Jazz festival organizer aiming for perfect 10

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In part one of our weekly Jazz Diary festival co-ordinator Johnny Murray considers how the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band festival has grown as he puts the final touches to organising the 10th running of the event . . .

As we finalise our preparations for the 10th City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival I find myself reflecting on the way the festival has developed over the past decade.

It’s almost 10 years now since Gerry McColgan and myself were asked by Derry City Council to check out the feasibility of a new festival for the city. At the time we really couldn’t have envisaged just how big an event the festival would become.

Obviously, as with any new departure, there was a bit of trepidation on our part as we set out on organising the inaugural festival for 2002. However we took inspiration from the Cork International Jazz Festival and its founder, Jack McGouran, who assured us that Derry was an ideal location for a big jazz fest.

We also got some great assistance from the small but dedicated local jazz fraternity with musicians like Gay McIntyre, Johnny Quigley, Jim McDermott, John Trotter, George Hassan, Frankie Robinson and Jack Molloy.

Even so, before the inaugural there was a degree of scepticism from local publicans and hotel owners who were dubious that it would succeed. However, after that first festival the people of the city were jazz converts. Over 7,000 people attended that first festival, which was headlined by Courtney Pine and featured jazz cruises on the

Foyle, as well as spectacular Zulu dancers from Zimbabwe’s Black Umfolos. Afterwards the venue owners were in no doubt that they wanted the festival to become an annual fixture.

Since the festival’s humble beginnings it has now grown into one of the flagship festivals in the country. Since its inception the festival has attracted some top names including Van Morrison, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Courtney Pine, Kyle Eastwood, Curtis Stigers, Acker Bilk, George Melly, Kenny Ball, Georgie Fame, Humphrey Lyttleton, Bill Wyman, Louis Stewart, Soweto Kinch etc and not forgetting Jools Holland who headlines this year’s festival.

The festival has gained in prestige and status year on year and the 2011 festival which will run over the Bank Holiday weekend from Thursday April 28th until Monday May 2 promises to be the biggest yet.

There will be over 500 musicians performing in the city over the weekend, playing 260 events in 76 venues. The programme includes music for all tastes - jump jive, swing, blues, soul, be-bop, Dixieland, modern and big band. There will also be workshops, and special charity events organised by The Pink Ladies Support Group and the Mayor’s Charities, Dance events by Celtronic, Jazz discussions at the Verbal Arts Centre. The good news is that over 90 per cent of events are free as part of the Guinness Free Jazz Trail which is an essential part of the festival, bringing great musicians and fantastic music to venues in the city for free. This aspect means festival audiences can take a pick and mix approach to sampling the hundreds of fantastic gigs with music from favourites like the Jive Aces, King Pleasure, Ska Beat, Red Stripe Band, Cat Scratch Fever and Mirenda Rosenberg band to name just a few.

New this year will be the outdoor stage in Guildhall Square with live music on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and in the Craft Village on the Friday evening.

The festival will come to a close with the very popular finale evenings at the City Hotel and Da Vinci’s Hotel and a closing concert at the Waterside Theatre with the Michael Buble Tribute Band, tickets for all concerts are now on sale at the various venues.

As usual I’ll be a bit frazzled at the end of the weekend when the Jazz Jamboree packs up for another year but with 10 years under its belt the festival has become much anticipated fixture on our social calendar. I’m sure if we comeback in another 10 years the festival will still be going strong and we will all be anticipating its 20th anniversary.

For further information visit www.cityofderryjazzfestival.com or follow festival updates on the City of Culture2013 Facebook site.