The 29th International Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival got underway in blazing sunshine at the Crowne Plaza hotel as the city prepared to welcome almost 400 musicians to the city.

In total there will be more than 210 performances in 86 venues in the city and the surrounding suburbs, with most of the events free to attend.

Highlights include Bob Kerr and his Whoopee Band, a jazz band that has been in existence since 1987.

Festival Director Jim Simpson said while the band might not offer the ‘musical Monty Python’ mayhem of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band which Kerr founded, it would be sure to be a popular draw.

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Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival organiser Jim Simpson

The festival lasts until July 14 and boasts a truly international flavour, with acts from Lithuania, the USA, Canada, Argentina, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium joining an array of home-grown musicians.

International artists appearing include Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis, described as the musical son of the legendary Stephane Grappelli and rising Lithuanian stars Sheep Got Waxed.

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Lithuanian stars Sheep Got Waxed

The festival even has its own pop-up shop in the Great Western Arcade in the city centre, which will double up as a venue too. With just 12 seats it will be the smallest festival venue by some considerable distance.

Among the more unusual performers are Yardley Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming. Mr Hemming’s outfit John Hemming and the Sisters of Jazz appears at the Hotel Du Vin at 2pm  on Sunday July 7.

Mr Simpson said the festival was thriving more than ever and drawing new audiences in each year, with hundreds of visitors from the UK and abroad making a special visit to the city to attend.

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The Remi Harris Trio

“People’s appetite for jazz seems to be growing,” he said. “Audiences are much younger now and younger audiences come without baggage, while older audiences tend to be more rigid in their tastes.

“Younger audiences come with an open mind, discover stuff and enjoy it.”

Councillor Carl Rice (Lab, Ladywood) praised the efforts of organisers and sponsors and said: “More than 200 performances in over 80 venues doesn’t happen by accident.

“I’m sure all those involved will make sure everyone visiting has a fantastic and memorable experience and ensure Birmingham retains its reputation as being a lively and enterprising city where people know how to have a good time.”

Festival patron and jazz trumpeter Digby Fairweather said: “The most amazing thing for me is how Jim Simpson has managed to improve and honour this magnificent festival for the last 29 years - I don’t know how he does it.”

* To find out what’s on visit www.birminghamjazzfestival.com.

Take a look back at previous jazz festivals: