With the 24:7 Theatre Festival winding down this weekend and Manchester International Festival a fond memory, what’s a bereft festival fan to do? Why, check out the daddy of Manchester festivals, that’s what. Celebrating its 18th year, no less, is Manchester Jazz Festival, which takes over the Festival Pavilion Teepee in Albert Square, as well as several other city centre venues, from this weekend.
There are more than 60 events crammed into 10 days with a fair few of them free, so the odds are pretty good that even those folk who claim to hate jazz will find something to enjoy. Events range from the legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders to Afternoon Teas in The Midland, via World Premieres (including a jazz-meets-medieval music event from the splendidly-named Felonious Monks and a jazz-meets-literature double bill of Billy Moon and The Moss Project) to the Spanish harmonica virtuoso Antonio Serrano, who’s nipping over especially from touring with Paco De Lucia.
Occasional marketing triumphs aside, jazz is a notoriously difficult genre to popularise. So why does artistic director Steve Meads think MJF has managed to survive and find a unique place in the artistic landscape of the North?
“Well,” he ponders, “Manchester is really good at celebrating distinct activities, and I feel we fit right into that mix.
“Of course, jazz itself defies all sort of genre boundaries. Just look at this year’s line-up, where you’ve got big bands, Dixieland, funk, some blues, world music, even bits of Swedish folk and garage thrash from Luxembourg in the mix.
“Now, our audience trust us to take them on a journey of discovery through the world of jazz today. They come prepared to be surprised because, on a broader scale, people know we’re in it for the long haul.
“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,” he feels. “We’ve been ambitious but realistic, constantly looking forward and offering events you can’t see anywhere else.”
The adventurous text-based Billy Moon project, for instance, has been many years in the making for composer Matthew Bourne (not the choreographer this time) but is only now coming to full fruition because of the support of MJF (and the Manchester Literature Festival, of which much more soon).
Billy Moon been inspired by A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh stories and by a dedication in When We Were Very Young to “Christopher Robin Milne or, as he prefers to call himself, Billy Moon”. The striking name and the Englishness of the stories provided a springboard for further original texts, but Bourne and vocalist Seaming To have only been able to perform the work occasionally as a duo. Now, joined by violinist Olivia Moore and cello player Semay Wu, “it’s sounding like the concept I had in my head,” enthuses Bourne of the piece, which will be premiered as part of the festival on July 30 and then tour.
“It really doesn’t feel like 18 years since we started it as jazz fans who wanted to celebrate our music in our city,” reflects Steve. “We thought then it would be an achievement to get through that first event. I think we just forgot to stop after that.”
Preview by Kevin Bourke
What: Manchester Jazz Festival
Where: venues across Manchester
When: July 26, 2013 – August 4, 2013
More info: www.manchesterjazz.com