|Dafer Youssef – photo from the Sligo Jazz website|
The Sligo Jazz Project’s 2015 Jazz Festival and International Summer School will take place from 21st to 26th July 2015. Director Eddie Lee talked to Peter Bacon about this year’s edition, with appearances by The Impossible Gentlemen (band-in-residence), Dhafer Youssef and Ernie Watts:
Some jazz festivals get established and then expand by adding education work into their programme. But in Sligo it was the other way around. Sligo Jazz Project’s Jazz Festival grew naturally out of the organisation’s International Summer School. This is SJP’s 10th year and the Festival will open on Tuesday 21 July with a concert by Tunisian singer and oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef.
The Festival and the Summer School will also feature The Impossible Gentlemen (pianist Gwilym Simcock, guitarist Mike Walker, bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum), saxophonist Ernie Watts, singer Liane Carroll and bassist Chuck Rainey. Eddie Lee, Sligo Jazz Project’s director, explained how it all began: “The idea was to get some great musicians to Sligo because of the dearth of musical education, especially jazz, around here. “We didn’t realise we would create such a popular event. We thought we would get a few local musicians coming along to the workshops. When people started crossing the Atlantic to come to this thing, we realised we must be doing something right.” With all those great players coming to this town of 20,000 on the west coast of Ireland it seemed a pity to restrict them to teaching.
“We got all our tutors to do concerts each night,” Eddie told me. “The summer school started with five tutors – this year we’ll have 18. A lot of these guys have only just met. They’re getting on stage together and creating a performance probably never to be repeated. You could call it a jam session, I suppose, but when you get players of that quality it can be the most wondrous thing. And it’s unique.”
An expanded jazz festival alongside the summer school was the inevitable result. Bands who were touring began to be invited – the first, in 2007, was Avishai Cohen’s Trio; this year it’s Dhafer Youssef with his quartet. Eddie said: “I’ve always liked to have a world music element. I heard Dhafer a year and a half ago for the first time. He blew my mind!”
There is a nice link, too, in having the Youssef band open the Sligo Jazz Festival. The band’s bassist is Phil Donkin, who was the project’s first bass tutor back in 2005.
Every festival needs its own signature and Sligo’s is clearly this combination of school and concert series. Eddie again: “The SJP All-Stars concert which ends the week is when the whole faculty gets together. It’s always one of the highlights of the festival. They’ve been inspiring people all week, these tutors, and they get inspired by that as well. They lift their game – if you can call it a game!
“Ernie Watts is going to host it this year with Liane Carroll – I’ve absolutely no doubt it’s going to be a breathtaking night.” All in all, Sligo Jazz Project seems to have reached to the heart of the music. Eddie recalls the words of bass tutor Steve Rodby at last year’s event:
“Steve said :’I went to jazz camp (summer school) when I was a teenager and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do then, and after the jazz camp I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It set me on a path and I’m still on that path today and but for that path it gave me I wouldn’t have met Pat Metheny or Lyle Mays…’
“He summed up exactly what we set this up for in the first place: to get young players on a path, to start a musical journey. And every year I see it happening here.”