Photo of the O'Jays by Denise Truscello. Courtesy of the Syracuse International Jazz Festival.

Frank Malfitano Keeps Jazz Hot, Fresh, Cool – and free

Syracuse welcomes The Mavericks, Kenny G, and The O’Jays and many others to the International Jazz Festival, June 26 – June 30.

By Reggie Seigler
A Friendly Five Columnist

Imagine creating a festival based on an early 20th Century African American art form and keeping it so fresh and relevant that 40 years later, the festival celebrating this century-old tradition is still going strong.

Now throw in a vision to make it free of charge and open to everyone. That’s a tall order!

Frank Malfitano, the dreamer and driver behind the Syracuse International Jazz Fest, said the essential ingredients were a love for the art form, a commitment to excellence, and a welcoming spirit. A committee of passionate experts to handle production, operations, food and beverages, staging and sound, marketing, and fundraising were also essential.

Jazz, created by African American artists in the late 1800s to early 1900s, officially originated in New Orleans. “Jazz Fest has always been about the music and the artists that create it,” Malfitano said. “Having been able to present some of the greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Gil Scott-Heron, to name a few, are some of my favorites.”

He noted that these artists were “larger than life legends who had earned a prominent place in American musical history and established themselves offstage during challenging times in our nation’s history.”

Malfitano’s favorite aspect of Jazz Fest is “seeing the entire community coming together to enjoy Jazz Fest in peace and harmony.”

The first outdoor jazz festival was held at Song Mountain Ski Resort in 1983, a couple of years after the inception of its parent nonprofit, Syracuse Jazz Fest Productions Inc. Except for a COVID-19 hiatus, which was used to restructure its fundraising model, Jazz Fest has run continuously since.

This year’s festival will run for five consecutive days beginning on Wednesday, June 26, featuring 26 bands at 21 local clubs. It will move to the Amazon Stage on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, culminating on Sunday with a gospel performance at Hendricks Chapel.

Headliners include The Mavericks, Kenny G, and The O’Jays, performing at Clinton Square starting at 4 p.m. each day.

“By ourselves, we aren’t going to change that ticket pricing dynamic, but we can change it for one weekend a year,” Malfitano expressed gratitude for the grant and corporate sponsorship support that makes it possible to bring in big-name talent while keeping admission free. “Thanks to our sponsors and supporters, and thanks to the people who believe that the Syracuse International Jazz Fest remains an important item on the region’s cultural menu.”

For more information, visit

Reggie Seigler is a South Side resident and writes the “A Friendly Five” music column. If you have a story suggestion, contact Reggie at or (315) 479-9620

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