Feature/Interview

The first Guildford JazzFest (20-22 March 2020)

Surrey has a new jazz festival, and its wide-ranging mix of star names, concerts, film, talk, workshop and a young musicians’ showcase makes for a very impressive inaugural programme. Lauren Bush finds out more about Guildford Jazzfest 20:

The inaugural Guildford jazz festival (or Guildford Jazzfest to give it its punchier name) taking place over the weekend 20-22 March 2020 at the Electric Theatre, may be the first, but it is the natural next step in the evolution of this community endeavour. Guildford Jazz has been building up quite a scene for itself over the last eight or nine years thanks to the motivation of local bass player Marianne Windham. Along with the help of their society patron, Bill Bruford (named by Rolling Stone magazine as #16 Greatest Drummer of All Time in 2016) this festival is geared up to be their best event yet.

Windham explained that this festival is intended to celebrate the best of British jazz, highlighting all the different pockets within this eclectic genre. Have a look at the Guildford Jazz website and it won’t take long to discover that this festival, while only spanning a weekend, seems to cover almost any interest, preference or curiosity within the jazz realm. Windham has carefully curated this event to feature some of Surrey’s best and shines a spotlight on several interesting components that are unique to this festival.

Dennis Rollins. Photo: Darren Cowley

One of the most graciously unique factors is that the proceeds are donated to a local charity. Guildford Jazz states: “This is a festival with a difference.” Proceeds all go to Guildford Philanthropy to help local people disadvantaged by disability, poor education, and mental illness or caring responsibilities.

Again, putting the community at the heart of this endeavour, the festival opens with the Surrey Young Jazz Musicians of the Year showcase. Across the county, there are a number of talented musicians who help educate young people to enjoy and excel at jazz. Giving these youth a platform to perform and highlighting all the talent that comes from this region is a great way to bring out the community in support.

The programme continues with some world jazz from guitarist Nicolas Meier, some jazz-funk from trombonist Dennis Rollins’ group Velocity and a talk with Sandy Burnett bound to interest any history buff on the beginnings of jazz.

Saturday afternoon also features the rare opportunity to get involved in a workshop led by the very inspirational Pete Churchill. Churchill is a renowned musical director and choir leader and a terrific pianist and singer in his own right. This Come and Sing Jazz! event is open to anyone who enjoys singing – no experience necessary. Churchill has a way of making everyone feel comfortable and confident in their abilities and the result is always rewarding. Then stay for the even more rare opportunity Pete Churchill Sings Jazz where he’ll play and sing some of his favourite standards.

In the evening, another Surrey native, Iain Ballamy, headlines. This special event begins in conversation with Bill Bruford. Plan to hear about their time together in Earthworks and hopefully more about the concert to follow – a celebration of Ballamy’s music arranged for big band. Malcolm Edmonstone, Head of Jazz at Guildhall, has arranged a collection of Ballamy’s music for the Guildhall Big Band to perform, with Ballamy, of course, at the forefront. This is a concert not to be missed.

Iain Ballamy. Publicity photo

Sunday is jam-packed as well, with some of the most recognisable names on the UK scene, Alan Barnes and Dave Newton playing straight ahead jazz favourites followed by the Nightingale/Barnes/Waterman All-star Sextet playing the music of Henry Mancini – a programme sure to be filled with recognisable classics from Mancini’s long list of film compositions. If you’re a bit of a film buff, you can check out Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster Keaton’s last independent silent comedy accompanied by Gareth Williams on piano. This is a great opportunity to be exposed to jazz in a totally different way.

The weekend closes off with Latin Jazz Salsa with Heads South – an exhilarating group that combines Cuban and other Latin rhythms with distinctive melodies to share some of their original music and known favourites. This percussion-oriented music is bound to have everyone on the dance floor and what a way to party!

Ultimately, there’s no excuse not to check out Guildford Jazzfest. Come if you’re local to support your community or come if you’re not because it’s only a 20-minute train ride from Waterloo station. Come to support the charity, the youth, or just because you’re a massive Yes fan! Come for the food – a “creole jazz lunch” or a “New Orleans Jazz Brunch” before your afternoon concert. Come to see or hear something new or because you know these musicians are the best the UK has to offer. Without a doubt everyone will find something to love about the Guildford Jazz Festival.

There are all kinds of ways that you can buy your tickets – to one event, to the whole weekend, including breakfast or a gin cocktail (or both!).

LINK: Website to view event and buy tickets

Other events:

Midsummer Jazz in the Park at Loseley Park – 21 June: In aid of Bowel cancer charity GUTS. There’s a promo video to give you a feel for it here. 

Wood Street Jazz Festival – 19 July: In aid of the disabled children’s charity Challengers and now in it’s fifth year, this summer festival just gets bigger and better! The 2020 lineup features Joanna Eden with Jazz at the Movies. Full details. 

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