to dance to the music without a care for the weather.

“Music brings so much happiness to people, even to the musicians that play,” she says. “We only have four months of summer and hot weather. I think it’s great to have music outside in our beautiful park.”

The Cambridge Jazz Festival is July 27 and 28 in Danehy Park in Cambridge. Admission is completely free.

Savage similarly recalls seeing a large group of young children dancing with wild abandon to the music at an earlier festival. They had no preconceived notions about what jazz was or how it should be consumed, they just felt the rhythms and danced joyfully.

“I believe music is a superpower,” says Savage. “And I hope that there’s something inspirational in [a visitor’s] day with us at the park, where they can go away feeling positive, uplifted, and they themselves will be inspired to pursue their passion for the good of the community.”