|The Mingus Big Band at Iridium in New York
Highlights of the forthcoming Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender, which is a new event in the UK jazz calendar, include the Mingus Big Band, the Big Chris Barber Band, Dinosaur, Beats & Pieces, NYJO with the premiere of a new work by Nikki Iles… but there are also plenty of workshops, concerts and events devoted to broadening participation and attracting fresh audiences to the music. AJ Dehany spoke with festival director Ros Rigby, and also interviewed Chris Sharkey, who will lead a “Tots Play Jazz” session:
A key figure in arts programming in the North of England, Ros Rigby stood down in 2016 after fifteen years as Performance Programme Director of Sage Gateshead. She is now bringing her characteristic open-armed approach to the forthcoming Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender.
Alongside the big-name concerts in the newly refurbished spaces of Middlesbrough Town Hall, there will be a free stage presenting mainly local artists, and plenty of workshops and concerts aimed at children and new audiences of all ages.
“A festival is a great opportunity to encourage people to come along and try something for the first time,” says Ros Rigby. “A lot of festivals now have workshops; that wasn’t so much the case maybe ten years ago. But I think everybody realizes now that you need a way that people can engage with the programme—not just coming and watching concerts but actually doing something”
Singer and Jazz North northern line ambassador artist Zoë Gilby’s Sunday morning show Family Jazz Allstars is a whistle-stop tour through the history of jazz for age five upwards as well as parents. “It’s really a fun concert that anyone can enjoy,” says Ros. “There’s a bit of joining in and competitions about whether you recognize this tune. It’s appealing to families; anyone will enjoy this.”
Music educator Pete Churchill‘s workshop How To Make The Words Dance is open to anyone who enjoys singing in a group. “It could be for people who already go to a choir but want to try something a bit different. It could be for somebody who has done some solo singing but fancies the idea of trying something.” It will be a little different, conducted by ear rather than using sheet music, and involving movement too. “It’s kind of showing that jazz can also be about joining in with a big group to sing together and learn something.”
The performance “Gather And Sing” involves a hundred children from four primary schools in Middlesbrough performing material that Pete Churchill created originally for an event at the Southbank Centre. “By bringing young people from Teesside back into the picture, hopefully this will both bring people to the Town Hall that haven’t been for a long time, but also make them see that jazz isn’t frightening.”
On Saturday morning the National Youth Jazz Orchestra will work with members of the Tees Valley Youth Big Band, which has been revitalized especially for this event, and whose continuation will be one of the festival’s legacies. In the morning they’ll develop some repertoire that they will open the afternoon concert with. NYJO’s accessible programme itself will include popular standards, as well as several more challenging commissions by female composers, including two works by Laura Jurd and a world premiere by Nikki Iles.
|Jazz for Toddlers at the London Jazz Festival
Photo courtesy of Serious
One of the more intriguing events is a workshop for 2-5 year olds called Tots Play Jazz, led by Chris Sharkey, who is more usually known for his high-impact jazz-metal guitar-playing. He told me that he’s been involved in learning and participation for a decade, and last year was commissioned by the London Jazz Festival to fill their Jazz For Toddlers slot. In the show, he says, “everyone in the room becomes part of my band, we explore movement and sound, play games and write and perform our very own original song. In a tiny way, this show makes a case for the importance of culture in the UK at a time when we need it most. Music is for everyone, it brings people together and makes them feel good. Engaging in creativity is nourishing and fulfilling and, most of all, that’s what my work and this show is about.”
“It’s about building younger audiences,” says Ros Rigby. “When kids are two they don’t separate music into genres. They just think it’s having fun. But obviously because jazz is a form that is about improvisation and to some extent making it up as you go along—within a structure—it’s actually really ideal for working with kids, and young kids who don’t have any kind of preconceptions.”
AJ Dehany is based in London, which he moved to from Middlesbrough. He writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk