Last night marked the end of Nice Jazz Festival 2012 and the results were good. Attendance and revenue are up over last year even as the City of Nice, which sponsors the festival, managed to hold the line on ticket prices. The festival was also easier to navigate this year as the walkways and placement of the service areas were redesigned to allow more fluid circulation. Also new was the spacious food court with food stalls selling Nice specialties and plenty of picnic tables.
Some problems remain, probably because they are unsolvable. The sound from the Scène Masséna continues to bleed into the more intimate Theatre de Verdure, making it hard for quieter artists to set a mood. It’s not so much a matter of Ahmad Jamal or Emir Kusturica as Jamal versus Kusturica. The Theatre de Verdure with its limited seating can be uncomfortably crowded. I recommend getting to the space well in advance of your target concert in order to find a seat. Access to the Jardins Albert 1er is easy for tourists filling central Nice hotels, which was the idea behind moving the festival from Cimiez last year. Those coming from north Nice also had the option of parking for free and taking the tram. Coming from east or west Nice was a nightmare however. The limited parking that remains after the destruction of a major parking lot in Nice filled up quickly. Buses stop long before the last notes fade away. Why not extend the hours of a few key bus routes for the duration of the festival?
Artistically, the festival touched all the bases with a careful blend of free jazz (Joshua Redman), New Orleans style (Dr. John and Trombone Shorty) gypsy style (Thomas Dutronc), pop and jazz greats (Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Ron Carter). The programming clearly had something for everyone’s tastes even if one’s taste was not for jazz. Great artists with established audiences were on the line-up but few were first-timers to either the Nice Jazz Festival or its sister, Jazz a Juan in Antibes. Of course the south of France is a very nice place to tour but I missed a sense of surprise or discovery that should come with a festival. Show me someone I haven’t seen before. Excite me with a new sound. Maybe next year!