Our Mission

The National Jazz Festival’s mission is to bring together high school and middle school jazz musicians and educators from across the nation to strengthen music education and performance while cultivating an inclusive, joyful jazz community based on a mutual love of jazz.

Nonprofit Organization ID: 83-3751080

Our Festival

School ensembles, vocal groups and soloists are allotted a performance time and room where they set up, warm up and perform in front of adjudicators and attendees. Constructive verbal feedback is given following the performance. Each ensemble has the opportunity to perform in either a competitive or non-competitive class.  There are no ratings, however at the end of the evening the top 4 ensembles in each division will be announced at the Award Ceremony.  A full recap sheet of competitive groups will be released in the week following the festival. Non-competitive groups will obviously not be included on that recap.

Educational clinics and school performances are free for all attendees.

  • Instrumental Large Ensemble & Small Ensemble Categories for High School and Middle Schools
  • Vocal Large Ensemble, Small Ensemble, & A Cappella Categories
  • “Pop-Cappella” Category for your pop-based a cappella groups
  • Solo Jazz Vocal Category
  • Jazz Composition
  • Jazz Educator Award
  • LOVE Award for Students focused on community service/activism and music.
  • An optional “Welcome Event”



The National Jazz Festival was created by instrumental and vocal jazz directors, caring parents, supportive jazz musicians, and avid jazz supporters in an effort to fill the void of a lack of a major national jazz festival with an educational philosophy.  Upon the cancellation of other festivals, the National Jazz Festival team saw a need to create an event that allows thousands of students to continue to share their talents and hard work with their peers from around the country.  The festival executive committee is being led by Joe Bongiovi.  Joe is the director of the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra and is also the band director at Princeton High School in New Jersey.  Joe is a past President of the New Jersey Association Of Jazz Educators (NJAJE).  We are fortunate to have Joe’s extensive high school jazz festival experience and his ties to Philadelphia to help launch this festival.   


The inaugural National Jazz Festival took place on February 15, 2020 in historic Philadelphia.  We hosted 1200 high school and middle school jazz musicians from 11 states across the country.  The event was run and organized solely by volunteers and made possible by a grant from the Waterman II Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation and donations from businesses and music lovers alike. Registration fees for schools were kept to a minimum and admission was free and open to the general public.


Due to Covid 19 restrictions, the National Jazz Festival hosted a virtual event on May 22, 2021, featuring 50 schools — as well as 19 vocalists and 20 instrumentalists — from 18 states and Puerto Rico. Our participating schools’ videos aired on the National Jazz Festival YouTube channel with accompanying adjudicator comments. We also introduced two new additions: the NJF Individual Soloist Category and the SmartMusic Category, sponsored by SmartMusic and Alfred Music. Gordon Goodwin and the Big Phat Band adjudicated the SmartMusic Category and conducted masterclasses over Zoom for participants. Our other clinicians, our adjudicators and volunteers all gave their time to make this new iteration of the festival a success. Thanks to our many sponsors, we were able to award various winners with software plug-ins and headsets. The event culminated in a virtual awards ceremony.


The virtual National Jazz Festival aired on YouTube on May 2, 2022 once again. Four new states were added to our roster and a small middle school from northern British Columbia represented Canada. The SmartMusic Category featured composer Alan Baylock. SmartMusic also sponsored a live video interview called “Why Jazz?” with interviewer Ted Scalzo and interviewees Alan Baylock, Mike Kamuf, and Alan Hirsch. The award ceremony was hosted by jazz drummer and comedian Zach Mama.


After 2 years of successful virtual programming the 2023 National Jazz Festival returned to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA for a full day of live performances, educational clinics and an Award Ceremony with a featured artist. The virtual option continued for schools that were unable to travel to Philadelphia.

Flip through to learn more about the 2020 Inaugural National Jazz Festival

If you have any questions or desire more information, please email us anytime at:

“It’s not about the awards, or the competition, or the fight to first place, it’s about the community that is created with doing something that we all love.”

– Gill Scott High School Jazz Musician

National Jazz Festival

Celebrating jazz education throughout our entire nation and beyond!

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