The Texas Jazz Festival is hosted annually in Corpus Christi, Texas, by the Texas Jazz Festival Society. The goals of the Texas Jazz Festival Society are to present and perpetuate the live performance of jazz, showcase both regional and local talent, encourage and assist in educating young jazz artists, and to promote tourism in Corpus Christi. The Texas Jazz Festival charges no admittance fee in order to ensure that anyone can attend and enjoy the best of American jazz. Advertised as the “longest established and continuously operated free music festival in the country,” the event is funded through membership fees, corporate sponsors, and benefit concerts, and planned and organized entirely by Texas Jazz Festival Society members and volunteers.
The idea for a jazz festival first came about when members of the Jazz Club at Del Mar College organized a concert at the Student Union Building in late 1959. The success of that gathering spawned another concert three months later that inspired Del Mar jazz enthusiasts to persuade the institution to consider holding another larger concert. The first Texas Jazz Festival took place in May 1960 at the Del Mar College Auditorium. It was held in association with Buccaneer Days and hosted jazz groups from Houston and San Antonio. During the second year, the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce became involved in planning and promoting the festival. Local and Houston jazz musicians played at the second festival, held by the marina on the Peoples Street T-Head. Eventually the festival had to be moved to a larger venue due to traffic problems. Throughout the years, great jazz musicians such as Arnett Cobb, Al Hirt, Stan Kenton, Spyro Gyra, Wanda Gregory, Ramsey Lewis, Zoot Sims, Mary Lou Williams, and Al Jarreau have attended as performers.
The festival underwent a few changes beginning in 1999. Since that time it has been hosted in Heritage Park on three stages situated among trees and historic homes. Some fifty jazz groups, including high school and college bands, perform annually at the three-day event in October. The majority of the performers are from Texas, but groups come from throughout the United States. In addition to musical acts, the festival also features food and arts and crafts vendors. The festival celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2010.