Swanage Jazz Festival (7-9 July)

A programme showcasing the breadth of the British jazz scene in a beautiful location awaits audiences at Swanage Jazz Festival on the weekend of 7 to 9 July. Feature and interview with Festival Chair Paul Kelly by Rob Adams

Situated on Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site on the English Channel, the festival this year returns to its spiritual home of Sandpit Field, where a marquee overlooks the sea, while retaining the Mowlem Theatre to give it two 400-capacity venues. Other venues in town host more jazz including the Free Fringe, which gives musicians from the Southwest a platform alongside nationally established attractions.

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Top names include vocalists Norma Winstone, Zara McFarlane and Claire Martin, saxophonists Tony Kofi, Dave O’Higgins and festival favourite Alan Barnes, and Issie Barrett’s ten-piece, all-female Interchange.

FRIDAY: Hammond organ groover James Taylor’s quartet headlines the Friday programme, which also includes pianist Philip Clouts’ world jazz quartet, Tony Kofi’s Inside Straight and Alan Barnes’ quartet.

SATURDAY: Saturday features a New Orleans Parade with James Emmett’s Ragtime Revellers followed by an eclectic mix including Alina Bzhezhinska’s Hip Harp Collective, British-Asian clarinettist Arun Gosh, Nigel Price co-leading a twin-guitar quartet with Italian virtuoso Alessio Menconi, and bassist and broadcaster Alyn Shipton’s Friends of New Orleans.

SUNDAY: Sunday begins with a Methodist Church Jazz and Gospel service and continues with a cast including trumpeter Chris Hodgkins’ salute to Humphrey Lyttelton, Bristol’s highly individual jazz-rockers Get the Blessing, drummer Corrie Dick’s folk and world music-inspired sextet and culminating with Zara McFarlane singing songs associated with Sarah Vaughan.    

“Zara is a good example of the kind of cross generational programming we’re looking towards,” says the festival’s chair, Paul Kelly. “You have a singer from the younger generation who appeals to her peers, singing music that’s familiar to older jazz listeners, and the idea is that we can introduce one generation to the other and grow interest in the music generally that way.”

For Kelly, the festival ethos is also about showcasing the breadth and variety of music, as well as the high quality contained within the British scene.

“Jazz has become an umbrella term that shelters everything from the music’s roots in New Orleans to more experimental sounds via rock and funk beats that make people want to dance,” he says. “We cover just about everything in that description and go from the very energetic and rhythmical style of the James Taylor Quartet to the more quietly considered repertoire that Norma Winstone has made her own, in a superb voice, saxophone and piano trio with Mark Lockheart and Nikki Iles. There’s room for everyone, from traditional to contemporary.”

The festival opens at 4pm on Friday 7th and offers quantity as well as quality, with emerging players including rising star bass player Isobella Burnham (feature from 2020) alongside music from jazz’s century of heritage.

Saturday runs from 10:30am onwards and Sunday from 11:30am onwards, so stamina and big appetites are well rewarded.  

Ticket prices are £130 for the Weekend stroller, £80 for a Saturday or Sunday Stroller and £40 for a Friday Stroller. There are generous discounts for accompanied Under 16s and people with a local postcode are encouraged to attend through discounted tickets.

 “A weekend stroller ticket will give access to over forty bands,” says Kelly. “And as with last year, we’ll be staging a free Fringe Festival all weekend in local pubs and hotels.”

Swanage is, says Kelly, is the oldest and probably the largest pure Jazz Festival on the South Coast of England.

“The festival started in 1990 and was run for twenty-eight years by a local team. Like most events we were forced to take a break due to Covid but we came back last year with sixty-seven bands in twelve venues over two and a half days. It’s even bigger this year and we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors and locals alike and showing people that Swanage is a great place to hear great jazz of all styles.”

Pp features are part of marketing packages

LINKS: Festival website/bookings

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