Young musicians hope to strike the right kind of blue note as Manchester Jazz Festival showcases local talent

By Andrew Nowell

Young musicians will get the chance to take to the stage alongside an array of international talent at the Manchester Jazz Festival later this month.

The festival’s sixteenth edition maintains its home-grown roots with many North-West artists playing from 22nd – 30th July.

The music will be shared between seven venues, with the open-air Festival Pavilion in Albert Square providing the festival’s hub.

Stand-out gigs include a collaborative piece between two Manchester artists, guitarist Stuart McCallum providing music to be accompanied by projections and images from Linder.

There is also the world premiere of Cheshire-based pianist Adam Fairhall’s piece The Imaginary Delta, a re-imagining of early American vernacular music.

The festival comes as the city’s jazz scene is on a high, with Manchester musician Mike Walker playing on one of 2011’s most acclaimed albums in  Anglo-American band The Impossible Gentlemen and the Beats & Pieces Big Band winning the European Young Artists’ Jazz Award in Germany earlier this year.

Artistic Director Steve Mead said: “I think Manchester has a reputation outside the city that’s more to do with indie bands, but the jazz scene is quite long-standing.”

In addition to the big names, the festival’s commitment to youth can be seen in its mjf introduces… free concerts, giving a platform to two up-and-coming bands.

Steve said: “The ‘introduces…’ scheme is specifically about young bands in the local area.

“That’s what makes the festival unique in the UK, the talent from the region showcased with an international component as well.”

The Claire James Trio, from the Royal Northern College of Music on Oxford Road, have a classic line-up of piano, double bass and drums, blending British and Scandinavian jazz with the sounds of classical composers such as John Ireland.

Pianist Claire, who graduated from the RNCM earlier this year, said: “We are trying to create our own sound, something a bit different.”

The Christian Fields Octet also explore a range of sounds in their music while trying to avoid jazz stereotypes.

Previously a piano trio, the line-up has been filled out by three saxophones, trumpet and trombone.

Pianist Christian, a recent Salford University graduate, said: “The band is a vehicle for my original compositions. Our sound is contemporary jazz with elements of rock and classical music.

“As a pianist I’m influenced by bands like The Bad Plus, and by Charles Mingus. The octet also has quite a heavy brass sound, and is influenced by bands like Radiohead too.”

Both Christian and Claire hope their eclectic approaches will appeal outside the community of jazz enthusiasts.

Christian said: “Hopefully there will be something for everyone.  I think jazz should be more about the writing, and not just a short head with lots of solos.

“A lot of people find solos pretentious or think they go on too long, so I’m trying to keep people’s interest through extended compositions.”

Claire added: “I think it’s nice when you can attract people who’ve maybe put jazz into a box and think they wouldn’t like it.

“We’ve all been on classical music courses at college, and I think those influences can be very attractive.”

Artistic Director Steve Mead said finding new audiences is very important to the festival’s organisers.

He said: “We have a lot of daytime and evening concerts, playing music that might be new to people.

“For a lot of people it’s their only jazz fix, but hopefully they’ll be spurred on to go to more gigs.

“We try to change a few preconceptions about jazz too.”

In putting together his octet, Christian recruited one of Salford University’s music teachers on alto saxophone and players from the Royal Northern College of Music and Salford’s recent graduates.

Christian said: “There’s a very strong sense of community in the jazz world. We all want to play in each other’s bands, and we’re all good friends and support each other.

“We’ve got more venues now, like Band on the Wall, which has really good sound. It’s going to keep getting better and better.”

The mjf introduces… concerts will take place at the city-centre Festival Pavilion.

Drummer Alan Taylor said: “We’re all looking forward to it because it’s the main stage. We’re just hoping the weather’s going to be nice, because it’s an open-air concert.

“We’re undercover, but the rest of the audience won’t be.”

Claire said: “I wouldn’t have been able to get picked for a gig without the ‘introduces…’ scheme due to our age and experience. I think the festival does a great job each year.”

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