NEWS: Gateshead International Jazz Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Sun Ra Arkestra

Right, I’m going to start by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, there will be black roll-neck jumpers, lots of people saying ‘nice’, and probably a few berets knocking about, but if you think jazz is ‘not your thing’ then you have been under-informed, jazz is everybody’s bag, and I’m going to prove it to you.

To illustrate, on the opening night of Sage Gateshead’s International Jazz Festival (which runs from Friday 6th until Sunday 8th April) you can see the Sun Ra Arkestra and their cosmic freeform big band led by Marshall Allen, Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen’s tribute to the incredible Art Blakey and his Messengers, and Zara McFarlane, a Jamaican star who’s fusing jazz and reggae. 

This pattern of time-hopping internationalism is a real feature this year, with bands from here (Chris Sharkey, Zoe Gilby and Andy Champion, Jambone), bands from near (trumpeter Arve Henriksen of Norway, SCHNTZL of Belgium, pianists Kaja Draksler of Slovenia and Giovanni Guidi of Italy to name only a few) and bands from far (Kokoroko, West Africa via London, percussionist Sarathy Korwar, US via India, and Maceo Parker, US via the world).  The artists mentioned are a mere snapshot of the vast array of exciting acts congregating on the Tyne for the UK’s largest jazz festival.

Jazz means different things to different people, but it is without doubt art.  No other musical form has improvisation so rooted to its core, and this can inspire, engulf, enrage and stupefy in equal measure

It is particularly pleasing that, given the current political climate, we are drawing the very best talent from across Europe.  It would be sad but understandable if we were shunned, given the cold shoulder in response to our middle finger, but thankfully musicians are made of stronger stuff.  It is a time of change, and in that vein the acts performing are ultra-innovative.

Jazz means different things to different people, but it is without doubt art.  No other musical form has improvisation so rooted to its core, and this can inspire, engulf, enrage and stupefy in equal measure.  And while there are cliques (but no clique tracks…Ed: musicians in-joke, highlighting the point) it is this absence of being incorrect that makes it so wonderfully inclusive, literally anybody of any age can play jazz because there is no ‘wrong’.  With that in mind, there are singing, playing and dancing workshops, as well as special gigs for toddlers and a performance by the North’s own youth jazz band, Jambone, led by eminent pianist Paul Edis. 

Maceo Parker

My highlight of the weekend though, over and above fellow headliners Ruby Turner, Sun Ra Arkestra, Tony Allen, Norma Winstone, Portico Quartet, The Chris Barber Band, all-female trio J Frisco and Georgie Fame with The Guy Barker Big Band is the king of funk sax, the man behind so many of James Brown’s hits, a Funkadelic/Parliament legend, a Prince stalwart, and one of the nicest men to ever wear shades, the legendary Maceo Parker.  At 75, he is still going strong, just like his fellow horny horn Fred Wesley (trombone, as if you didn’t know), and although it pains me to say it, this might be one of a dwindling number of opportunities to catch one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century. 

As we see Newcastle and Gateshead growing exponentially on the international cultural scene, the GIJF is front and centre, it really is something to be proud of, to be cherished, but most of all, to be enjoyed no matter what your genre preferences may be. 

 

 

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