The first Jazz Unlimited was jointly hosted by Tri-Cities high school music departments in 1971, with nine high school jazz bands participating. It continued the following year with assistance from the Tri-City Water Follies Association, thus the name "Jazz Unlimited" - a reference to the unlimited hydroplane races.
The festival site was moved to CBC in 1973 when Don Paul moved here from Kennewick High School. Eventually, the sponsorship of the Water Follies Association was dropped but the name "Jazz Unlimited" was retained.
A jazz choir portion was added to the festival in 1974 by Byron Gjerde. In 1986, a concert choir portion was added by Steve Baer. In 1994, a pre-festival concert series was added. The first group was Kim Richmand-Clay Jenkins duo followed by Dr. Geoff Haydon.
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