Feature/Interview (PP)

Jazz South Online Festival (22-30 April)

Since the founding of Jazz South three years ago (*), the programme has been busy developing networks, connections and talent across the south of England. To celebrate the diverse talent across the region and showcase some of its collaborations and commissions, the programme is broadcasting a series of free events between 22-30 April- links below. Leah Williams spoke to Jazz South Manager Tamsin Mendelsohn.

Appearing in the Onlne Festival. Clockwise from top left: Lucinda Fosker, Asha Parkinson, Tim Davies, Roella Oloro, John K Miles and Olie Brice

Jazz South sets out its aims as: supporting and developing talent, creating connections, looking at sustainable practice, and nurturing the next generation (meaning artists, audiences, promoters, producers, and more). Reaching from Cornwall and Bristol up to Oxfordshire and across Hampshire into the Sussexes, this is no mean feat. “It was a big exercise in identifying jazz in the south to begin with,” Jazz South Manager Tamsin Mendelsohn explains. “And we found some really wide and varied pockets. There are of course vibrant scenes in urban areas, like Bristol and Brighton, but also quite a lot of rural pockets and just generally great things happening all over.”

Setting out to help artists, promoters and funding opportunities connect, the focus shifted slightly over the pandemic to respond to the needs of artists who were struggling through the development of a commissioning programme. Jazz South Radar Commissions and Breakthrough Commissions offered composers from the region the chance to develop their work and provided a platform for highlighting the amount and diversity of talent across the area.

“There’s so much talent outside of London,” says Mendelsohn. “But do people know they’re there? Do you know that Randolph Matthews lives in Folkestone, Josephine Davies in Saint Leonards or Hannah Jacobs in Oxford, for example? We wanted to help local promoters become aware of who’s in their region.”

The Jazz South Online Festival provides an opportunity to see a selection of the exciting talent and projects that have been supported, with a diverse programme that represents the many elements of their work and also the range of artists, venues and initiatives across the south.

Workshops created in partnership with local arts venues and education hubs will see the first three days of the festival engaging young people from the Hastings and Poole areas with jazz, spoken word and the music industry, with artists including Soweto Kinch, Shunaji, Greg Foat and more.

Following on the 25 and 26 April are two of the Radar Commission artists. First, an interview with John K Miles by broadcaster and journalist Kevin Le Gendre as part of the Jazz South Spotlight podcast series.

Next up it’s a performance of bassist (and LJN contributor) Olie Brice’s ‘Fire Hills’ commission alongside Jason Yarde on alto sax and Nick Malcolm on trumpet. Olie will also chat to Le Gendre about writing the piece, and how he sets about composing within a free improvisation setting.

In two double bills, the Breakthrough Commissions are from artists and composers early in their careers who were given free rein on approach, inspiration and line-up. The result is “four exciting, utterly different young composers,” Tamsin enthuses, adding, “I was amazed by how creative they all are, not only with their music but with every aspect of the performance and recording, each bringing their own visual concept and adding new dimensions to their pieces. These are going to be truly unique and exciting performances to watch.”

Pieces by pianist Roella Oloro and vocalist Lucinda Fosker will be broadcast on 27 April. Roella, a Berklee student and busy composer and performer, has used the concept of perfumery to bring different musical styles and elements together within a classic keys, bass and drum trio. “Expect excellent improvisation within a groove structure, and a whole immersive experience with lighting and a considered set bringing the perfumier concept to life.” A sneak preview of the recording does indeed reveal a catchy contemporary piece with a tight, yet lilting groove and a memorable, motif-style melodic line set against a colourful, atmospheric floral background.

Roella Oloro (appearing on 27 April)

Lucinda has created a contemporary vocal suite for a six-piece in homage to a stretch of the River Thames, which will be accompanied by some time-lapse photography of the river throughout different times of day. Upon initial listening, it is both Lucinda’s melodious vocals and the way the piece develops, both musically and structurally – meandering then taking sharp and unexpected turns at times, that make it so striking and bring to life the river with its beautiful yet wild and changing nature.

On 28 April, performances from saxophonist Asha Parkinson and modular synthesist/drummer Tim Davies will be broadcast. Asha’s cross-cultural collaboration involves an 11-piece of saxophone, qanun, Arabic percussion, voice, string quartet and rhythm section bringing together members of Asha’s Kalpadruma collective with performers in the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians. Exploring the female experience of repression in patriarchal cultures, it’s a suite of five movements that also includes a setting of Syrian poet Maram Al Masri’s work.

“The piece is just beautiful,” Tamsin says. “Asha is a phenomenal talent. She really knows how to orchestrate, and she worked closely with all these musicians to find out how it worked best for them and how to set the Arabic text – most of it done on Zoom and with backing tracks as well!”

Tim Davies, an astrophysics graduate, is a modular synthesist and drummer. Underpinned by the “vibrant, pulsing electronic sound” from the synthesiser he built and programmed, he’s created an exciting piece for drums, Rhodes, piano, guitar, bass and saxophone. Innovative and creative, a listen to this piece reveals something that is both ‘sit up and take notice’ unique while also softly soothing with a modern electronic sound working in perfect symbiosis with more traditional jazz soundscapes and grooves.

Tim Davies (28 April). Photo credit: Elliot Loven

The importance of these commissions is made clear by Tim, who shared how the experience has helped him to develop during a difficult time: “Being a part of Jazz South’s Breakthrough Commission scheme has been a fantastic experience for me. It has given me a real sense of focus for my creative energy, and the motivation and support to push my writing further than ever before. 

“Combining modular synthesis with acoustic instruments in a live setting was not something that I had done before this project, and developing the ideas and techniques needed to accomplish this, whilst working entirely in isolation, was quite a challenge. Having the platform to both discuss the music with a mentor, and eventually bring it in front of a band was hugely rewarding for me.”

There will also be a short Q&A with each Breakthrough composer, which will offer viewers some insights into the young artists’ different processes, inspirations and musical thoughts.

The festival concludes on International Jazz Day (Friday 30 April) with a double-bill of British jazz talent presenting Denys Baptiste’s Late Trane and a Rebecca Nash piano solo, hosted by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre.

(*) Jazz South results from Ambition for Excellence funding awarded to Turner Sims Southampton by Arts Council England

LINKS: Online Fest at the Jazz South website

The Breakthrough Sessions will be streamed on Jazz South’s YouTube channel and on the Jazz South website on 27 & 28 April, 8pm

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