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Event Review

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival Celebrates 20 Years! [Photos & Review]

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with an absolutely wonderful display of modern jazz in Playa Del Carmen put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board.



Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan
Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan

I had the absolute privilege of attending the 20th Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. More than 14,000 attendees came out to see major players in the Jazz genre including Iraida Noriega, Pedrito Martínez and his band, Arturo Sandoval, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Aguamala, Antonio Sánchez, Snarky Puppy and Chris Botti. The event took place from November 24th to 25th, directly on the beach under a full moon. It was a beautiful setting for some incredible music.

The 24th began with a performance by Mexican native singer/songwriter Iraida Noriega under the setting sun. As the full moon began to show, Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band entered the stage. The set was extremely lively. Martinez brought several fans onstage to dance to the Afro-Cuban beats. He was followed by Cuban-American composer Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval showcased what he is most famous for, his piano and trumpet playing. It was clear he has a huge following in Mexico, with the crowd going insane for his set.

The night rounded out with the famous Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The Latin dance orchestra had the total number of attendees up on their feet, dancing to the Salsa-inspired beats. I was blown away by the festival’s environment. Never had I been to a festival in such a beautiful area. I was elated for night two.

After my experience on night one, I could not wait to see what was in store for us on Sunday, November 25th. The night started off with the local band Aguamala. A consistent appearance at the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, Aguamala’s improvised fusion of jazz and rock makes them a unique opener for some larger acts to come.

Next up was Mexican drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez, joined by his spouse and singer Thana Alexis. Her ethereal vocals over his compositions made for a euphoric experience. Sánchez, who goes by Bad Hombre, includes a lot of political messages regarding peace and unity in his music. The messages resounded with the crowd, who awed at the performance.

Following Sánchez was American jazz-fusion band Snarky Puppy, led by multi-instrumentalist Michael League. The band has 25 rotating members, with a dozen or so performing at any given time. Despite being from Texas, the band has an immense following in Mexico and it was apparent with the ecstatic crowd.

The finale of the night and weekend was Chris Botti and his amazing group of special guests. The famous trumpeter brought along violinist Caroline Campbell, singer and actress Sy Smith, and jazz singer Veronica Swift. During the press conference, Botti mentioned he likes to keep his shows exciting. He says his music is made to be listened to in your living room, so he likes to switch up his live performance to keep things interesting. He did just that. From going out into the crowd with Campbell to showcasing solos of his band and guest singers, the fun did not stop. This is a show I would see again and again.

This was one of the most cherished musical encounters I’ve ever had. The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival is entirely free for attendees and compiles some of the greatest Grammy-winning Jazz groups in the world. The festival is put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board to provide both locals and visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope to see the festival reach its 21st year next year with even more attendees and talented artists.