Cheltenham: jazz and more

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The Cheltenham Jazz Festival returns 1-6 May 2019 with a typically eclectic range of jazz and jazz-inflected music that will appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners.

Two leading examples of the jazz-flavoured pop on the programme come in rare appearances from Swing Out Sister – famed for their 1986 hit “Breakout”, with arrangements by big-band leader Richard Niles – and Sérgio Mendes, whose 1966 cover of Jorge Ben’s 1963 “Mas Que Nada” brought him to international attention. Other jazz-inspired pop events include acid-jazz band Incognito, noted for their 1991 hit cover of Ronnie Laws’ “Always There”, English funk band Level 42 (which once counted Allan Holdsworth among its soloists), and Serbian blues guitarist and singer Ana Popovic.

Among what might be called core jazz artists are David Sanborn, appearing not in his electro-funk incarnation but with his Acoustic Band, featuring well-known straightahead players Geoff Keezer (p) and Billy Kilson (d). In the same category are iconoclastic piano trio The Bad Plus, solo pianist Fred Hersch (of whom it has been said there are two classes of solo piano performer, Fred Hersch and everyone else), former Getz and Hubbard bassist Michael Formanek with his Elusion Quartet and the ever-dynamic saxophonist Joshua Redman in trio with Gregory Hutchinson and Reuben Rogers.

From South Africa comes pianist Abdullah Ibrahim with his band Ekaya, exclusively launching a new album at Cheltenham, and from the UK baritone saxophonist John Surman and the Brass Project he co-leads with composer John Warren, playing music inspired by the 19th century journeying of Warren’s grandfather.

Further into the jazz heartland, the Buck Clayton Legacy Band with singer Julia Biel marks the 1937 partnership of Buck Clayton and Billie Holiday, the band including Alan Barnes, Robert Fowler, Martin Litton and Bobby Worth. Also saluting the mainstream, Curtis Stigers and the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band pay tribute to the magic of Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Orchestra. Meanwhile, rising US singer Charenee Wade will draw inspiration from Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and others.

The festival also focuses on upcoming artists such as Nubya Garcia (recently tipped as “as the next female Coltrane”), saxophonist Rachel Musson (appearing with Mark Sanders, Xhosa Cole and others), British trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (pictured left, previewing her new album Polyhymnia) and Swiss harpist Julie Campiche as well as demonstrating the cross-border reach of jazz in appearances by Cuban pianist Omar Sosa (with Yilian Cañizares and Gustavo Ovalles Palacios), Syrian oud player Rihab Azar, and kora-player Jally Kebba Susso.

From 2019 to 2021 singer Gregory Porter is artistic curator of the festival and makes his own (now sold-out) appearance, as does Jamie Cullum, for some time himself curator of the event and this year associate curator.

For those needing help in choosing from Cheltenham’s voluminous programme the festival website includes video of most of those appearing, all gathered together in a clear day-by-day summary

The festival is hosted in a tented village in the town centre’s Montpellier Gardens and includes a programme of family activities and events and a food, drink and market area. As usual there will be a strong festival fringe around the town with over 90 free gigs projected for the weekend. In addition, several concerts will be broadcast on the BBC’s Radio 2 and 6 Music channels.