Brian Fallon: Get ready for Edinburgh’s Jazz and Blues Festival

The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is forging a strong reputation. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is forging a strong reputation. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is the longest running event of its kind in Britain, and in terms of scale, one of the top ten in Europe. In recent years we’ve grown with each festival and last year over 67,500 people enjoyed our events. Uniquely, we are one of the few jazz and blues festivals that presents music from across the entire spectrum of jazz, from 1920s trad to punk-afrobeat, and we present all shades of blues from acoustic delta to modern electric. Each year we ask ourselves: what does our audience want to hear? Old friends? Exciting newcomers? World premieres? And we think about how best to attract new audiences.

A first step is to sort out musical styles such as traditional, mainstream, modern and contemporary, blues, vocal etc, and to look at how we divide up the programme, making sure that we have a great and varied offer for each audience grouping. To take traditional jazz as an example, this year audiences can listen to local bands like the Bill Salmond Louisiana Ragtime Band or the Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra reinterpreting the music of Bix Biederbecke, do the two-step with the Hot Antic Jazz Band from France, or step-back to pre-war dance halls with the Bratislava Hot Serenaders. We also look to younger musicians who are finding inspiration from hot jazz styles, notably Alligator Gumbo from Leeds and the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band.

The festival is forging a reputation in the blues world for giving blues audiences a taste of the real thing and in 2016 we offer access to an unparalleled list of great American musicians, from Delta bluesman Lightnin’ Malcolm to electric blues from John Nemeth and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Attracting new audiences to the festival is always a challenge and this year we welcome two extraordinary musicians to Edinburgh for extended residencies, which we hope will generate a word of mouth buzz around town. Davina Sowers brings her extraordinary band the Vagabonds – described as a mix of Fats Domino and Amy Whitehouse – and the sensational drummer Bryan Carter plays in a range of projects, including two of his own.

We also wanted to reflect a little of the vibrancy of the contemporary European jazz scene, so we are presenting the Europe Jazz Summit, a snapshot of what is happening in Europe right now. This strand will comprise over 30 concerts with musicians from Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden. Established stars like Jan Garbarek, Magnus Öström, Marcin Wasilewski and Furio di Castri will feature, but so will younger musicians like Amsterdam guitarist Reinier Baas and the stunning French singer Cyrille Aimée.

Thanks to the Scottish Government’s Expo fund we are able to create some unique collaborative projects which put Scottish musicians together with of the world’s top players – so Seonaid Aitken will present a project with the Toky Django Collective and Ryan Quigley with Andrew Strong (of the Commitments fame).

Finally, there are the names that really excite our festival team: the stylish singers Viktoira Gecyte and Dayme Arocena and the young pianists, Fergus McCreadie, Enrico Zanisi, and Emmet Cohen, all of whom prove that fresh-minted jazz is very much alive and kicking.

l Brian Fallon is chair of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival runs from 15-24 July. See also