Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019: a jazz tonic at the Spa

    Jim Mullen at Ipswich Jazz Festival 2015. Photo by John Watson

    Reviewing the 2018 Scarborough Jazz Festival for Jazz Journal, Brian Payne found a “plethora of riveting performances from an array of top class bands”. This year’s event, the 17th, looks set to repeat the effect.

    Directed as ever by the indefatigable Mike Gordon, Scarborough is back in strength for September 2019 with a varied lineup including Alan Barnes + 11, Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents, Bonsai, Clark Tracey Quintet, Dave Newton, Freddie Gavita Quartet, Jasmine, Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project, Jim Mullen’s Volunteers, John Law Quartet, Kate Peters’ Big Band, Liane Carroll, New Jazz Extempore, Partisans, Sam Rapley’s Fabled, Tony Kofi Quartet and Wild Card.

    The main concerts take place in South Bay’s Victorian seafront Spa from Friday afternoon 20 September through to Sunday night 22 September, with a variety of fringe events in other venues in the town.

    Once again the programme is set to be enlivened by the drily humorous observations of saxophonist and festival compère Alan Barnes (see Geoff Wills on the affinity between music, humour and the sound of surprise).

    The music kicks off at 12.30pm on Friday with Jasmine, a band typical of Scarborough’s embrace of both old and new. The band combine jazz and hip-hop, using new technology to introduce layered horn parts over a traditional saxophone-led jazz quintet setup. Then at 2.15pm Wild Card take the stage (assuming the end of free movement doesn’t lock anybody out) with their vibrant Anglo-French mix of jazz, funk and rap, enough to counter any downturn in the weather. Jazz Journal’s Mark Gilbert said of the band’s 2012 debut: “Wonderwall is a dull tune by pop band Oasis – what good can be made of its dreary drone? Not much, in the hands of some post-modern piano trios who would add shades of grey to the original’s monochrome. Here, it becomes a fleet-footed samba, a million miles from northwestern English gloom”. Modern pop is further reinvented (along with jazz standards) by John Law’s Re-Creations quartet at 4pm, with Radiohead, Adele and others receiving the jazz treatment.

    In the evening, bop trumpet wizard Freddie Gavita takes the stage, followed by a solo set from acclaimed singer and pianist Liane Carroll. The evening ends with music from Alan Barnes +11, a project marking the saxophonist’s 60th birthday with Mark Nightingale arrangements of tunes from 1959. Reviewing the related Woodville recording for Jazz Journal, Peter Gamble called it “a highly enjoyable album where a Henry Mancini composition (Dreamsville) appears alongside that of Thelonious Monk (Little Rootie Tootie) and Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly nestles next to Duke’s The Single Petal Of A Rose. Familiar material maybe, but each tune is given a spring clean due to Mark Nightingale’s arrangements”.

    Music gets underway on Saturday at 12.30pm with Sam Rapley’s Fabled, a band interpreting short stories of life, love and death through jazz, classical influences, world music and indie-folk. Through the afternoon and early evening Kate Peters’ Big Band, Tony Kofi & The Organisation and the Clark Tracey Quintet bring a mixture of mainstream and bop flavours to bear. Tracey, long associated with straightahead jazz, nevertheless draws on a wide repertoire and in Blakey style draws younger players into his bands. Roger Farbey, reviewing the quintet’s recent No Doubt album for Jazz Journal, observed “…the Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings (9th edition) stated: ‘The younger Tracey … developed into a failsafe and superbly accomplished drummer in a tough, straight-ahead style’. But 11 years on from that description, the straight-ahead style is now somewhat redundant since Tracey’s abilities extend to a broad spectrum of jazz”.

    Tracey is followed by a solo set from pianist Dave Newton, accompanist of choice for many visiting Americans over the years before the evening wraps up with what promises to be a party courtesy of singer Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project. His 17-piece band featuring northwestern jazz and soul giants Iain Dixon (md, sax) and Mike Walker (g), will revisit Charles’s big band sessions.

    On Sunday afternoon, eclecticism could be the watchword, with music from Bonsai (of which Jazz Journal’s Bruce Lindsay said “the band ranges from the uptempo prog-jazz of BMJC or Hop-The Hip Replacement to the graceful beauty of Quay and the slow and languid groove of my favourite number, Tin”), Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents (with its jazz slants on the best of Spanish rhythm and musical passion) and New Jazz Extempore, in which Andrea Vicari joins Yazz Ahmed and others in a set of original material with electronics.

    Notwithstanding the earlier appearances of Clément Régert (Wild Card) and Mike Walker, for guitar fans the best may well be saved for last. Partisans, featuring guitarist Phil Robson with Julian Siegel, Thaddeus Kelly and Gene Calderazzo, takes the stage at 7pm before the surely well-judged festival finale comes from Jim Mullen’s new band, Volunteers (their new album reviewed for Jazz Journal by Roger Farbey, who referred to “…engagingly swinging compositions and … all-round soloing dexterity”). Renowned for his immediately identifiable and impassioned blend of bebop and soul (something like Cornell Dupree meets Wes Montgomery and more), Mullen will front the nine-piece band in originals and standards arranged by flautist Gareth Lockrane.

    Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019, 20-22 September 2019.
    Tickets can be purchased at the box office on 01723 821888, or on the website: