A few jazz festivals have announced their programmes over the last month or so and of course Bristol’s has shown us what it was made of already a couple of weeks back. A few thoughts have been rolling around my head so I’ll set them free here. They are however the thoughts of a punter rather than a promoter/ organiser so there’s definitely another side to all this. Firstly Bath gets a loud cheer – jazz is back in the programme. A slight anxiety is how slender the whole programme is, more of that shortly. Secondly, some common threads are noticeable in the programmes of a few others (Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon – Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula are going to busy this summer) but Bristol’s (feel the funk, gospel, New Orleans vibe) and Bath’s (don’t you just love it when you have to look the names up… except Jan and Hilliard) are different. More loud cheers – vive la difference!
Listening to comment gossip and whispering where opinions are expressed, they often seem to fall into a few camps: ‘its not jazz’, ‘its the wrong sort of jazz’ , ‘its not the right people playing the jazz … why them or why not the other?’ All quite understandable if one’s own particular favourite flavour is not well represented. With the seeming explosion of music festivals more generally, large and small, standing out from the crowd becomes increasingly important. An obvious point is that most of these festivals throw the net pretty wide and have quite a mix in the programming. That’s both pragmatic in terms of selling tickets and mind expanding in that it exposes festival goers to more than their usual diet of listening. Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon have a pretty similar mix of headliners but alongside that there’s a lot of variety and some very adventurous music. Bristol’s Jazz and Blues looks in a different direction and embraces funk and blues pretty wholeheartedly – vive la difference!
But its not just the programme on its own that marks them out. The location and how they draw on a local scene makes the experience of being there distinctive. There’s an intriguing piece here about academic researchers working with festivals – the video’s worth a look. Bristol’s festival is shaped by the sheer fun of being in the Colston Hall for the weekend, crammed in with thousands of others and the roster of mainly local bands playing on the free stage – ticketed programmed optional! Brecon is defined by its location, the way the festival inhabits the whole town and a programme with plenty of dynamic Welsh scene threaded through it (happily the drinkers in the streets, propped up against a mountain of lager gradually dissolving into stupor and raucousness seem to be no longer a feature!). Love Supreme has the boutique, jazz festival in field market cornered. No-one would call Nile Rogers and Chic jazz (would they?), but reeling out of GoGo Penguin, via Troyka to dance to Chic, before soaking up Terence Blanchard was quiet a ride last year – blazing sunshine helped. Vive la difference!
And so back to hometown Bath. For many years, under the stewardship of Nod Knowles, a music festival that embraced classical, contemporary, folk, world over three weekends had an intense jazz focus but with a determinedly European flavour. Having to look most of the names up was a near guarantee, as was hearing something magical the like of which one had not imagined (anyone remember that throat singing/ alpine horn duo?!). After a mysterious wiping of the slate clean last year, a series of gigs is back, the grand finale is Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble’s grand finale (they are ceasing to tour apparently ) in Bath Abbey. Did I already do the loud cheers? Brass Jaw and Stacey Kent are familiar, I confess the Canadian and Finish piano trios were not – well, good! But look at the scope of the whole programme and reduced funding, and other priorities are clear. It’s slender. The vision spelt out on the website is pretty exciting; I don’t see it reflected in the programme more generally. There’s a big idea lurking there, I wonder what’s stopping it hollering from the rooftops – vive la difference? Is it as simple as funding?