The Festival was formed in 1986 in response to the region’s growing audience for jazz and big band music created in part by the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. Featuring many of the world’s finest jazz artists, many of iconic status, the event quickly a gained a reputation for being one of the finest jazz Festivals in Europe. Artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Horace Silver, Red Rodney Art Blakey, Diana Krall, Michael Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera, Maynard Ferguson, Phil Woods, Ray Brown, Bobby Shew and many more attracted capacity audiences and through the 1990’s it became a ‘must-attend’ event on the European Festival circuit.
For the first twenty years of its life the main venue was the Mill at the Pier, a venue that through the Festival, the Wigan Jazz Club and the many high-profile performances by the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra, earned a world-wide reputation for the provision of high-calibre jazz concerts. In 2003 following the closure of the Mill at the Pier, the Festival moved its base to the JJB Stadium and four years later to the Robin Park Indoor Sports Centre; a venue that when converted to a concert hall for the four days of the event, is rated by many as one of the UK’s finest larger jazz festival venues.
The varied programme of artists combined with the excellent facilities available at Robin Park and in the town of Wigan make the Festival very popular amongst jazz audiences and music fans in general. In recent years there was been a steady increase in audience numbers as well as an increasing number of people that take advantage of the excellent value offered by the Festival rover ticket. Each year in excess of 3000 people attend the Festival’s ticketed events with many more hearing jazz throughout the town.
Over a period of twenty years and more the Festival was organised and delivered through a partnership between Wigan Council’s Education and Leisure Departments and in recent years Wigan Jazz Club took on responsibility for presenting the event. In 2017 full responsibility for organising, funding and delivering the Festival was accepted by The Music Continuum, a newly formed company, whose directors Ian Darrington and Peter Fletcher, as co-founders of the Festival and Jazz Club, are committed to securing a healthy future for the event.