Edinburgh Jazz Festival set to expand into City Art Centre

Jools Holland. Picture: Contributed
Jools Holland. Picture: Contributed
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THE Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is to take over part of one of the city’s main public art galleries under an expansion which will mean the event has doubled in size in the space of just four years.

A New York-style loft club will be run for up to 10 hours a day in the fifth-floor in the City Art Centre, in the Old Town.

Average White Band. Picture: Contributed

Average White Band. Picture: Contributed

Edinburgh City Council, which runs the venue, has given the green light for it to operate as a music venue for the first time this summer, running alongside exhibitions.

Up to five shows a day will be staged in the gallery space, which boasts panoramic views of Princes Street and the New Town. Organisers say the new venue, which will have a capacity of up to 170, will become one of two all-day sites, along with the St Andrew Square Spiegeltent. A record 171 shows will be staged, up 15 per cent on last year and double the number in 2012.

The festival, which has been staged annually since 1978, has revealed that turnover has soared to nearly £1 million - an increase of 75 per cent - over the same period. It will have more than half of its shows staged in venues specially-created for the festival for the first time.

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The event has embarked on a major expansion since switching its dates in 2011 to avoid a direct clash with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time. Audiences have since grown from 21,285 to 36,500 last year, up 71 per cent.

Among the headliners this year are American singing star Curtis Stigers, guitar virtuosos John McLaughlin and Martin Taylor, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, jazz-funk outfit The James Taylor Quartet and Andrew Strong, the lead singer in the hit movie The Commitments.

Other overseas acts lined up include Lithuanian vocalist Viktoria Gecyte, Amsterdam-based guitarist Reinier Baas, New York singer and drummer Bryan Carter, the Tokyo Django Collective, and Mississippi blues band Lightnin’ Malcolm and Texas Latino outfit Grupo Fantasma.

American jazz-blues singer Davina Sowers and her band The Vagabonds will be the first ever act to be given a residency for the full 10-day festival.

Leading Scottish acts appearing during the event, which runs from 15-24 July, including the Average White Band, The Bevvy Sisters, Todd Gordon, Brian Kellock, David Patrick, Tom Bancroft, Tommy Smith and Seonaid Aitken.

Festival producer Fiona Alexander said: “The top floor gallery at the City Art Centre has a fantastic view over the whole city and is really bright and open space. It’s used for exhibitions and receptions a lot, but it’s not really had concerts in there before.

“We’ll be bringing in a full production to create a sort of New York jazz loft vibe. We’re doing five shows almost every day there and at the St Andrew Square Spiegeltent, so they’ll be become the Old and New Town hearts of the festival.

“The growth in the festival is down to several factors over the last four or five years. Being the only festival running in July means we are the only game in town and there’s the increasing profile of Edinburgh as a festival destination.

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“We’ve also moved much more into city centre venues. We are a bit more in-your-face, whereas we were slightly more hidden in the past.

“We’re putting on the same range of music but the other thing that’s had a big effect is that jazz is much more accessible now even compared to five years ago thanks to things like YouTube.”

Richard Lewis, the city council’s festivals and events champion, said: “The 2016 programme spans a huge range of styles and specialisms, from established stars to new names and everything in-between.

“For the first time the City Art Centre will be used as a jazz festival venue when it transforms into a loft club. It will be a stunning location and it’s fantastic to see that over half of this summer’s festival programme will take place in venues specially assembled for the occasion.”

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