The Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival
Diana Ross performing on a previous staging of Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in 2008.

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 54th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

ROBERT Russell, former organiser of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, says that event was a major economic boost for Jamaican tourism.

"All the music festivals that we produce here have a very positive effect for Jamaica and tourism. It focuses the attention of a lot of people on music festivals in the island. When Elton John went to Tobago to perform, for example, many people became aware of that country. With Sumfest — that we stream online for free — we have millions of people that watch, and to them it's quite an experience and they come the next year to experience it first-hand," he told the Jamaica Observer.

He added that, "Jazz and Blues and [Reggae] Sumfest fill up hotels, all the airline seats are booked… restaurants benefit, craft vendors, nightclubs, the jerk pork man…the trickle down effect is quite significant. You have an average of 10,000 people coming who are spending on average of US$1,800 so that's US$18 million being pumped into the economy. A lot of people look forward to it for back-to-school, and it creates employment and exposure for the country that you really can't buy."

Air Supply

Russell acquired the festival from Sandals Resorts owner Gordon "Butch" Stewart in 2004. Previously known as the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, it debuted in 1996 at the Rose Hall Great House in St James.

It launched during a period when most Caribbean islands had a jazz festival that not only helped to attract tourists, but helped to garner significant exposure on Black Entertainment Television(BET) which aired them.

Under the Sandals/Air Jamaica stewardship a number of big acts performed on the show including Buddy Guy, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Kenny G and Patti LaBelle.

Russell said once he took over the brand, he sought to revitalise it.

"He [Butch Stewart] wrote me a letter to say that he would pass on the festival to me. I immediately selected some artistes that I thought Jamaicans would gravitate towards. They [previous stewards] were sort of missing the boat when it came to popularity of music among Jamaicans so I sought some artistes that Jamaicans would wanna see, and selected quite a good array," Russell said.

Founder and Chairman of Sandals Resorts International Gordon "Butch" Stewart.

Diana Ross, Lionel Ritchie, Kenny Rogers, Air Supply, Maroon 5, Mariah Carey, Peter Cetera, The Pointer Sisters, Celine Dion and Babyface performed at the festival in the Russell era.

The Jamaica Jazz And Blues Festival was last held in 2015 in Trelawny. Gordon "Butch" Stewart died in 2021.

Celine Dion
BY KEDIESHA PERRY Observer writer

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