Jazz Voices is a new festival that focuses on the power of the singer and the emotions contained in the lyrics of jazz songs. Held over the weekend of 5 to 7 April, it also aims to draw a national audience to the Cinnamon Club in South Manchester to hear local talents alongside nationally recognised names including Ian Shaw and Sara Dowling. Rob Hughes spoke to festival organizer Neil Hughes:
“This is the 16th year the Cinnamon Club has been operating and as a venue we’ve become established in the Manchester area as somewhere people can go to hear great singers,” says festival organiser and the club’s managing director, Neil Hughes. “We wanted to celebrate that and give a wider platform to some of the local singers that our regular audience know through a higher profile event.”
The idea of staging a festival at the club stems partly from Hughes’ stewardship of Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend in Southport over the past four years. The most recent instalment of the weekend proved to be an outstanding success and Hughes has enjoyed programming an event over four days.
“I get great satisfaction from putting all the elements together and I thought the idea of a boutique event in an intimate venue – the capacity is 80 – with two rooms, the ballroom and the lounge, would appeal as the sort of thing people might travel to,” says Hughes.
To this end, Hughes has done a deal with the nearby Mercure Bowden Hotel, offering rooms at a special rate and laying on a shuttle bus for anyone who doesn’t want to make the short walk to and from the club. Weekend tickets let festival goers see eight acts over the two and half days, although tickets for individual concerts are available also.
“We kick off on the Friday with Tom Seals, who’s a great singer and a terrific boogie-woogie piano player, and the young singer-songwriter Lyza,” says Hughes. “They’ll each be playing classic albums in their entirety, with Tom presenting Billy Joel’s Stranger and Lyza doing Carole King’s Tapestry. Then on the Saturday we have two special local talents, Zoe Kyoti, who’ll be giving her first full band performance, and Kirsty Tatler. They’ll be followed by Ian Shaw, who’s always a popular visitor to the club and has just been nominated for a JazzFM Award.”
Sunday’s music begins with a gospel concert featuring the powerful voice of one of the north west’s finest singers, Alison Owen, who will be joined by the Music Place Gospel Choir, and in the evening Sara Dowling arrives from London.
“Sara’s been to the Cinnamon Club five or six times now and for me, she’s one of the most gifted jazz singers in the UK,” says Hughes. “Like Ian Shaw, she’s appreciated by fellow musicians as well as reviewers. Nigel Price has been very complimentary about her singing and musicianship and she got a five star review in Jazz Journal, so we know that we’re giving the audience top, top talent.”
As the club’s director Hughes takes pride in the breadth of music the Cinnamon Club has presented.
“We’re open to music on the fringes of jazz and blues – soul is particularly popular here and we had a great night recently with the Steely Dan tribute band, Nearly Dan,” he says. “But we like to present strong music at jazz’s core, too. We have Janette Mason and Wendy Kirkland due at the club soon, both very, very good jazz pianists.”
Jazz Voices, he adds, embraces and showcases the club’s philosophy of giving people high quality music and good value for money in a relaxed environment.
“We’re really looking at turning the club into a speakeasy for the weekend,” he says. “People buying into the full experience get private access to the Jazz Lounge before, during and after the performances. They also get a welcome meal on the Friday, free snacks, tea, coffee and bottled water in the Jazz Lounge over the weekend, a meal on the Saturday and brunch on the Sunday. All that and tickets to hear eight great performances. We hope that’ll make the Cinnamon Club the place to be on the first weekend in April.” (pp)