One of the biggest nights in the jazz calendar is returning to Birmingham – 27 years after it started here – as the city continues to cement its place as the UK’s jazz capital.
The British Jazz Awards, known as the Jazz Oscars in the industry, will take place at St Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter on July 10 after funds were found to bring the bash back.
Former Black Sabbath manager Jim Simpson, who was involved in their creation more than a quarter of a century ago, said recognition of Birmingham’s jazz heritage was long overdue.
“It is the most significant awards and probably the most significant night of the year for the British jazz scene,” he said.
“It started off in Birmingham, and was sponsored by M&B, and then BT took it over and it went to London, but now it is back.”
The awards will form a major part of the Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival, which is expected to attract almost 100,000 people this summer.
And they will follow the well-established Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival, to be held at Moseley Park from July 5 to 7.
The main attractions will be US disco act Chic, featuring legendary guitarist, writer and producer Nile Rodgers, along with Candi Staton and Soul II Soul.
The jazz awards were created by Mr Simpson with the musician and broadcaster Humphrey Littleton, who was patron of the Jazz & Blues Festival, and saxophonist and Radio 2 presenter Benny Green.
The initial aim was to recognise that many of the world’s top jazz performers were British – and often suffered for their art.
Now a director of the Big Bear Music Group, Mr Simpson said Birmingham was the natural home for the event.
“In the 1950s and even earlier, Birmingham Town Hall was one of the first classical venues to perform jazz,” he said.
“It was way ahead of its time as a result of all the jazz clubs in the city. In the 60s there must have been 18 or 20 venues.
“In the 1950s and 60s we were producing more world-class jazz players than anyone. Then, come the 60s, the trad boom overshadowed the musicality of jazz and the classical players.
“We wanted to acknowledge those guys who made very little money and ruined their lives travelling everywhere.
“We wanted to respect those sacrifices and give something back to award musical excellence.”
For many years, the honours were presented at the city’s Grand Hotel by the likes of John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, with Nina Simone among the stars who attended.
They are returning to Birmingham as a result of a tie-up with businesses in the Jewellery Quarter.
The event is being supported by the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust, and backed up by the Jewellery Quarter Business Improvement District (BID).
BID operations director Keith Stanley said: “It is a national event. They had things like this here way back, but nothing recently.
“The hospitality businesses want to see footfall and I believe jazz fans have a certain fondness for drinking alcohol, so it brings more people in to spend money in the Quarter.”
The award nominations will be provided by a 20-strong panel of jazz experts – journalists, festival directors, broadcasters, venue owners.
Sixteen categories will be opened up to a public vote, including Rising Star, Big Band and Small Group.
The BID is also involved in many initiatives to make the Quarter safer and cleaner, and to attract visitors, including through a farmers’ market and photographic exhibition.
The awards fit in with the 29th annual Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival, which takes place between July 5 and 14.
The event, which attracted 88,000 people last year, less than in 2011 because of the rain, will see 175 mostly-free shows staged over 10 days.
Mr Simpson said the success of the festival showed the city’s musical soul.
“Birmingham is a very musical city,” he said. “It punches far above its weight and produces far more bands in pop music generally. But not enough people know about it.
“I worked with Black Sabbath. Everyone knows who they are, but nobody knows they are from Birmingham. It is the same with Duran Duran, The Spencer Davis Group and The Move.
“The popular music of Birmingham is probably a cross between jazz, rock and blues. The Spencer Davis Group typifies that, but there are lots of young up-and-coming bands in the city with those influences.”
* For more details go to www.birminghamjazzfestival.com