Getting news of the line-up for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival is always an occasion for a-whooping and a-hollering in my house, but this year (April 30 to May 5) it has the added attraction of being, for me, a dream come true.
I arrived in Britain in the mid-1980s and very soon became aware of the multi-headed jazz monster that was Loose Tubes. They played all around the land, crucially in Birmingham at the Triangle, the Alex and at the Solihull Festival.
This 21-piece band, eclectic of taste and anarchic of spirit, included a whole bunch of rising jazz stars, players that, after Loose Tubes broke up in 1990, would go on to lead their own bands and, to a large extent, create and develop a particularly rich and distinctive period in British jazz.
It’s a period that continues today, both in the ongoing work of these players - Django Bates, Mark Lockheart, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Chris Batchelor, Ashley Slater among them – and in their influence on a whole new generation of jazz musicians.
Loose Tubes combines the excitement of big band jazz with influences from Africa, from circus music and from Frank Zappa.
You can’t buy the three albums they recorded in the 1980s – the last of them produced by Teo Macero who had also produced crucial Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck albums of the 1960s/70s – other than in second-hand vinyl shops.
But – and this is where my dream comes in – you can hear them live, for the first time in 24 years, in the Big Top at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on May 3.
If you happen to hear some whooping and hollering when, older but hopefully not a lot wiser, they take the stage, don’t be alarmed. That’ll be me.
If you want the 2014 equivalent of 1987 Loose Tubes excitement, then I would look no further than Snarky Puppy, the collective that grew out of a Texas university jazz course and, under the leadership of live-wire electric bassist Michael League, has become the sensation of every festival or venue they have played over the last few years.
This is jazz that moves beyond head-bobbing and into full-bodied dancing. They are appearing late on Saturday night – May 3 – with DJ Gilles Peterson in Cheltenham Town Hall.
But Cheltenham Jazz Festival isn’t just about realising one jazz journalist’s dreams – it’s about celebrating all that is wonderful in modern jazz as well as making links between jazz and other styles of music.
Birmingham’s biggest 21st-century star, Laura Mvula, is artist-in-residence at the festival this year. After wowing the crowd with a performance in the smaller Jazz Arena last year, Laura gets her own Big Top show on Thursday, May 1, and will also be appearing as a guest with another great young singer ESKA on the following day.
It wouldn’t surprise me if she also pops in to see Cheltenham’s guest festival director Jamie Cullum who, having sold out the Big Top once for the festival’s opening on Wednesday, April 30, is now in the process of selling it out twice. He appears with his band at 6.30pm and 9pm.
And there are many more fabulous vocalists at this year’s event, including a British treasure, Liane Carroll (May 4), the son of a legend, Frank Sinatra Jr (May 4), and a pop star turned jazzer, Curtis Stigers (May 5). My favourite is the man from Chicago, though I think he is now living in New York, Kurt Elling.
He is appearing with his quartet in Cheltenham Town Hall at 7pm on May 3.
Gregory Porter is becoming a regular at this festival – this will be his third consecutive year in town – and with good reason. No one is doing more to bring real jazz singing to a broader audience.
He will be in the Big Top on May 4, with other musicians from the legendary 75-year-old Blue Note label, including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.
Akinmusire is making substantial waves of his own in the modern jazz world, and appears in his own right in the Jazz Arena earlier that same day.
Representing the blues, are songwriter and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd (May 1) and Robert Cray (May 3), bringing pianistic brilliance is the Armenian Tigran (May 3) and the German Michael Wollny (May 3), showing that age means nothing to the jazz master, drummer Billy Cobham will be celebrating turning 70 (May 4), and the whole six-day musical bonanza is rounded off by the ever-popular Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, with guests including Gregory Porter and Marc Almond (May 5).
And there is loads and loads more. Most of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival takes place in a specially created garden of marquees, bars, eateries and a market, with free live music for all and a lovely, warm, welcoming vibe.
* The 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival runs from April 30 until May 5. For full details and to book your tickets go to www.cheltenhamfestivals.com
Birmingham’s fulsome jazz talents will be on show at Cheltenham. Look out for:
* Laura Mvula - I think we can still call her ours! Big Top, 8.30pm, May 1.
* Anthony Marsden – Rising star singer who will be aiding the digestion. Hotel Du Vin 12pm (includes lunch), May 3.
* Paul Dunmall Sextet - Multi-generational band working at the freer end of the jazz spectrum. The Playhouse, 12.15pm, May 3.
* The Edge Project - This showcase of cutting edge jazz features bassist Chris Mapp. The Playhouse, 10pm, May 3.
* Nearly Hot Club Four - Guitarist Sam Slater’s Django-inspired band entertains the diners. The Daffodil, 11.30am (includes lunch), May 4.
* Trondheim Jazz Exchange - The annual musical swap-shop for students from Birmingham Conservatoire and the Trondheim Conservatory in Norway. Parabola Arts Centre, 11.45am, May 4.
* Dan Nicholls’ Strobes - He lives in London now but the Birmingham Jazzlines Fellow grew up in Stafford and Birmingham. Parabola Arts Centre, 6pm, May 4.