PREVIEW: Jazz Leeds Festival (19-24 July 2018)

It’s growing! Jazz Leeds Festival was a one-day toe in the water last year. And by 2013, the city’s year-long celebration of culture, main man Steve Crocker hopes it will be a full 10-day international jazz festival to rival the best. This year it’s an impressive six-dayer. Peter Bacon hears from Steve:

LondonJazz News: So why Leeds, Steve?

Steve Crocker: Leeds has always been a fantastic city for jazz. The College of Music offered Europe’s first-ever jazz course 50 years ago and produced alumni like Alan Barnes, Dave Newton and Chris Batchelor. The first woman big band leader in the UK, Ivy Benson, was born in Leeds. There are currently 24 venues here putting on regular jazz events. But so far it’s been an undiscovered city for the outside world, whereas the festivals in other northern towns and cities have thrived. Given the extraordinary amount of high quality music produced in Leeds, the musical talent in the city deserves to be much better known.”

LJN: After the one-day festival last year this one must feel a lot busier?

SC: We launch the festival on 19 July in one of Leeds’ jazz cradles, Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton. The opening big band, Leeds Youth Jazz Rock Orchestra led by Brendan Duffy is made up of musicians still at school, which in itself says a great deal about the healthy state of the jazz scene here. And the festival then rolls out until the following Tuesday, like a long weekend! There are three main venues: The Wardrobe, the College of Music, and Millennium Square. We’ve over 300 musicians playing in 50 bands performing everything from traditional jazz via swing danceband music through to free-improvisation. And there will be small jazz groups busking in the city and even an “Otley Jazz Run” with street band Bassa Bassa to whet appetites for free!

And Leeds has so much social history attached to its jazz which we rarely hear about. So we’ll remember Duke Ellington’s 1958 Odeon concert, when he met The Queen and in her honour wrote the now rarely heard Queen’s Suite. Some people may remember Studio 20, the city’s top 1950s jazz club, now the Sela Bar, where top British jazz musicians like Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes would play, drink the rest of the night and go back blearily to London on the milk train! The Carriageworks is staging a special play about those days written by Leeds author Chris Nickson, along with an exhibition of many B&W photographs of the place and players by the late Leeds photographer Terry Cryer. Then our final festival concert will be a celebration of the music of Xero Slingsby, Leeds’s late, great punk-jazz sax player, featuring the Shuffledemons from Canada.

LJN: You’re also looking to the so-called New Wave?

SC: We’re showcasing a number of young players who are driving up the extraordinary renewed interest in jazz not merely in London but across the country. Nubya Garcia leads the London Jazz Warriors-born group Nérija. Archipelago bring their fusion of garage-rock and avant garde, while from Leeds we have Têtes De Pois, who play jazz with added soul and Latin/Afro beats; and Morpher, a contemporary experimental jazz trio.

LINK: Jazz Leeds Festival 2018

Categories: Previews

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