Kai Hoffman was inspired by the film ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day‘ to start the Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival. 2023 presents the sixth edition, at which 95% of the events are free admission, and just two have a ticket price of £5. (see also update on live-streaming below). Feature by Peter Vacher.
Herne Bay was once defined as ‘Kent’s Classic Seaside Town’ and rightly so, boasting as it does a long pebble beach, elegant seafront gardens and a splendid promenade. Plus, plentiful health-giving coastal air. Add in the pleasures and delights of jazz and swing, and you have the perfect setting for a festival that blends front-rank artistry and a collective desire to party. Speaking to Boston-born Artistic Director Kai Hoffman, well-known as a jazz chanteuse and recording artist herself and the founder of the festival, I asked her how it all came about. “When I moved to Herne Bay in 2016 and looked for the music I loved, I could find no jazz and swing so I set out to do something about it.” Inspired by that great film ‘Jazz on A Summer’s Day’ with its bucolic combination of great outdoor music and sun-lit ocean vistas, Hoffman, with characteristic American-style can-do energy, sought to create its Kent coast equivalent. And succeeded.
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Happily, the concept took root, Herne Bay Festival Charity came on board, as did Kent County Council, with support from local businesses and community groups, including Beach Creative Arts Centre, the Herne Bay Pier Trust, Baytastic, the Rotary Club, Vivien of Holloway and Ronnie Scott’s. The Festival up and running, with enthusiastic helpers on hand, audiences came in number and have returned, clearly relishing the mixture of styles and the sea-air setting, their numbers building year-on-year.
And now comes this year’s event, the sixth in the series, the Festival firmly established among the resort’s array of visitor attractions, its top-line support coming now from Arts Council England. Hurray for Hoffman: her hard graft recognised. With HBJSF 2023 set to out-do its predecessors with the range and variety of the talent on offer, some acts nationally known – think Clare Teal, Jim Mullen, and Dennis Rollins – others more regionally based, there’s a sense of something very special happening in this attractively traditional seaside town. What’s more, 95% of the events will be FREE TO ATTEND! That leaves just two ticketed concerts, these priced at a mere £5.00 per person.
As Kai Hoffman intended, she has been as good as her word in making the Festival inclusive for all. This year’s Saturday programme covers everything from singing workshops for children to a seaside family swing show led by vocalist Kerri Layton via the Kent Youth Jazz Orchestra and Steve Nathan’s Big Band.Then it’s Richard Rozze’s Singing and Rhythm Workshop for aspiring jazz songsters and a Sketch Jam for Artists with vocalist Sarah-Jane Hassell prompting creatives to draw or paint a live jazz trio, or a wander down to The Pier Ceylon Restaurant for a set with local reeds player Lawrence Fletcher’s trio.
And that’s not mention the live shows due later that first day, one set fronted by top trombonist Geoff Mason and another by The Shireen Francis Small Island Trio, a Caribbean/reggae influenced jazz group and finally, Vintage at the Vibe, with Kai’s Kats dancing and jiving away the night away until late. Vintage dress optional!
Kai’s own hour-long set at 2.00pm on Sunday kicks off the Pier Stage shows on the Festival’s second day. A lively swing and blues singer, she’ll hold forth in typical swashbuckling style with her band, as often featured at Ronnie Scott’s in nearby London. For those who want to begin their day earlier, perhaps with a seaside walk and then lunch – The Pier Ceylon restaurant and cafe on Station Road is hosting a jazz lunch duo from 12pm as well.
Having heard her live I can vouch for Kai’s energy and musical joie-de-vivre. Unstoppable! Thereafter it’s roller-coaster time on the Herne Bay Pier Stage with headliners Jim Mullen and his Organ Trio, that’s guitarist Jim, with keyboard ace Mike Gorman and drummer Matt Home at 4.10pm, followed by the dynamic Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio at 5.20pm and then the ever-popular vocalist and broadcaster Clare Teal at 6.30pm with a cracking band including star pianist Jason Rebello, Simon Little, bass, and drummer Ed Richardson. Then it’s Lokkhi Terra whose musical remit runs from Bangladesh to Cuba and at 9.00pm, still on the Pier Stage, the Festival’s final burst features The Coalminers and their glorious New Orleans-style bluesy gumbo, seasoned by the music of Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint. Phew!
And where does all this take place? Well, we’ve mentioned the half-shell Herne Bay Pier Stage for the Festival’s headline acts, but look out too for other events in what is a packed schedule in Wimereux Square, aka the main town square, The Pier Ceylon, and Beach Creative. Hoffman says ‘our all-ages events will appeal to everyone from jazz aficionados to fans of great live music.” Exactly, and then adds, “We are extremely excited that our festival is putting Herne Bay on the map as a centre for musical excellence.” Amen to that.
UPDATE: It is announced that the Sunday pier programme at the Herne Bay Jazz and Swing Festival will also be live-streamed on the Festival’s YouTube channel (LINK) . This new initiative, to make the festival available to people who cannot attend in person, has been supported by Arts Council England.
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*LINK: www.hernebayjazzfestival.com for the full programme & the two ticketed show links.