Preview: Guildhall Jazz Festival

Guildhall Jazz Band
Photo Credit: Nina Large


Martin Hathaway (Head of Jazz Studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama) writes about the The Guildhall Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe which runs from 23-28th March 2013

Some of my most formative experiences as a jazz musician came while I was a Guildhall School student some 20 years ago. I made many lasting contacts which subsequently led to the majority of my work as a performer, composer and educator. As well as freelance work with Guildhall Jazz Professors, including performances with the late Lionel Grigson, I met the pianist and composer Michael Garrick, and began a long and fruitful musical relationship.

Fast forward to 2013, and this will be my sixth Guildhall Jazz Festival as Head of Jazz Studies. The festival runs over six days of lunchtime, afternoon and evening concerts where Guildhall musicians and guest artists collaborate. It’s important to me that the festival reflects the collaborative ethos of the Jazz Department – that every student has the opportunity to be involved, whether that’s by performing with visiting musicians or self-directing their own ensembles, and that the events represent the diversity of what we do at the School. No stone is left unturned.

This year we’re delighted to welcome a number of leading musicians who have never performed at the School before. The wonderful pianist and composer Zoe Rahman, someone who has been an important part of the British jazz scene for a while now, leads the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble on the opening night in a programme of new music and arrangements that takes in an eclectic range of influences including groove and Afrobeat. I’m personally thrilled to welcome Iain Ballamy – rightly named by the BBC recently as one of its 100 Jazz Legends. He’s someone we’ve wanted to come to the school for ages, and we’ve finally got him! For the finale, the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble are joined by the brilliant Ian Shaw on piano and vocals to perform jazz and popular numbers exclusively arranged by Guildhall professor Malcolm Edmonstone.

It’s important that our students experience performing alongside musicians at the forefront of their genre. Our Improvised Music Day will see students work with pianist and composer Keith Tippett and his wife Julie Tippetts on vocals in workshops before taking to the stage for an evening of spontaneous composition.

Last year’s Vintage Jazz Night was a real highlight – so much so that we’re doing another one this year. I’ll be joining the students on saxophone alongside Colin Good on piano and Malcolm Earle Smith on trombone to explore music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I’m also looking forward to teaming up with my colleagues for the Guildhall Jazz Faculty Concert.

A number of small band performances directed by our students take place during the day and are free to attend. We’ve also got our Jazz Alumni Ensemble, this time with Tom Challenger, a talented saxophone player and ex-student of ours who has made a big splash in Europe. And our Junior Guildhall Jazz Ensembles showcase their skills in the festival’s opening concert.

One student told me something recently that really summed up the festival. During a break in rehearsals with Zoe Rahman, after finishing a heady drum and bass influenced tune, he put down his instrument and heard the dulcet tones of the vintage jazz group rehearsing down the corridor. I had to agree with him when he said it seemed a fitting illustration of the diversity of styles harnessed at the festival. There’s going to be something for everybody, participants and audiences.

The Guildhall Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe runs from Saturday 23 to Thursday 28 March. For full details, and booking go HERE

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