After two online/live hybrid years, the Cambridge Jazz Festival is back in full in-person mode. Preview by Izzy Blankfield:
Musical connections are at the centre of this year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival, which returns between 10 and 27 November. Across 24 venues, from concert halls and theatres to cosy bars in the city centre, more than 150 musicians are gearing up for 12 days of music making.
After two years of hybrid events, the festival is transitioning out of the pandemic and back into a vibrant programme of in-person events. Some of the 44 events will be recorded, to give fans from all over the world the opportunity to catch up virtually with this year’s exciting musical offerings.
Gil Karpas, Co-Director and International Music Programmer of Cambridge Jazz Festival, tells me:
‘We are music people! For us it’s always been about the audience, it’s always been about the engagement. That is the magic, and it’s why we do it. The communication between the artist and the audience is almost spiritual..’
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The return to in-person performances has given the festival’s organisers the chance to bring together musicians from every corner of the jazz scene. ‘Jazz is a huge genre. It’s beyond a genre now – it’s been a century since its inception. And with that it now has a civilisational amount of culture and genres and referencing,’ says Karpas.
Opening the festival on Thursday 10 November are The Brass Funkeys for a rip-roaring ride through the big band repertoire. The group will be accompanied by live painting from Gina Southgate, whose colourful, largescale interpretations of musical performances have become a staple of the Cambridge Jazz Festival.
The festival will also showcase a range of international artists, including Portuguese band The Black Mamba and Danish bassist Jasper Høiby. Høiby, together with his trio Planet B (saxophonist Josh Arcoleo and drummer Marc Michel) and London-based instrumental four-piece Lydian Collective, will kickstart the second week of the festival on 17 November at Cambridge Junction.
The same night will see Swiss harpist Julie Campiche bring her innovative, highly personal style to the elegant setting of the Gonville Hotel, in collaboration with Cambridge Modern Jazz.
Many of the festival’s highlights will take place on the outskirts of the city, giving concertgoers the chance to listen to live music performances in exciting new settings.
On Saturday 19 November, Jazz FM’s Chris Phillips and Jez Nelson will present the headline event Jazz in The Round ft. Alina Bzhezhinska, Rouhangeze & Tomasz Bura, Ant Law & Alex Hitchcock at the Storey’s Field Centre.
Bass clarinettist Courtney Pine will be joined by pianist Zoe Rahman at Saffron Hall on Friday 25 November for a night of spiritual musical exploration, as part of their Ballad Book Tour.
Saxophonist Tim Garland and pianist Jason Rebello will launch their new album, As Free As The River, at the Stapleford Granary on the same night. Garland will also treat fans to an interactive workshop at Jesus College’s Frankopan Hall the very next morning.
One of the festival’s strengths is its transformation of the University’s distinguished, even intimidating buildings into intimate musical spaces. Ashley Henry will give a sure-to-be-special solo piano performance on Friday 18 November in the chapel of St Catherine’s College, and London/Panama-City based drummer-percussionist Jas Kayser will perform in Clare College’s Cellars the following evening.
Closing the Cambridge Jazz Festival is Omar + QCBA, an exciting collaboration between the soul vocal legend and trumpeter Quentin Collins and the tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen, who will be joined by Hammond organist Ross Stanley and drummer James Maddren.
British jazz vocalist Zara McFarlane is the festival’s artist-in-residence this year. In one of the most eagerly-awaited performances of the festival, she will perform a concert of voice and piano duos at Jesus College on Saturday 26 November. McFarlane will also take to the stage on Sunday 20 November with Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, the university’s flagship big band, for a night of jazz standards and McFarlane’s own compositions.
Such collaboration is in-keeping with the values at the core of the Cambridge Jazz Festival. Crossing the reputed divide between the university culture and that of the city itself (‘town and gown’, as it is fondly called) is the festival’s central mission. ‘There is this old trope that there are two separate communities – but actually it’s just one, with spectral differences,’ Karpas explains. ‘One is more long-standing, one is more transient, but both have lots to offer: the skill, the talent, the enthusiasm, the joie de vivre of the student community and its musical excellence. What we are trying to do with the festival is to take these snapshots, and to bring them out as public events.’
The public will be invited to take centre stage in a singing workshop for all levels of experience and ability, led by performer and founder/director of The London Vocal Project Pete Churchill. The Schools Big Band Concert, taking place on Saturday 19 November, will showcase three local school jazz orchestras in a collaborative lunchtime event.
The festival will also offer a series of inspiring talks by icons of the jazz world. Musician, writer and broadcaster Alyn Shipton will be interviewed by clarinettist Adrian Cox on Saturday 19 November in St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, before the gospel setting transforms into a venue for Shipton’s New Orleans Friends for an evening of jazz at Vespers.
On Sunday 27 November, Sonita Alleyne, the Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, will appear in conversation with British jazz legend Orphy Robinson for a workshop on the theme Developing your Creative Practice.
Fringe performances, including London-based singer Helena Debono and Brazilian group Cores Do Samba, will give newcomers on the jazz scene the chance to play to the festival’s crowds. Karpas tells me: ‘One thing we are focusing a lot on is trying to get as many local artists to do their own events as possible. No one is left behind, no one is underestimated. We’re celebrating potential, as well as global superstars.’
The two-week event promises to be a real celebration of local and global talent. Karpas sees the festival as a chance to cultivate a new musical community: ‘It’s about connections between generations, between communities, artists and audiences. And the line-up reflects this! It’s a festival of meeting points.’
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