Monterey Jazz Festival Selects Darin Atwater as New Artistic Director

Atwater Makes History as Only the Third Artistic Director in the Organization’s History

and the First African American to Hold the Position


Monterey, CA (September 7, 2023) – The Monterey Jazz Festival, the world’s longest continuously-running jazz festival announced today that composer and musician Darin Atwater is the next Artistic Director. Atwater succeeds Tim Jackson, who announced earlier this year that he was stepping down from his post after a brilliant 32-year run. Monterey Jazz Festival conducted an extensive international search and produced a diverse group of exceptionally talented candidates for consideration.

“I am thrilled and honored to lead the artistic vision for such an iconic institution. I applaud the current MJF leadership for their work in sustaining a gathering that fosters the perpetual spirit of jazz. I also join a chorus of gratitude for the visionary leadership of Jimmy Lyons and the sustained creative blueprint set forth by Tim Jackson. They designed the framework that serves as the connecting tissue around which our artistic objectives nest into the mission and magical moments experienced every September. We celebrate the vast achievements of jazz and its central role in the formation of American music and culture,” said Atwater.

An artistic force in the broadest sense of the word, Darin Atwater’s career has encompassed the roles of artistic director, composer, conductor, pianist, vocalist, and cultural advocate. For over 20 years, he has forwarded historically marginalized and underrepresented art forms and artists, advancing both to the fore of American culture.

Born in Washington DC, Atwater attended both Morgan State University and Peabody Conservatory and made his orchestral debut as both composer and pianist with the National Symphony Orchestra performing his Piano Concerto. Engagements with major orchestras, In Performance at The White House, a European tour, and world premieres of his numerous compositions followed. As Guest Conductor he has appeared with the Baltimore Symphony, National Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Columbus Symphony, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Atwater is a master inventor of musical hybrids. From the Emmy Award-winning – jazz-tinged – Song in a Strange Land to Day of Affirmation – commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center – along with numerous arrangements for gospel legends Richard Smallwood, Donald Lawrence, and Yolanda Adams. He has blended jazz, gospel, and classical music into dazzling fusions. Atwater is a champion of large-form jazz works, having programmed and conducted Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown & Beige, The Nutcracker Suite, Billy Childs’ The Calling – Celebrating Sarah Vaughan and David Baker’s Jazz Suite for Clarinet and Orchestra among others.

Most recently Atwater premiered his newly commissioned Black Metropolis, a ballad opera with the Philadelphia Orchestra in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop.

Atwater is the Founding Artistic Director of Soulful Symphony, a uniquely American orchestra of national stature that has become the benchmark for innovation and diversity. It has broadened the audiences engaging in music in the concert hall, literally redefining the symphony experience all while contributing to the canon of American Roots music.

He joined the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University where he teaches American Roots music and culture and serves as a diversity advocate supporting the selection and evaluation of repertoire taught and performed at the Conservatory.

“Darin is a visionary leader who brings to MJF a strong artistic vision, a commitment to artistic excellence, and a proven track record of success in building audiences across diverse communities. I am thrilled to welcome him to the MJF family and to the festival in September,” said Colleen Bailey, Monterey Jazz Festival’s executive director.

Ken Gordon, Chair of the jazz festival’s Board of Directors remarked, “We are thrilled to have Darin take the reins at this pivotal time in our organization. He has a unique understanding of the rich history of jazz as well as its cultural significance in the present day.   He is poised and ready to lead us into the future.”

Founded in 1958 by Jimmy Lyons, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire the discovery and celebration of jazz, anchored by an iconic festival.

The 66th Monterey Jazz Festival happens September 22 through September 24 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. For a complete lineup of performing artists and more, click here.

For a full bio on Darin Atwater and high-resolution images, click here.


Lauren Tobin
Director of Media and Strategic Relations

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About the Monterey Jazz Festival

Founded in 1958 by the late Jimmy Lyons and late jazz critic Ralph Gleason, the Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest-continuously running jazz festival in the world. Set upon the oak-filled grounds at the scenic Monterey Fairgrounds, the festival has hosted virtually every major jazz artist in recent history, including Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. In addition to the annual presentation of an iconic jazz festival, Monterey Jazz Festival is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) whose mission is to provide year-round opportunities for jazz education and performance for youth of all ages and backgrounds.