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Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival 2021

Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival

(Pier Stage and King’s Hall, Herne Bay, 22 August 2021 (third day of three). Round-Up by Sebastian Scotney)

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What if jazz wasn’t always tucked away in hidden places to be pored over by cognoscenti, but actually, occasionally to be heard out there in public places, resonating invitingly throughout a town, where the curious can find out what it’s all about? It happens in Montreal, where people head into the city centre in their thousands for the free events at the world’s largest jazz festival. It also happens in Herne Bay.

I shan’t forget my walk along the seafront just on Sunday (late as ever for a set which had started at 4pm), I heard the wonderfully welcoming, crisp sound of a six-piece band led by Enrico Tomasso, cleverly interweaving carefully crafted musical lines with expert reedsmen Mark Crooks and Robert Fowler. As the sound echoed round the town, I was imagining, maybe even hoping, that others might also become curious… find themselves drawn by the magnetic appeal of those sounds in the air (hats off to a hard-working sound guy)…and head for the bandshell at the end of the pier where the group was playing.

Enrico Tomasso’s Swingtet and a fairground ride. Phone snaps by Sebastian

The bandstand is right next to a fairground attraction, as this picture shows. Maybe next year, if weather forecasts for the weekend of this festival are better, more people will be receptive to a message that definitely needs to be heard: that it is worth heading to this attractive seaside town on Jazz Festival weekend in August for an event which is all about enjoyment. In past years there have been up to 6,000 people visit the pier on festival days.

How has this happened? Because there is nobody who works harder at the business of sharing joy through music and bringing it to a summer audience than vocalist Kai Hoffman. She has been running this festival since 2017. She has inspired supporters and volunteers to get involved… And she programmes it very well and imaginatively too.

After a COVID-induced cancellation in 2020, his year’s programme, the most ambitious yet, was over three days. Kai Hoffman explained the background in an interview last month. (LINK BELOW)

She stepped up at one point to announce that she had procured a supply of rain ponchos. Yes, this happy little jazz festival on the Kent coast has another thing in common its massively bigger and more established Canadian cousin.

Rachael Cohen Quartet

One ray of sunshine was (it is actually visible in the photo above at the start of the set before rain brifly set in) was the performance by a quartet of Rachael Cohen with Will Barry, Shane Forbes and Will Sach. This was deft programming. Music normally to be heard in a club which sounds great at the end of a pier. Rachael Cohen finished her set with a jaunty “Silk Stockings”. Her last album was recorded in 2012, and she has got better and better. Please can there be another album. This was a great set, including that smile-inducing Bobby Wellins favourite, “Bye-Ya”.

Kai Hoffman herself took a break from the organisational/administrative responsibilities which she seems to have taken to with real panache, and sang a lively set with a trio of fine pianist Roger Lewin, bassist Jerome Davies and drummer Roan Kearsey-Lawson. She started it with “I Love being here with you”, which seemed to sum up what the festival is about, found slowness and deep musicality in “Our Love is Here to Stay”, and then pure joy in “Let the Good Times Roll”.

John Etheridge’s Blue Spirits Trio

Our writer AJ Dehany heard guitarist John Etheridge’s “Blue Spirits” Organ Trio and has written: ‘This twilight set explored a varied and accessible songbook from standards to Scofield. The mainstay “Georgia On My Mind” showcased Etheridge’s fusion of sweet bluesy lyricism and exciting jazzy workouts up and down the fingerboard.

‘The trio with Pete Whittaker on organ and George Double on drums has a huge sound and a muscular yet sensitive synergy that they can seemingly wield to any volume and style to please just about everyone from the purists to the party crowd — even the toddlers splashing around at the front seemed to enjoy it.’

Juliet Kelly and Amy Baldwin

When I arrived for part of the Sunday there was a buzz about the Saturday programme had had to be moved from the pier to the indoor venue, the King’s Hall, but also that Pete Long’s big band had put on a phenomenal and enlivening show with two one-hour sets. Ian Shaw‘s solo set had also been very popular, I heard.

Looking out to sea from the roof of the Kings Hall

There’s an irony here. The contrast between the Herne Bay Jazz Festival’s two venues couldn’t be greater: whereas the pier stage is very public, the King’s Hall, a pavilion and ballroom from 1903 inspired by Raj architecture, is built into the side of the East Cliff and the sounds of the music within only just about make it into the elegant Edwardian foyer.

The Kent Youth Jazz Orchestra directed by Mike Austin presented a lively lunchtime set in the King’s Hall culminating in “The Chicken”. This was the last gig for band stalwart, fluent and persuasive alto saxophonist Reuben-James Gilbert  who is about to start the undergraduate course at the Royal Conservatoire in Birmingham. A name to watch out for.

Juliet Kelly with a trio of Nick Tomalin, Amy Baldwin and Cosmo Keita was inspiring children to dance with her lively programme, and getting the rest of the audience to sing along too. Her set was typified by a lovely upbeat Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. There is a heart-warmingly generosity of spirit in the jazz community, and both of these sets typified it.

Congratulations Kai and the festival team. This festival deserves to prosper, grow and be bathed in sunshine.

LINKS Herne Bay Festival website

Interview with Kai Hoffman

2 replies »

  1. We echo every word you write…we sat for hours on the Pier through rain wind cold, the odd ray of sunshine and still called for more! Totally brilliant festival from start to the grand ( and free) ending. Paid for Tommy Blaise and Ian Shaw concerts at Kings Hall….very different artists but more fantastic jazz and great VFM. Kai’s talent shone and sang throughout.
    THANK YOU KAI and ALL who made it possible. The jazz the vibe the everything about the events were exceptional. We are SO lucky in HERNE BAY to have you.

  2. It’s a magical event that’s just going from strength to strength. All the acts are high calibre and so good!!!! I’d got so tied into my covid bubble that it was a sort revelation that this amazing stuff was all still out there, and available to me. It made me feel really alive in a way that i hadn’t even realised I’d lost during the pandemic.

    So much variety and wonderfulness. Don’t know how Kai does it all to be honest!

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