Nice in mid July. It’s hot, crowded beaches are packed and prices are hiked even in the local supermarket. But if you’re a jazz fan, it’s the time to come, with two long running festivals – Nice Jazz Festival and just along the Côte d’Azur, in Juan les Pins, Jazz à Juan.

Both are late evening and night events when the temperature is more balmy. But as the festivals take place on the same dates, an oddity nobody could satisfactorily explain, the choice of which jazz star to see could be as hot as the mid-day sun.

I went for Herbie Hancock in Nice on Monday, and fellow member of Miles Davis’ acclaimed mid-60s quintet and fellow jazz legend Wayne Shorter in Juan on Tuesday.

Younger stars put in great performances too, like Kamasi Washington in Nice and The Robert Glasper Experiment in Juan, where Jamie Cullum leapt onto the piano and climbed into the stands. Also I had that frisson of getting excited by French bands I’d never heard off before.

It’s worth going to both festivals to experience their differences. Both regard jazz as having instilled itself into all musical styles, but diverged in the other genres they programmed. Nice leaned towards R n’B , hip hop, and rap including a highly personal performance from ‘the queen of hip-hop soul’, Mary J Blige. Though Jazz à Juan had its R n’B soul queen in Macy Gray, it was largely a hip hop and rap free zone. Instead it featured Tom Jones giving a gospel twist to his hits and chatting about hanging out with Elvis, and Sting.

The Pinède Gould, the venue of Jazz à Juan, has a stunning setting. It’s in a pine grove with the Mediterranean as it’s backdrop. And from an expensive seat high in the stands you get the breathtaking views of the sea, the yachts, the glorious sunset and lights coming on around the bay.

Nice in a park in the heart of what is a busy, cosmopolitan city has a vibe that’s different but no less stimulating. While Juan has one stage, two or three acts a night and nearly everybody seated, Nice has six acts across a concert venue for 2500 split 40/60 seating/standing, and an open stage for 65,00. Nearly everyone stands. The crowd got excited, even boisterous, yet remained courteous, with parents pushing babies in push chairs.

If you wanted even more music, both festivals have a fringe – both called ‘OFF’ – which are free.

Bands played at the Petite Pinède in Juan, every night before and after the main concert, while Nice’s OFF started two weeks before the main festival with jazz played on the city’s trams, and the Promenade du Paillon transformed into a jazz park. There’s jazz across the region throughout the summer, for instance ‘Jazz au Château’ in Cagnes sur Mer every Friday and it’s free as well.

With the daytime yours, you can start your day with a swim. Then you could explore Nice’s varied architecture or a world class art museum or the burgeoning contemporary art scene. Later enjoy happy hour under a sunshade in the elegant Place Garibaldi, or at a designer bar before heading to ‘le jazz ’either in Nice or among Juan’s pines.

If wanting to recharge batteries, Cimiez Park on a hill in Nice, is idea. It used to be the jazz festival venue and among the reminders is an olive tree-lined walkway called Miles Davis Allée. Also call in at the Matisse Museum and view his Le Jazz series before visiting the the church next to the park where he’s buried.

Visiting both jazz festivals was a fantastic musical experience. But the 10 day trip was much more besides. While still a famous Riviera holiday destination, Nice is a vibrant city with an influx of students and creative souls who have helped it shed its ‘dowager duchess’ image. Just remember to come with ears wide open, a sun hat and a tube of factor 30.

Nice...and easy!

The 58th Jazz à Juan (July 12-22) blasts off with Lenny Kravitz’s Raise Vibration tour. Jazz legend Chick Corea shares a mouth-watering double header with saxophonist David Sandborn. There’s also renowned bassist bandleader Marcus Miller, and the hugely talented Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyen, pictured, whose CV includes an early UK gig in Oxford.

Female voices will be a major feature, with Norah Jones, Youn Sun Nah, France’s former first lady Carla Bruni, Melody Gardot and Saleh Sue.

Then, in what could be the event of the festival, there’s Anjélique Kidjo, Benin and Africa’s world famous singer, who with trumpeter extraordinaire Ibrahim Maalouf and a symphony orchestra will perform a piece the two have created based on the Queen of Sheba legend.

Nice Jazz Festival (July 16-21). celebrates it’s 70th anniversary with a special opening night performance.

International names include saxophonist Joshua Redmond, hugely successful singer Gregory Porter, the avant garde Shabaka Hutchings, the dynamic Robert Glasper’s new project R+R, veteran pianist and Africanophile Randy Weston, the deep bass voice of Rag’n’Bone Man, and a headline set from Massive Attack.


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  • Arrive ahead of the main Nice Festival to enjoy, the OFF build up. For what’s on see the listings in the free monthly La Strada.
  • More on travelling in France from Atout France


  • While easy to get from Nice to Juan by train or bus, it is impossible to get back by public transport after a concert. Leave early, stay over or make other transport arrangements.
  • In Nice local buses stop around 9pm though trams runs later and there are night buses.

STAY: Try staying in Le Port or Riquier in Nice. Up and coming Riquier has Vauban bus station and its own rail station.