To kick off the 1986 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, Mayor Bernie Sanders stood in the audience at the Champlain Mill in Winooski, waiting to extend a welcome to Ella Fitzgerald, “The Queen of Jazz,” to Vermont. The legendary songstress, famous for “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing) was the recipient of 14 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, the NAACP’s inaugural President’s Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Nine years after her Vermont performance, she retired.

“This is a very exciting event, and it’s fantastic to see how it is growing. It’s not just one show; it’s an entire weekend of jazz all over the city. For those of us who love jazz and are delighted and proud and excited that Ella Fitzgerald is here, it’s certainly going to be a great few days.” said Mayor Sanders.

As Bernie joined a cheerful and gracious Fitzgerald in cutting the ceremonial blue ribbon to launch the festival, he cautioned her to be careful with the scissors, and she laughed while snipping the fabric: “Get it, Get It.”

Festival Coordinator Tony Miccoic proclaimed, “The woman is a legend. Having her in Burlington is like having the Pope visit your church parish. It was just very special.”

Thus began one of the most incredible weekends in Burlington’s rich jazz history.



Founded in 1984 by Bernie’s Mayor’s Arts Council, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has grown to become one of the premier jazz festivals in the United States. The event attracts top musicians from around the world every summer, and an influx of tourists boosts the local hospitality and tourism economy, while media coverage has brought the city recognition as a vibrant destination for music lovers. The festival features a mix of free and ticketed concerts, workshops, and educational programs for all ages, with a diverse lineup of jazz musicians ranging from up-and-coming artists to established veterans. Past performers have included local, national, and international jazz musicians of all styles and backgrounds.

The roster of artists who have performed in this small city is simply extraordinary. In addition to Fizgerald, that list includes legends such as Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, Randy Newman, New Orlean’s famous Preservation Jazz Hall Band, and George Clinton.

The Burlington Jazz Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2024.