May 2008. American pianist Jason Moran slides onto a darkened stage at Bath’s Pavilion. A recording is playing of Thelonius Monk tap dancing (no .. really!). Moran takes his place at the piano and starts playing Little Rootie Tootie – its the rythmn of this tune that Monk is tap dancing. Its as if he’s in the room. An extraordinary spine tingling moment that’s stayed with me. There are plenty more from the years I’ve been going to the festival many of them surprises on a double or triple bill of performers. Gianluigi Trovesi in duo with an accordion player several years ago – I left feeling the world was a better place; A totally compelling, hear a pin drop trio gig by Abdullah Ibrahim – I nearly turned blue forgetting to breath; Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero last year; the moment the Mingus Big Band roared in after a solo baritone started the gig with a meaty riff – I nearly burst into tears such was the emotional force of the moment. There has always been a distinctive flavour with European musicians strongly featured and introducing me to plenty of bands and musicians I would never otherwise have heard. The festival in recent years booked plenty of American artists too, during Joanna McGregor’s tenure as Director.
Why the reminiscing? Well, as I get excited about going over to the start of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival tonight, and drooling over the recently announced programme for Cheltenham Jazz, I’m ‘baffled of Bath’ over the complete absence of the the jazz and improvised music related strand of the programme in the Bath Music Festival. National treasure Norma Winstone is there on the first Saturday, but that’s it. I don’t count myself as completely naive. Funding is tight, the festival as a whole is noticeably thinned – no opening party night for instance (ironically the webpage background has a large cheery crowd clearly enjoying gigs on previous opening nights and there are no gigs on the programme that would inspire the sort of dancing depicted!). There is still scope for choice though and clearly the programmers have chosen not to include this thread.
I’m an upbeat appreciator of what our local scene has to offer generally, so I’m moved to say thanks for all those years of delight and inspiration whilst remaining a bit baffled as to why its gone. I’ll even miss what used to be an annual debate in the letter pages of the Chronicle as to whether what was on offer was really jazz! And an offer: If its because the new team was somehow unaware of the rich legacy of past festivals, or they couldn’t think of how to put together an exciting jazz thread of the programme that would be attractive but not break the banks then I’d gladly help them put it together and know a few others with plenty of experience locally who would too.
Baffled of Bath