|Bobby Wellins, Geoff Simkins. South Coast Jazz Festival 2015|
Photo Credit: Shaun Hines
West Coast Cool? East Coast Hip? This past weekend it was all about South Coast Swagger… The UK’s south coast, that is, which saw the inaugural South Coast Jazz Festival take place in delightful Shoreham-by-Sea. Dreamt up, organised, curated and presented by Claire Martin OBE and Julian Nicholas, it had it all: all ages, all styles, all bases – from educational workshops for beginners, to talks, exhibitions, and masterclass concerts by top stars in the UK jazz firmament… all sharing an affinity of living near the sea.
The Ropetackle Arts Centre itself is excellent, with a foyer café/bar providing good food and a relaxed hubbub of musicians, audience, and locals, with the added majesty of David Redfern’s jazz photos gracing the walls.
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Eleven Memorable Moments
· The Olympic roster of vocal talents on the opening night.
· Audience in tears (Liane Carroll amongst them) watching the local choir
· “If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it – do it again!” . At the jazz workshop run by Sue Richardson and Trudy Kerr]
· Transcendent musicianship of the genre-busting and curiously-named Cloggz
· Cloggz’ 18yr-old guitarist Eden Townend’s perfectly tasteful accompaniment line on banjo (yes, really).
· Vibrant and engaged involvement of lots of young people in jazz (yes, you read that right).
· Audience singing to Bobby Wellins to celebrate his 79th birthday, on presentation of a cake during the gig. Radio 3 Jazz Line-up were there to record it.
· “I’m Glad to be here playing this gig on my birthday. At 79 I’m glad to be anywhere” (Bobby Wellins)
· Gareth Williams’ sublime solo piano introduction to It Never Entered My Mind
· “I can’t read these notes in this light – need my glasses – turns out mother was right all along” (Pete Long)
· Echoes of Ellington closing the Festival on Sunday night – a perfect ending.
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Impressions of the Festival
I was impressed by the diversity of the programme. As well as the big stars – not least elder statesman Bobby Wellins, jazz headliners Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Pete Long, Mark Edwards, Mark Bassey, Geoff Simkins, Joe Stilgoe, Gareth Williams and of course Julian and Claire, there were solo acts up to big band; a local school choir; an improvisation workshop for kids; an all-day vocal workshop; an intro-to-jazz lecture by Kevin LeGendre; a film screening; performers aged 9 to 79; a close-up magician; a Sunday jam session…
The education programme produced, for me at least, a lump-in-the-throat moment at the end-of-workshop concert: 17 kids really having a go at soloing – and loving it. As Julian summed up “That’s not something we see enough of!”. This was sowing the seeds for the next generation of jazz – musicians and audience.
Another aspect to emphasize was the organic nature of it all. No huge company nor agency behind this; no huge PR budget; no corporate sponsorship (just a small Arts Council grant); no multi-level ego passes; no bullsh*t; just a tiny team with big ideas… which they pulled off with aplomb. I don’t know how they did it, but they did! Administratrix supreme Elaine Crouch, production manager Phil “Unflappable” Jackson and Ropetackle Centre Manager Anne Hodgson get a special mention here.
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The atmosphere was beautiful: friendly, supportive, family-friendly, with a focus on the true creativity and love of the music. Walks on the beach…twinkling yachts in the harbour…a laid-back vibe… it was a glimpse of the future of jazz, and jazz festivals – organic, new, friendly, accepting, inclusive. No wonder it was completely sold out… The future’s looking very sunny for South Coast Jazz. More please!
Neal Richardson of Splash Point Music is on Twitter as @splashpointmuse