Watford Jazz Junction, 18-21 May 2023

Watford Jazz Junction was new to the jazz festival scene last year and this second edition has a particular focus on the influence of the Caribbean on UK jazz. We take a look at the line-up, which mixes big names with free and family-friendly events. Preview by Peter Slavid:

Clockwise from top left: Omar, Cleveland Watkiss, Zara McFarlane, Xhosa Cole, Emma Rawicz

The event kicks off on Thursday 18 May with a gala night at the 600-seat Edwardian listed building that is the Watford Palace Theatre. It will be a mix of jazz with soul and reggae featuring two award winning vocalists, Zara McFarlane and Omar.

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On Friday the festival moves to the rather less grand Pump House Theatre which is a year-round venue for jazz, folk and other music. The programme starts with a concert by another award winner – the 2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year Xhosa Cole with his Quartet.

On Saturday there’s a special percussion session for young people aged 4-12. 

Saturday also sees two more concerts at the Pump House. There’s a matinee from another talented young saxophonist Emma Rawicz with her Quintet supported by the Oscar Lyons Quartet. Then in the evening a direct line to the Caribbean with Cleveland Watkiss presenting ‘The Great Jamaican Songbook’. This project, which has been touring for a while, is an outstanding show with a quality band that manages to generate a party atmosphere while staying true to both jazz and reggae roots.

Sunday sees something a bit different. The winner of the World Steelband solo and duet competitions, Leon Foster Thomas, plays a free show on Watford Heath, by the Royal Oak pub, with a 6-piece band. Tickets are entirely free for this event.

Also on Sunday there are more free events at five pubs in and around Oxhey Village. 

Acts will include the Art Themen Trio, Herts Big Band, Bucks Jazz Collective, John Watson Trio, The Fabulous Red Diesel, Brass Bound, and The Ten Bells Rag Band. There’ll also be a special vocal stage at the Villiers Arms curated by singer Esther Bennett.

The interesting mixed programme suggests that the Watford Jazz Junction can establish a regular place for itself in the music festival calendar.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations

LINK: Find out more about the festival

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