Review: Burton Agnes Jazz Festival

John Robert Brown enjoys jazz including Ray Gelato and Claire Martin in the period setting of a baronial Elizabethan hall in East Yorkshire

Burton Agnes Hall is an Elizabethan manor house in the village of Burton Agnes, near Driffield, East Yorkshire, seven miles inland from the Yorkshire seaside resort of Bridlington, in the Wolds country associated with contemporary artist David Hockney.

The imposing hall dates from the early 1600s, having been in the same family for 15 generations. Current head of the family is Simon Cunliffe-Lister, an enthusiastic saxophonist.

Simon has nurtured a jazz festival in the beautiful grounds of Burton Agnes Hall for the past decade; this year's festival took place during the first weekend of July. As preparation for the festival Cunliffe-Lister made a trip to St Lucia in the eastern Caribbean, to audition local musicians. "Someone has to do it", Simon told me, with a smile.

Certainly, this was an inspired original touch, giving a distinctive and youthful flavour to the Burton Agnes event. The main stage was in the leafy grounds of the estate, alongside a dining marquee, food stalls, a few trade stands, plus a balloon-sculptor to entertain the children - not to mention the superb ancient maze, part of a delightful walled garden.

A second outdoor performance area was located by the stables and café, while indoor performances took place inside the hall with, commendably, a gallery exhibition of Saint Lucian art displayed in the Long Gallery. Consequently any reviewer of the event is faced with the challenge of getting to hear - and see - everything. At this I failed, seduced into being lazy, sitting still, and listening to long sets by interesting bands.

On Saturday afternoon the main stage was graced by Firebird, featuring the outstanding trumpeter Ian Chalk, with a competent and well-matched rhythm section. Standing in well-manicured lawns in front of the elegant Elizabethan hall, Ian told his audience: "We often play in some terrible old dives ... and now this!"

Witty anouncements and intelligent playing make a good formula for a successful festival appearance. Musicians appearing included Claire Martin and Ray Gelato (pictured above right). Commendably, a strong coterie of East Yorkshire players was on the bill, including the Pat McCarthy Quartet.

Past Burton Agnes events have won high praise. The event has been named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the best 15 festivals for the over-50s. The Independent reviewer went further, described it as "...the most enjoyable jazz concert I've ever attended". That goes for me, too.

Photos by Steve Hare

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