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To present the INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL IN BANSKO, we have chosen the form of a music piece in this genre. Therefore we start with


It is said that for love to blossom between two people, they must have some features in common. But there is another view as well – love comes suddenly and then the two persons begin to discover the traits that link them. And nothing can stop them in this search.

That’s how Bansko and the International Jazz Festival met in 1998. Since then, always in the beginning of August, musicians from all over the world come here to reveal themselves in the most universal of languages. The language of magic sounds. They come to understand that Bansko has its magic and to fall in love with it forever.

Now that is has been proven that this love is mutual, the host town and jazz are establishing amazing similarities between them. Legends have long since settled gods on the peaks of the majestic Pirin Mountain above Bansko. People’s eternal striving to merge with the divine draws them there. Is jazz not also such a journey in which you discover the divine in you?

This analogy is inevitable amid the magnificent surrounding nature. All of the guests and participants share the desire to fully soak up the atmosphere that surrounds them. Many of the musicians admit that they feel unexpected creative energy here. If in the Rhoodpe Mountains, Orpheus and Dionysus as different symbols of gaiety are opposed to each other, here at the foot of the Pirin Mountain they are wisely reconciled.

Here is how many of the best known world names in music who have played Bansko can confirm this: Scot Hamilton (USA), Axel Zwingenberger (Germany), Freddie Cole (USA), Larry Vuckovich (USA), Igor Butman (Russia), Yehya Khalil (Egypt), Oleg Kireyev (Russia), Igor Bril (Russia), Candy Dulfer (Netherlands), Hans Dulfer (Netherlands), Leila Amons (USA), Jackie Ryan (USA), Jamie Davis (USA), Benny Golson (USA), Clare Teal (UK), Mungo Jerry (UK), Philip Catherine (Belgium), Yoni Vida (Belgium), Irving Louis Lattin (USA), Rick Margitza (USA), the performers from the bands Incognito (UK), Jive Aces (UK), Eftekasat (Egypt), Djabe (Hungary) and many others. For one of the greatest performers of soul music, Solomon Burke (USA), the festival in Bansko was regrettably one of his last appearances on stage.


According to the founder and organiser of the festival, Dr. Emil Iliev, it all began in the early 1990s at Wangel’s hotel, situated in the Betolovoto locality, 14 km from Bansko, which he had rented as a clinic for the summer. But actually it all starts with his care for the patient. He knows how important spiritual comfort is during treatment and tried to provide it for the patients who had put their trust in him. How? With what he had discovered already as a child. With the influence of music.

He started with concerts. He invited well-known jazzmen like Lyudmil Georgiev, Pepi Slavov Sr., Rumen Toskov-Rupeto, etc. and organised evenings of swing. He did not forget other tastes either. For lovers of classical music he invited pianist Yovcho Krushev. Opera and operetta artists gave guest performances. He introduced foreign patients to the local folklore – the Bansko male two-voices singing takes the listener into another dimension.

Dr. Iliev is a dermatologist and acupuncture specialist. The effect of his therapy, combined with jazz is surprisingly good. This called forth interest outside his circle of patients. That’s when he got the idea of turning these occasional musical events into a jazz festival. He met with the mayor of Bansko and his first words were: “Instead of doing it for fifty people…”


“In the beginning the locals were startled by my proposal,” Dr. Iliev remembers. Let’s not forget that at that time the town had still not expanded. They were very hard times for the town’s economy. Despite their enterprise, the Bansko citizens found it difficult to imagine this type of undertaking at that time. In addition, jazz is considered a type of music that is difficult to understand even if the packed square in Bansko refutes this every year.

But the town residents are also known for their responsiveness. Already for the first festival in 1998 the Forestry sector donated timber to build the stage. Friends of the mayor and the doctor helped to put a roof on it. Many of the foreign participants were captivated by the pioneer spirit of the organisers. When the well-known boogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger saw 20 soldiers loading a new Bluthner piano from the community centre in Razlog to take to Bansko, he was moved to tears. He was touched by this concern for a good performance. Already the following year the organisers invited a representative of the Montreux festival, one of the big jazz forums in Europe. From him the organisers gained useful experience.

The intimate atmosphere of the narrow streets, the live restaurant music, the mouth-watering local culinary specialities attracted more and more foreign musicians willing to take part even for a modest fee. One of them is the great saxophone player Scot Hamilton. The well-known Mungo Jerry is in love with the town and always ready to return. Another musician – the brother of Nat King Cole, Freddy, was so enthusiastic that he jumped on a table in a tavern to dance. Yet he is “only” 76…

“Right now I am staging the festival with very modest funds,” Dr. Iliev admits, in keeping with the nationwide effort to cut back on spending.

Since 2002 First Investment Bank has been the general sponsor of the festival. In 2008 Bansko Municipality also began to support the festival financially, gradually becoming its main sponsor.


Any initiative proves its vitality with a view to the future. In the same way the jazz festival in Bansko is already looking ahead to future manifestations. Only to realise that the festival stage is becoming too small for the scale of this event. A multi-purpose theatre is needed to correspond to the overall development of the town in recent years. A separate stage for young music talents is also needed.

By now everybody agrees that the festival has established itself together with quality music and through the friendships it creates. The concentration of people does not deprive it of its intimacy. And this is one of the main features of jazz. In this music the individual discovers himself through communication. Something that takes place both on stage and among the audience.

Given this harmony, the jazz festival in Bansko continues its quests and its discoveries.


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