Interview: Ros Rigby previews the Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2014 (4-6 April)

Rob Edgar spoke to Ros Rigby OBE, Performance Programme Director at the Sage Gateshead, about the Gateshead International Jazz Festival (4-6th April).

Rob Edgar: It's been ten years since the first jazz festival. How has it changed over the years?

Ros Rigby: Some things haven’t changed- it’s still a weekend festival - we decided after a few years NOT to extend the number of days as the format works so well and allows people from outside the area to cram a lot into one weekend. We  have gradually increased the amount of jazz from across Europe- particularly the Nordic countries –- in fact in 2013 we had no American artists at all which raised some eyebrows- but it was a great Festival! We have also involved our full time chamber orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia (RNS)  more in recent years- including a great collaboration with Debbie Harry and Roy Nathanson, an Ellington/Strayhorn Project with Guy Barker, and last year a new commission for Tim Garland for Lighthouse with RNS.

RE: The Sage as a venue has also developed in that first decade, right?

RR: Absolutely: we have really grown the programme across the very wide range of music genres we present, including launching our annual SummerTyne Americana festival in July, a strong world music and non-western classical strand working with local promoter GEM Arts and others, and built relationships with the leading popular music promoters and agents enabling us to welcome many major names here.

RE: This year's looks like a particularly festival strong line-up?

RR: We’re pleased with it- it’s great to welcome back Joe Lovano and Jack DeJohnette in the new supergroup the Spring Quartet and I’m very excited about the opening night double bill with the Norrbotten Big Band, from the far North of Sweden,  Django Bates Beloved, and Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder- we can’t wait to hear his great arrangements of songs by the North East’s own Prefab Sprout!

New commissions are always something we’re keen to include- and Chris Sharkey’s new work for his trio Shiver explores the musical influences from his youth on Tyneside which should be fascinating!  They are in a double bill with Polar Bear- whom we welcome back-and we’re also looking forward to the double bill with Jean Toussaint (on his first visit to the venue)  plus Andrew McCormack and Jason Yarde with the Elysian Quartet.

Hall Two is a great late night space and both Robert Glasper on Friday and Courtney Pine on Saturday should have them up and dancing! And lots lots more!

RE: Should audiences go to the workshops?

RR: Yes- and as in previous years Alyn Shipton will be presenting a number of pre-concert talks – always a great way to get an insight into the music you’re about to hear, plus hosting a festival edition of Jazz Record Requests. Way into the Way Out with Chris Sharkey and Andy Champion is also bound to be highly entertaining.

RE: There's a late-night club at at the Jazz Cafe?

RR: Indeed- this well known Newcastle venue closed after the death of its founder Keith Crombie- a well known character for many years on the Tyneside music scene, and recently re-opened under the management of its landlord- Newcastle Arts Centre.  They were keen to link up with the Festival and will be running a club with resident bands on the Friday and Saturday nights into the early hours.

RE: It also hosts jazz events during the year, right?

RR: Yes, they are building a strong regular programme- see HERE for details!

RE: Tell me about Space F!ght

RR: They are a Yorkshire based collective of musicians and audio visual artists who create an immersive experience with live music, electronics and projections;  the line up is Tom Adams on guitar, Jakub Hader on visuals, Radek Rudnicki on electronics, and James Mainwaring on sax- also known for his work in Roller Trio.  It’s going to happen late night on Saturday in Northern Rock Foundation Hall (renamed the Jazz Lounge for the Festival) which is the perfect space for this kind of event.

RE: There's not only leading international artists showcased at the festival. You've got (among others) the younger generation playing in the Sunday Afternoon Jazz on the Concourse.

RR: Absolutely: we have so many great young bands emerging from the BMus Jazz and Popular Music and BA Community Music courses we run here,  that we devote more of the free Concourse programme on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon to younger bands that we did in the early days.   We always  feature our own teenage jazz ensemble Jambone, and this year they will present the suite on the Sunday afternoon  that they have developed with trombonist Rick Taylor – entitled ‘The Time Machine’ is features tunes and styles from a whole range of jazz/swing composers over the decades.  Opening for them will be a new trio from Leeds- the Stretch Trio- recently chosen as the ‘Jazz North Introduces’ band for 2014.

RE: A festival of this size doesn't happen on its own. You work in partnership with Serious?

RR: Yes they have been our Artistic Advisers on the festival for the last ten years, and the programming partnership has worked well!

RE: What are you personally looking forward to most?

RR: Hmm- difficult one! Anyone who knows me knows of my weakness for Nordic jazz and the amazing Marius Neset on saxophone and Daniel Herskerdal on tuba (opening for the Spring Quartet) perfectly exemplify that slightly mournful ‘Scandijazz’ sound.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s great to have husband and wife team Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood presenting their own Ellington/Strayhorn favourites before SNJO take to the stage with their award winning ‘Spirit of Duke’ programme.

Also- the Pablo Held Trio from Germany will provide a perfect opener for Bill Frisell. I guess the message from that is- don’t ignore the opening acts- they are as carefully chosen as the main artists!

Rob Edgar: I've never been before. Do you have any advice for a rookie?

Ros Rigby: It’s a busy weekend so study the programme and plot your route! The venues are so close together than moving from one event to another is easy.  The pre-concert talks are certainly worth a listen, and between concerts do try to hear some of the concourse acts- for some it’s their first Sage Gateshead appearance! And if you like a pint we have some great real ale from the local  Wylam brewery!

Tickets are still available for all concerts, but the Bill Frisell is selling fast. Book Tickets HERE

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