The Cheltenham Jazz Festival is here. Peter Bacon highlights some of the top acts appearing.
A good arts festival should offer a myriad of ways in and through it – strands you can follow, something for the aficionados and for the novices, and a general buzz about the place.
Each May Day weekend, and in the week leading up to it, Cheltenham Jazz Festival does just that.
This week’s is only the 14th, but the festival has quickly found a vital place at the heart of the English jazz world and, with healthy backing from BBC Radio 2 and from Budweiser Budvar, has consolidated that position over the last couple of years.
So, there are countless paths to wander down – let’s take trumpets for starters.
One of the undoubted stars of the festival is South African Hugh Masekela, a vital player in the township style of jazz that emerged as a symbol of hope for the oppressed back in the 1960s.
Forced to flee his homeland early on, both to seek personal and musical freedom, Hugh had US hit success with his tune Grazing In The Grass and he also made some of the most creative jazz-rock fusion of the time.
A characterful singer as well as trumpeter, Masekela also summed up the bittersweet symbolism of the train ride for migrant mine workers in South Africa in his evocative song Stimela. (Just try YouTube for a taste of that one.)
Hugh Masekela is playing in Cheltenham Town Hall on Friday at 7.30pm.
Also on Friday evening, in The Daffodil, the lovely restaurant converted from an art deco cinema, is a trumpeter with a familiar face.
Colin Salmon is perhaps better known as an actor, both in Bond movies and in Dr Who. He was able to combine both talents a couple of Sundays ago when he played trumpeter Note Mkote in the BBC1 series, The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
His Cheltenham gig includes dinner and starts at 7.15pm.
There will be loads of trumpets in the Town Hall the previous night, of course, when the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Big Band celebrate the music of Duke Ellington. Don’t be fooled by the title - Friday Night Is Music Night is on Thursday, because it’s being recorded in advance for BBC Radio 2, and it starts at 7.30pm.
Sunday is also a good day for trumpeters, with cutting edge players from both the US and Europe.
Dave Douglas is one of the outstanding players of the instrument, and also a great bandleader, and he operates in what is still the most testing city for jazz, New York.
He brings his Quintet, with Donny McCaslin on saxophone, Orren Evans on Fender Rhodes keyboard, Scott Colley on bass and Clarence Penn on drums, to the Everyman Theatre at 7.30pm on Sunday evening.
As a trumpet appetizer for the that gig, the truly extraordinary Norwegian musician Arve Henriksen is in the Town Hall Pillar Room at 6pm. He is likely to be playing solo, I think, but uses loops and samples to create a rich texture for his trumpet which he sometimes plays without a mouthpiece and often makes sound as gentle as a flute. Like Masekela, he is also a great singer.
The British trumpeter Tom Arthurs is not only playing with his band Subtopia at noon on Sunday, also in the Town Hall Pillar Room, but is getting right down to basics on Monday morning with a trumpet masterclass. He’ll be giving advice to some young trumpet hopefuls and these sessions are fascinating, whether you are a musician or just an enthusiastic fan. It’s at 10.30am in the Town Hall Drawing Room. So that’s just some of the trumpets...
A saxophone guide to Cheltenham this week would include Julian Arguelles and Get The Blessing on Friday, Will Vinson, the Profound Sound Trio and Dave Liebman with the BBC Big Band on Saturday, Liebman again on Sunday with Phil Robson’s band, and Chris Bowden’s Tomorrow Band on Monday.
The vocal way through starts with Lizzy Parks, the Ruach Mass Choir, Ian Shaw and Mica Paris tomorrow, Lea Delaria and Imelda May on Wednesday, Joe Stilgoe and Todd Gordon on Thursday and Madeleine Peyroux on Saturday. Special mention should be made of the US guitarist Pat Martino. He has been one of the greats on his instrument since the 1960s but life-saving brain surgery in 1980 left him with total memory loss. He had to learn to play the guitar all over again.
To hear him today is to hear a man who has learned his art to an awesome technical and creative level not just once, but twice, from scratch.
Pat Martino plays at the Everyman Theatre at 7.30pm on Friday and a film about him, Martino Unstrung, is being shown on the Pitville Campus of the University of Gloucester the previous evening.
Another visiting US star is drummer Jack DeJohnette. Jack played a solo gig at last year’s festival and enjoyed it so much he is back, this time working with young British players who have all participated in the festival’s Jerwood Jazz Generation scheme over the past few years.
The band will include Tom Arthurs on trumpet, Shabaka Hutchings on clarinet, Gareth Lockrane on flute and Tom Cawley on piano.
The traditional Sunday morning Breakfast Show in the Town Hall is always filled with families and the aroma of bacon butties, and this year providing the entertainment is children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen with The Homemade Orchestra. It starts at a thoroughly civilised 10.30am.
And what about that general festival buzz? Well, there is a lot of that, because in addition to the main programme of 46 ticketed events, there is a wide-spread and vibrant Festival Fringe happening in pubs, parks, clubs and restaurants all around the town.
The Budvar Jazz Marquee in the Imperial Gardens is hosting free events right through the weekend, and includes a Family Fun Day on Sunday.
* The Cheltenham Jazz Festival starts tomorrow and runs to Monday, May 4. There is more information and booking on cheltenhamfestivals.com or by calling the box office on 0844 576 7979.