Big names, fan favorites take the stage at Seoul Jazz Festival

Jazz pianist Hiromi plays a set with her band, Sonicwonder, at the Seoul Jazz Festival held at Olympic Park in southern Seoul on Friday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

People of all sorts gathered for the 2024 Seoul Jazz Festival, held from Friday to Sunday at Olympic Park in Songpa District, southern Seoul, to listen to a variety of artists, ranging from jazz musicians Hiromi, Jason Lee and Melody Gardot to rock bands like DAY6 and many more.

“I came to watch DAY6 from Daegu with my friend,” said 25-year-old Seo Yeon-ji. “But I saw many different artist as well, like Sunwoo Junga. She was so professional and artsy.”

This year’s lineup included singers Lauv, Laufey and Lianne La Havas, producer FKJ and the jazz band Jungle. Korean acts like singer BIBI as well as the bands wave to earth and Jannabi also performed.

Sunwoo Junga performs in the May Forest section of Seoul Jazz Festival on Friday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

This year’s Seoul Jazz Festival tickets were priced at 420,000 won ($304) for all three days.

“I decided to take a leap of faith, seeing that there were so many big names across many genres in the lineup,” said 21-year-old college student Shin Ji-hyun, who procured the tickets through early-bird access. “It was worth it, there was so much good food, sponsors providing entertainment and many people.”

The Seoul Jazz Festival started in 2007 at Sejong Center as a jazz-oriented event and has since evolved into a general music festival, with the venue being moved to Olympic Park to accommodate much larger crowds inside and outside the stadium domes and on the grass outdoors.

The crowd enjoys live music at the Spring Garden section of Seoul Jazz Festival on Saturday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

Over the years as the festival diversified across other genres from its originally heavily jazz-oriented lineup, there were voices that were skeptical whether this event should be considered a “jazz festival” at all.

“Compared to other festivals, I think Seoul Jazz Festival has taken more care to invite foreign artists of the jazz genre,” said 29-year-old Karaseva Maria from Russia on Friday. This was her third time at Seoul Jazz Festival in the eight years she was in Korea. “I came for Jungle today and for FKJ tomorrow.”

“I came to watch FKJ, Cory Wong and Hiromi,” said 45-year-old Yusuke Shimizu from Japan. “In Japan, jazz is not very popular. It is great to see that the youth are enjoying this festival.”

Laufey performs for a crowd in the May Forest section of Seoul Jazz Festival on Saturday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

The coexistence of people enjoying different genres could be seen in the way the festival organized the venue. Across four stages, the festival placed artists in particular areas, enabling people with differing tastes to enjoy the festival together by curating their own timetables.

May Forest was an open air space, where big-named jazz artists such as Melody Gardot, Hiromi, Laufey and more performed. The venue is divided into two sections: standing in the center accommodating more energetic fans, and a picnic area around the center where people who came for a more relaxed experience can “chill out” with food and drinks.

Musicians including jazz bands Jungle and the John Scofield Trio, Hiromi’s Sonicwonder and singer songwriters Laufey and Lianne La Havas appeared. Fans of all ages and ethnicities were seen enjoying the performances, from cheers with drinks in hand on the periphery to the feverish screams of joy in the center.

“It was great. I knew every single song,” said 31-year-old English teacher Robin Turrubiates about singer-songwriter Laufey’s performance. “I could choose who I want to see, there was food and I could meet people."

Fans fill the Sparkling Dome to watch rock band DAY6 play at the Seoul Jazz Festival on Friday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

Sparkling Dome featured more prominently mainstream pop artists, mostly from Korea. Fashioned in a more colosseum-style layout, the standing area is located in front of the stage, while the sitting area was above ground level on the dome’s periphery.

Artists including rock bands DAY6 and Jannabi, rapper Lee Young-ji, singer BIBI and more performed on stage, with fabulous visual effects that created a nocturnal mood even in the afternoon. The closed, entrenched area gave off a different charm from May Forest, with rich sonic fulfillment created in harmony with the music and cries of fans cheering the artist on.

wave to earth plays their songs in a jazzy rendition for Seoul Jazz Festival on Saturday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

Smaller performance areas — Pink Avenue for indie acts and Spring Garden for smaller jazz acts — fostered a close-knitted intimacy that were reminiscent to underground clubs and jazz lounges in the Hongdae neighborhood. Groups like wave to earth and Melomance, musicians Jang Ki-ha, Jason Lee and Stella Jang and jazz the ensemble YunSeokCheol Trio all performed in close proximity to their fans to polite and earnest applause.

“I came for everything, crossover music and rock bands,” said 23-year-old college student Gwak You-jin on Friday. “I ran around the park catching many performances today, but I will lay out on the grass picnic style tomorrow.”

“My professor used to ask me what genre I play,” said saxophonist Jason Lee to the audience on Friday. “Well, whatever it is, as long as I play it, I call it jazz. And as long as you all are here at this festival, you are all ‘jazz’ as well.”