The Cheltenham Jazz Festival opens this week and will prove a strong magnet for Midlands jazz lovers. Peter Bacon has a look at the programme.
Whoever thought jazz was something paunchy, middle-aged men did with a pint of real ale in hand in pub back rooms, has clearly never been near a modern jazz festival.
For a mix of glamour and cool, next week’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival (Wednesday, May 2 to Monday, May 7) would be hard to beat.
Some of the giants of modern jazz – Bill Frisell, Marcus Miller, John Taylor – stand beside up and coming young players from Britain – Kit Downes, Matt Schofield – and outshining them all – in the photographs, at least – are the bejeweled and be-ball gowned singers Paloma Faith, Melody Gardot and the Puppini Sisters.
Festival guest director Jamie Cullum will be there and so will the most fabulous new singer to hit the scene: Gregory Porter.
And in place of the dusty pub back rooms, there is a fresh tented settlement in the elegant Montpelier Gardens – Jazz In The Gardens, they call it – that surrounds the venues with bars, chill-out lounges and even a small cinema.
Much as I love the jazz this country’s musicians produce, a big festival presents the rare chance to see some of the greats from further afield.
So let’s hear it for the Americans.
Take a quick listen to jazz radio – Jazz FM, for example – and you will know that jazz fusion never died, it just became something people listened to in their homes or cars rather than at gigs.
So it’s a real treat to have bass maestro Marcus Miller here.
Not only was Marcus the brains behind the 1980s albums of Miles Davis, he also produced and arranged for Luther Vandross and other R ’n’ B legends.
His performances have the energy and feel of a rock gig, and he appears in Cheltenham’s Big Top on Saturday at 5.45pm.
Speaking of Miles, if there is one musician who has, over his career, matched the trumpeter for ever-evolving exploration and creativity, it is surely the guitarist Bill Frisell.
Sure, he might not have Miles’s flamboyance – Bill has never, to my knowledge, driven a yellow Ferrari – but in terms of stature and influence upon the music, Frisell is, for my money, today’s Miles.
Last time he was in Cheltenham it was with a large band playing music from his History, Mystery album.
This time he fronts his Beautiful Dreamers trio with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. They play the Big Top on Sunday, also starting at 5.45pm.
Another exceptional trio from across the Atlantic is Fieldwork, which brings together three astounding composers and players from the New York scene.
Vijay Iyer is on piano, Steve Lehman is on alto saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.