Manchester Jazz Festival: the sounds of the summer

Kevin Bourke

Sixty events, one teepee, a few sackbuts, plus a host of the biggest names in jazz means one thing: the Jazz Festival is back.

A certain city north of here has long-since taken to calling itself “Festival City”. But Manchester can give any UK metropolis a run for its money in the festival stakes, what with Manchester International Festival just ended, 24:7 hotting up and the city home to festivals as diverse as new music, science and food and drink. The daddy of them all, in longevity at least – it is limbering up for its eighteenth year – is Manchester Jazz Festival, which takes over the Festival Pavilion teepee in Albert Square, as well as several other venues, from Friday.

“I suppose this year is our coming of age,” says MJF Artistic Director Steve Mead. “We started it as jazz fans who wanted to celebrate our music in our city, and thought it would be an achievement to get through that first event. I think we just forgot to stop after that, helped by the fact that Manchester is really good at celebrating distinct activities. Like jazz itself, which is fluid and very much a reflection of the personalities making it, the way the festival has matured over the years has been very organic, responding to the jazz community. So we’ve been ambitious but realistic, constantly looking forward and offering events you can’t see anywhere else.

I’m looking forward to seeing how jazz aficionados take to medieval crumhorns & sackbuts

“We’re in it for the long haul,” continues Mead, “and our audience trust us to take them on a journey of discovery through the world of jazz today. They come prepared to be surprised, I’m happy to say.” Some of the developments Mead is most proud of include the world premieres featured via mjf originals and the new talent spotlighted in mjf introduces. This year, the former includes The Felonious Monks, a brilliantly-named fusion of early Renaissance music with contemporary jazz; its world premiere takes place at the 300 year-old St. Ann’s Church on 3 August. “I’m looking forward to seeing how a jazz audience respond to medieval instruments like crumhorns and sackbuts!” says Mead, who also rates the double-bill of Billy Moon and the Moss Project on 30 July at the festival’s hub, the pavilion in Albert Square so recently occupied by MIF. These two text-based projects, incidentally, are presented in association with Manchester Literature Festival  – see what I mean about us being a festival city? Other likely highlights include Spanish harmonica virtuoso (“and that’s not a phrase you hear too often,” says Mead) Antonio Serrano, who’s nipping over especially from touring with Paco De Lucia to play at St. Ann’s Church on 1 August.

Festivals routinely claim to have “something for everyone”, but with more than sixty events, ranging from Afternoon Teas at The Midland to a gig with legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, all crammed into ten days and with a fair few of them free, it’s a claim that Manchester Jazz Festival does actually live up to.

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