The JazzTrax Festival on Catalina Island draws visitors from all over the country who come to see an impressive lineup of Grammy Award winners and Billboard magazine chart-toppers. The word "smooth" isn't in the festival's name but it could be, given the heavy emphasis on the smooth jazz. That's the sound that focuses on the instrumental music arrangements and lyrics and often features a saxophone or guitar.
There couldn't be a better combination than listening to relaxing music in Southern California's go-to place for time away from the hustle-bustle of city life.
Festival founder and jazz radio host Art Good says three things make JazzTrax unique: “The first is the magic of the Island. The second is Avalon’s Casino Ballroom, and the third is the smooth jazz music.” With that perfect storm, it's no wonder the festival has been going on for more than 30 years.
What You Need to Know About JazzTrax
Jazztrax is popular with jazz music fans all over the country, and it's common to meet visitors who have traveled halfway around the world to attend. It is held on Thursday and Friday evenings and in the afternoon and evening on Saturday and Sunday. It takes place on two consecutive weekends in October.
Unplugged concerts are held outdoors at the Descanso Beach on Thursday nights. Seating is on comfy chaise lounges or folding chairs. You can order drinks and snacks to enjoy during the show, or get a full dinner. The unplugged concerts can only accommodate 470 people and sometimes sell out by the end of summer.
Other concerts are in the Avalon Ballroom at the Casino Building, which seats about 1,000 people. Dating from the 1920s, it's so beautiful that its details might just distract you from the performers. However, the seating can be less than comfortable.
Concerts are held in the afternoon and evening, which will leave you time to explore the island during the day. Try some of these ten things to do on Catalina Island for ideas.
For best seating and to avoid disappointment, buy your tickets online as far ahead as possible. You can purchase tickets for single sessions, by the day, or for an entire weekend.
Check the artist lineup on the Jazztrax website. Deciding which performers to watch may the most challenging part of your day. A quick look at their concert reviews may help you identify people who put on the best show. Among the JazzTrax regulars who are also audience-pleasers are English guitarist Peter White, Keiko Matsui, and Boney James.
After you identify musicians you would like to hear, go through the schedules to pick a weekend to attend.
You'll need to stay overnight on the island because boat service stops before the concerts end. Reserve early before they sell out. To find a place to stay, see the recommendations in the Catalina weekend getaway guide. You also have some options for camping on Catalina.
To get to Catalina from the mainland, most people take a Catalina Island Ferry. The trip takes one to two hours, depending on what port you leave from. If the thought of the ocean trip makes you nauseous, you can fly to the island via Island Express helicopter. Private pilots can fly into Airport in the Sky and take a shuttle from there into town.
If you want to hear performances from concerts you can't attend, or if you can't make it to Catalina and still want to listen to the music, you can listen to the JazzTrax broadcasts online.
The average highs and lows on Catalina Island in October are a high of 67°F and low of 52°F. Take layers of clothing to keep from getting uncomfortably chilly after the sun goes down. But just because it's cool, don't forget sun protection.
Take a warm jacket if you plan to be out at night. A small flashlight is also handy to help see your footing on the way out.
You can get more information, current lineups, artist profiles and more at the JazzTrax Festival website.
If you can't make it to the festival in Catalina, JazzTrax also hosts a summer concert at Big Bear Lake. Or you may enjoy one of California's other top jazz festivals that include the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival.