This vibrant festival is celebrating its 36th anniversary on Ascona's lakeside promenade. One of Switzerland's biggest jazz festivals, it's proud to be the only such event outside the USA to be officially supported by the city of New Orleans. But how did it come into being, and what makes it so special?
The festival was founded in 1975 by Hannes Anrig, who led the festival 1975-1984 under the name Festa New Orleans, at the beginning still in Lugano (Anrig stayed with the festival until 1996). Relocating to Ascona in 1985, it gradually grew to become a jazz mecca of Switzerland and Europe.
Ascona Tourism took over the running of the festival in 1993, appointing Nicolas Gilliet to the post of artistic director in 2003 – a role he still holds. The Festa New Orleans was renamed "JazzAscona – New Orleans & Classic" in 2004. Following 30-plus years of jazz experience, the festival reached an agreement with the New Orleans authorities in 2015, which saw the birth of "The New Orleans Experience – Music & Food from Louisiana". The festival split off from Ascona Tourism in 2018 to become an autonomous entity.
Anyone who's not yet attended JazzAscona should definitely make an effort this summer: for ten days, Ascona experiences a warm, "southern state" wind blowing through its alleys, bringing good vibes and a wealth of great music.
The sun-drenched village, known for the positivity of its inhabitants, radiates even more energy and zest for life during the festival. The first concerts of the day – the "Music Hours" – start at 11 a.m., while the evening performances between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. take place on the main stages. The lakeside promenade, decorated with a thousand lights, is a sea of happy souls carried away by the music, dancing, laughing or simply enjoying the relaxed ambience over a drink. And if that's still not enough, the jam sessions in a more intimate setting continue until three in the morning.
A touch of New Orleans in Ascona: We're not on the Mississippi, but if everywhere sounds like New Orleans, then we want to taste New Orleans, too, including classic examples of Louisiana's lip-smacking cuisine.
Louisiana has rhythm in its blood, and its cooking is just as vibrant: the dishes benefit from the same creative passion as the music. A specially built Osteria on the Piazza New Orleans serves Creole snacks such as po'boys (a typical sandwich) and jambalaya "Ticino-style". As for full Louisiana-style meals, head for the Ristorianti al Pontile & al Piazza or Osteria Nostrana.