100 years' worth of jazz in one weekend
FOR something that hasn't even happened yet, the first Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival is already steeped in history. It goes with the territory, of course – the first hundred years of jazz saw a constant evolution of musical ideas that have mostly stood the test of time – but you can't help thinking that the brains behind the festival were trying to cover the whole story in just one weekend.
With 40 different acts appearing on the Colston Hall's three performance areas, including some big international names, the cream of the UK crop and a full programme of the very best local musicians giving free gigs in the foyer area, it's to their credit that they seem to have done just that.
The programme promises great things, with a combination of livewire contemporary music, the best of the mainstream and a celebration of some great musical milestones.
The history lesson starts appropriately enough with the living legend that is trombonist and band-leader Chris Barber, guiding light of the British trad jazz revival of the 50s and the man who brought so many great blues heroes over from the States in the 60s.
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It's exactly 60 years since Mr Barber first played in Bristol but neither the man nor his music have dimmed with the decades, and the ten-piece Big Chris Barber Band (Friday, 6.45pm) remains a true testament to the power of early jazz and the perfect way to kick off the weekend.
If one band epitomises the 60s blues boom inspired by those musicians Chris Barber brought over, it must be Cream, the trio that launched Eric Clapton's career and made a Bohemian hero of wild-man drummer Ginger Baker.
After years of eccentric rock bands Baker has found his way back to the blues-driven jazz he first played, thanks to a partnership with jazz-funk legend Pee Wee Ellis.
The result, known as Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion (Friday, 9pm), will certainly be one of the weekend's highlights while Eric Clapton fans will need no introduction to ace blues guitarist Matt Schofield (Sunday, 3.45pm), a blues guitarist whose fretwork is considered alongside Slowhand in his prime.
There's more history on Saturday, as BBC broadcaster Alyn Shipton celebrates Count Basie's long-time trumpeter with his Buck Clayton Legacy Band (Saturday, 12.45pm) and the mighty Big Buzzard Band (Saturday, 2.15pm) join forces with 180 singers from four choirs to recreate Duke Ellington's rarely heard masterpieces The Sacred Concerts.
Fronted by the sublimely soulful vocals of Yolanda Quartey and featuring phenomenal tap dancer Junior Laniyan as well as award-winning jazz pianist Zoe Rahman this mammoth production will revive one of the highest points of jazz composition.
The last blast from the past pays tribute to the greatest jazz star of them all – Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong – with singer Maggie Reeday joining the Bateman Brothers Band (Sunday, 12.45pm) in remembering his post-war All-Star bands. In his lifetime Louis was awarded the title of Musical Ambassador for the City of New Orleans, the city where both he and jazz were born, and on his death that honour was passed on to live-wire jazz and R'n'B singer Lillian Boutté.
A powerful performer in both Dixieland jazz and New Orleans R'n'B styles, Lillian's upbeat energy represents the indomitable spirit of her much-battered home town. She's a fan of Bristol, too, and a stopover at The Coronation Tap always figures on her European touring schedule, so it's great that, like Pee Wee Ellis, she has agreed to be a patron of the new festival.
Pee Wee makes a second appearance with his regular band the Pee Wee Ellis Assembly (Sunday, 6.45) and the added attraction of swinging singer Clare Teal – two acts both so well-loved hereabouts it's easy to forget that they are big names on the national scene and beyond.
As a Radio 2 music presenter Claire's easy tones have become part of the UK jazz establishment, while Pee Wee's diffident manner belie a career that began as a teenager in New York, cadging sax lessons from the colossal Sonny Rollins before becoming the musical driving force for the bands of both James Brown and Van Morrison.
Andy Sheppard is another local act that some would say gets taken a little too much for granted, little realising the amount of his time spent touring with other international stars like Carla Bley and Rita Marcotulli.
Andy's fluent sax playing and strong gift for writing melodies have kept him in the front line of the world's jazz circuit for many years, and getting a recording contract with the hallowed ECM label only proved what we already knew.
Trio Libero (Sunday, 2.15) is the all-star band that recorded his second ECM album, complemented by Michel Benita's bass and the restlessly creative drumming of Seb Rochford.
Andy's latest music can get delicate at times – no bad thing – but not likely once Get The Blessing (Saturday, 3.45pm) take to the stage, especially as they'll be bringing Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley along for the ride.
Famed for the crashing urgency of their beats and the assertive directness of the brass playing, Utley's abstracted guitar can only add to the brashly rockish energy of their music, now a fixture on the jazz festival scene Europe-wide.
Amazingly, given all that's already been mentioned here, the weekend's two biggest names have yet to figure.
Saturday's headliner John Scofield first came to international prominence in the 80s as guitarist in Miles Davis' band, a reliable launch pad that saw him quickly become a major star collaborating with great players like Bill Frisell and then putting together a brilliant quartet with Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden and Jack deJohnette.
Though famed for his Blue Note grooving, Scofield was never afraid to experiment with new ideas like electronics and drum and bass but his great Organics Trio (Saturday, 9pm), with Larry Goldings' Hammond and Greg Hutchinson drumming , has all the hallmarks of classic jazz-blues played to perfection.
And then there's Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval (Sunday, 9pm), famously spotted by his hero Dizzy Gillespie in a Havana nightclub and taken off to become both protégé and partner of the man himself. One of the founding fathers of US Afro-Cuban jazz, Sandoval's awesome technique and impeccable rhythm playing stand out to this day, making him a fine choice to have the last word in what it is to be hoped will be the first of many great festivals to come.
See the website www.bristoljazzandbluesfest.com for more details.