FEATURE: GATESHEAD INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Courtney Pine & Zoe Rahman

Jazz is such a big word; within those four letters are contained endless trajectories, each rich with history and intrigue. There is no single thing which is ‘jazz’, and yet, jazz is everywhere.  Well, actually, it’s in Gateshead from Friday 15th until Sunday 17th April at the annual Gateshead International Jazz Festival, and many of those trajectories are catered for in one of the most diverse and exciting festivals to date.

There will be performances by artists from Lebanon to Low Fell, Florida to Felling, Cuba to Cowgate, and the festival this year has a distinctly European feel; think Jazztrance rather than Brexit.  It would be impossible to preview each individual act, so here are a few of my personal highlights (head to Sage Gateshead’s website for the full lowdown).

The coup de gras this year has to be Grammy award-winning Gregory Porter (Friday 15th) who can be mentioned in the same breath as Otis Redding, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye without a moment’s hesitation. The other main draw for me is James Brown impersonator turned bona fide legend in his own right, Charles Bradley (Sunday 17th), ably supported by inimitable Geordies Smoove & Turrell.

It’s not all about the vocals though, saxophones get a fair run-out too in the shape of Indian-influenced clarinettist Arun Ghosh and his sextet (Friday 15th), improvisationalist Evan Parker (Friday 15th), British institution Courtney Pine (Saturday 16th) and the renowned Jon Surman Trio (Saturday 16th). Brass is also prominent, with the extraordinary Terence Blanchard appearing as a co-header with Courtney Pine and pianist Zoe Rahman (Saturday 16th) and the electric Ibrahim Maalouf (Sunday 17th).  Add to this The Buena Vista Social Club’s Roberto Fonseca Trio (Saturday 17th) and New Yorker Kris Bowers (Saturday 16th) who is part of a new wave of jazz musicians currently taking over the world.

There will be performances by artists from Lebanon to Low Fell, Florida to Felling, Cuba to Cowgate, and the festival this year has a distinctly European feel; think Jazztrance rather than Brexit

While these national, international and galactic stars are to be rightfully revered, it is the local talent who provide the core of the festival. If you are on a tight budget (and who of us aren’t?) then the concourse is the place for you, with an astonishing array of some of the finest musicians our region has to offer. On Sunday 17th local songstress Zoe Gilby will lead a clowder of jazz cats from near and far in honour of the 50th anniversary of Jazz North East, and you can expect that to be something a bit special.

One of the best things about this festival (apart from the lack of tents) is the opportunity to take part; whether or not you consider yourself a jazz musician or even a musician at all, there’s something for you. Arun Ghosh is inspiring the Miles Davis of tomorrow in a workshop for toddlers (there will be no drugs involved); you can meet Roberto Fonseca at a Q&A, not to be missed for the Afro-Cuban fans among us; and there are improvisation workshops and jam sessions late into the night at the Jazz Cafe, Pizza Express and the Globe pub.

We are lucky to have such an internationally renowned venue and festival on our doorstep, and whether you love jazz or not, there is definitely something for you. Give it whirl.

Gateshead International Jazz Festival takes place at Sage Gateshead from Friday 15th until Sunday 17th April.

 

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