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2020 Winter JazzFest Marathons: A Survival Guide

Ludovico Granvassu By

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Believe it or not, it is that time of the year again! The holidaze are barely over and a new edition of Winter JazzFest is upon us. Knowing a jazz marathon is the perfect antidote to the holiday shopping and social marathons, producer Brice Rosenbloom and his cohorts have put together a program of gargantuan proportions. Jazz gluttony, after all, is the only binge that will help you burn the calories you racked up in the previous two weeks...

If Google Maps offered a time-lapse atlas of the venues involved since its 2005 launch, the WJF would look like a player poised to win a game of Risk: The Game of Global Jazz Domination. Steadfast in its geographical expansion out of its Le Poisson Rouge bastion, this year the JazzFest has added new venues—with the Zürcher Gallery and the Sultan Room being very welcome acquisitions—and is crossing into another borough altogether [a venue map is available at the bottom of the article].

The addition of Brooklyn to the WJF chart is a logical development and confirmed our impression that the BRIC JazzFest of late had become a dress rehearsal heralding the arrival of the JazzFest from across the East River. With the addition of a third marathon, on 17 January, Williamsburg and Bushwick will act as the landing pads for the WJF in Brooklyn.

The first two marathons will take place the previous weekend, in Manhattan, on 10 and 11 January. Between 8 and 18 January the JazzFest's program includes the usual countless stand-alone showcases, themed soirees, talks and performances—revolving around this year's focus on social justice and wellness—which, however, fall outside the scope of this article.

If you have ever run a real marathon you are familiar with how it feels. First you get very excited at the extravagance of the idea, then—as the date approaches—self-doubt and concern creep in. If you did not train enough, on the day of the race, after the initial elation, you start wondering why you signed up in the first place and shell out top dollars for such self-inflicted torture. But if you do it right... words cannot describe the joy and sense of accomplishment you experience.

With a total of 142 concerts involving hundreds of players across 17 venues, the three WJF marathons may feel just like that. And this is why your friends at All About Jazz are here to help you again with the three Ps of a rewarding WJF: Practicing, Planning, Pacing. As far as hydration is concerned, we'l leave that up to you. Last but not least, don't forget to take into account the weather conditions, the true wild card of every kind of marathon!

Needless to say, our suggestions reflect personal preferences, but we do our best to break down the JazzFest's extensive schedule to allow for maximum customization.

One final bit of advice, always check the JazzFest website for last-minute changes and for its neat "crowd watch" to make sure you're not leaving front-row seats in a comfy venue just to get yourself in the endless line of a club that is packed wall-to-wall.

Logistical Approaches

Hold On, I'm Coming!

a.k.a. The maximalist's approach

Compromises are not your thing. You don't settle for anything but the best. You also come equipped with a jet-pack, or at least an electric scooter or skateboard, to make sure you can zip from venue to venue in no time. You are unfazed by the prospect that in your pursuit of excellence you might not see every set from beginning to end. If we just described you, then those listed below might represent a few ways to match very promising performances with the realities imposed by the festival's schedule as well as the distances between venues. Where the time between shows is a bit too tight, we have marked the 'must see' shows with an asterisk to resolve your dilemmas.

Friday 10th [Manhattan]
Saturday 11th [Manhattan]
Friday 17th [Brooklyn]

Our Love Is Here to Stay

a.k.a. The stationary pragmatist's approach

If you like it comfy and easy and have never bought into the idea of multi-venue festivals, in particular during the cold winter months, then single out the venue that according to your taste has the largest number of appealing concerts, especially if they do not charge a drink-minimum at every set. Sit back and relax and, if you want to get closer to the action, take advantage of the crowds' thinning in between sets (by the third concert, at the latest, you will have made it to the front row). Below are our favorite options, in order of preference.

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