Jazz Festival Weekend on The Jacksonville Music Experience


As the 40th annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival approached, WJCT began worrying about its cancellation because of the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent safer-at-home orders issued by the governor of Florida. How could WJCT fill the void if the city was forced to cancel the festival? We began planning in March, before anyone even thought there might not be a festival on Memorial Day weekend.

For 15 years, WJCT had produced the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and used it as an annual fundraiser. WJCT’s 89.9FM HD4 had been used, periodically over the past several years, for special pop-up radio stations including jazz, country music (to coincide with Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary) and holiday music. WJCT had also just launched the Jacksonville Music Experience (JME), a multi-platform collection of services, providing music fans in Northeast Florida and beyond with a variety of ways to enjoy their favorite artists and discover new genres on air, online, on demand and in person.

On radio, WJCT devoted three full days (72 hours) on HD4 to jazz music (all hand curated by our music director), which also included live recorded performances at the top of each hour from jazz festivals around the world featuring legends like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sade and many more. Another hand-curated playlist was broadcast on our main station, 89.9FM on Saturday, May 23 from 9PM to 12AM.

An important, new component of the Jacksonville Music Experience is the Facebook group. We capitalized on this new platform to engage a new audience with live local jazz music performances Friday-Sunday from 3PM to 7PM, featuring 15 artists and bands. Our senior producer pulled 22 mini-concerts from archival footage of the very first Mayport and All That Jazz Festival (origin of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival) in 1980 until the 1985 festival. These performances, which ranged from 3 to 8 minutes in length, were combined into a 1-hour program, “Late Night Flash Back,” broadcast in the Facebook group on Sunday.

Being a joint-licensee television provided us with another platform to enhance the Jazz Festival Weekend experience and broaden our audience. WJCT-TV featured our traditional Music Thursday programming, but was dedicated to all Jazz from 8PM to 10PM. We used our digital channel 7.4 for Jazz concerts and complimentary programming like American Masters: Herbie Hancock on Friday and Saturday evenings from 7PM to 10PM.