Oxford Jazz Festival 2009

Oxford's very first annual jazz festival
4 days of jazz in locations across Oxford, 9-12 April 2009

April 5, 2009

Given that we're in the middle of a raging recession, it's no surprise that cultural endeavours are suffering, and most recently in the line of fire have been the UK's well-respected jazz festivals. Brecon, Isle of Man, Plymouth and Isle of Wight have already succumbed to cancellation in 2009, but as luck would have it for us here in Oxford, one brand new baby soldiers on to pick up the pieces. In typically brave style (given the determined nature of its fiercely independent local backers, quirky Jericho sausage restaurant The Big Bang numbering chiefly among them), Oxford Jazz Festival launches in 2009 with a host of stars in a variety of unusual venues including the Oxford Union debating chamber and a converted asylum.

Oxford already hosts a variety of exciting and high-quality jazz events, with Thursday jazz club The Spin at the Wheatsheaf being the only venue outside London to be nominated for Best Jazz Venue of the Year for the last four years at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, and top names regularly visiting venues including St Barnabas' Church in Jericho and the Jacqueline du Pré Music Room in St Hilda's College. This is the first time that local business people and the stalwarts of the Oxford jazz scene have come together to create a full festival however, and since this is such a tricky time to do it, they have been creative in pulling out all the stops to involve the city and its residents as much as possible. Festival stewards will be volunteers; restaurants, churches and college theatres across the city are housing events at cut price rates (or paying for the performances themselves). With luck, this approach will gain the local support and enthusiasm necessary to bouy up our exciting new city festival and carry it on into a successful future.

Performers include such leading lights of the jazz world as vocalist Gwynneth Herbert; saxophonists Gilad Atzmon and Bobby Wellins; Ian Shaw, Julian Siegel and John Etheridge (click here to win tickets!). The event takes place across the whole Easter weekend (9-12 April inclusive) - visit www.OxfordJazzFestival.com for full line up, event and ticket details.

I went to Andrea Mann in the JdP building & loved it. Yeah sure her diction wasn't great but she has a great voice. Her backing was fantastic too, once I'd got over Nigel Price's overdrive (which he thankfully turned off after the first tune!) I loved him! spectacular player. Martin Pickett was a fantastic pianist, drummer was really really good too. Wish I could have stayed for more!
Loved the jazz jam last night. The young vocalist hosting it had a great energy and was a damn good singer to boot! The venue was a bit on the cosy side but then that's what made it fun. Congrats to the organisers for putting this event on and showcasing some great local talent.
The way people carry on about the damned economy, you'd imagine that the world was about to end, so it is with great interest that I attended both events to open the Oxford Jazz Festival just to see if all creativity had been strangled out of the UK. After all four of the great British jazz festivals had recently been cancelled through financial woe. First on the list was the Corner Club to watch Gilad Atzmon and Sarah Gillespie, It's been a long time since I have witnessed a performance with such gusto and sheer energy - a voice so potent, it knocked most of the audience to the wall. The packed-out house enjoyed a burst from Sarah's debut album, accompanied by double bass and drums while Gilad hooted away on his selection of saxophones and clarinets.

Then a quick shuffle North along St Giles took me to the Big Bang for the next event of the afternoon and a performance by Sandi Russell, accompanied by 3BPM. What a performer! Reviews read in advance promised a voice to remind you of the jazz greats, something to kindle the memories of Ella Fitzgerald or Carmen McRae. She certainly did what was promised on the tin. A true Harlem legend, she captivated the audience (as BBC Oxford relayed the whole afternoon to the airwaves) belting out number after number of a mixture of familiar, reworked and original material.

For the evening's entertainment I headed into the centre of town for Bobby Wellins at The Spin. Bobby is a fierce Scottish tenor saxophonist who worked with Stan Tracey on Under Milk Wood back in the '60's. I have seen him before and enjoyed this even more than the last time, as he approached every tune with humour and humility.

The Oxford Jazz Festival has a weekend packed with events and many of them are amongst the best Jazz performers in the UK at this time. Check out www.OxfordJazzFestival.com and attend some of the events over the weekend, because like Luminox, an event which had everyone talking after the event, this festival is one of those Oxford gems which really needs to be experienced first hand. My tip for the weekend - John Etheridge at the SAE on Sunday.
Well done for getting Oxford on the map as a premier venue for jazz! We've booked our tickets and are particularly looking forward to enjoying some of the venues. Also, well done for keeping at it in the current economic climate. With funding being pulled left right and centre it is encouraging that some people have the guts to make something happen.

Good luck with the final preparations.
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