Photo Credit: Emily Dove
Trumpet player and Bedford resident TOM SYSON has taken it upon himself to bring a festival of high-quality jazz to the town. Now in its third year, the Conscia Jazz Festival (previously Bedford Jazz Festival) will be showcasing a range of national and local jazz musicians at the Quarry Theatre in Bedford for 3 days from 1 to 3 September. Leah Williams talked to Syson about the development of the festival, and this year’s impressive line-up:
LondonJazz News: How did the Conscia Jazz Festival get started?
Tom Syson: Well, I’ve always been interested in promoting jazz outside of the main UK cities, especially in Bedford where I’m from. For my final year project at Birmingham Conservatoire, I decided to run a small festival in Bedford and Milton Keynes to see how it was received. It went really well and each year it has just grown in size.
LJN: So what’s different about this year’s festival?
TS: It’s bigger and longer again, running over three days with an opening night performance on the Friday from the amazing Snowpoet and then other great headline gigs from Joe Stilgoe on the Saturday and the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with Trish Clowes to close on Sunday evening. It’s also all concentrated in the one location this year.
LJN: Is that the Quarry Theatre again?
TS: Yes. We had several gigs there at the previous festival but this time decided it would work best to hold everything there and create a really great buzz and atmosphere around the festival in one central spot. The main stage will be in the theatre and then the community stage will be outside in the garden so people will be able to get a taste of the full festival no matter which bit they’re attending.
LJN: What’s going to be happening on the community stage?
TS: It’s mainly a platform for local musicians to showcase what they can do. I really think it’s equally important to both bring national and international musicians into Bedford and also to give local musicians a chance to perform, meet and get involved. The community stage will be free so anyone can come along and have a listen, even if they don’t want to buy a ticket for one of the main stage performances.
LJN: Is there a big jazz community in Bedford?
TS: There are some incredible musicians and local nights here, yes. I’m hoping that the wider interest and appreciation will also continue to grow off the back of the festival. Jazz is such a diverse genre and I often find that many people who say they don’t like jazz haven’t actually had the chance to hear really good live music. After the festival last year, lots of people came up and shared how great they had found the experience, whether they were locals who previously had to travel into London to hear big jazz names or people who hadn’t really had any experience of the genre before.
LJN: What would be your recommended gig this year for people who might be experiencing jazz for the first time?
TS: Well, all our headliners and main stage acts are really top class and all of them will be incredible to see live but I guess I’d probably say the closing gig with Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and Trish Clowes. A lot of people I talk to have this preconception that jazz is “boring” and that gig is bound to be anything but! It’s also the biggest ensemble of the festival so will be quite an impressive show.
LJN: Is there anything else people should know about?
TS: This year, we’re planning two education events which will take place on Saturday and Sunday morning at the Quarry Theatre. Details of these will be released on the website shortly. There will also be a couple of fringe events taking place on the John Bunyan Boat, one each lunchtime on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
LJN: How can people book?
TS: All tickets can be booked on the Conscia Jazz Festival website – http://www.conscia.org – and, for the first time, we’re offering both day and weekend tickets as well as for individual gigs so that people can have the opportunity to see as much music as they want for a great price.
Prices: Weekend Ticket – £99 (£90 conc) Saturday Ticket – £55 (£50 conc) Sunday Ticket – £55 (£50 conc)
LJN: Finally, will you be playing at all during the festival?
TS: I will for the first time this year, actually. I’m going to be opening the main stage on the Saturday with Berlin-based pianist Mark Pringle. I also play lead trumpet in the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra so will be on stage for that gig too. (pp)