REPORT: 2016 Bedford Jazz Festival

John Horler snd Alec Dankworth at the 2016 Bedford Jazz Festival
Photo credit: © Peter M Butler/Jazz&Jazz


Frank Griffith, whose quintet appeared at this year's Bedford Jazz Festival (March 19th-20th) reports on this event, now in its second year, which is growing in scale:

The second Annual Bedford Jazz Festival featured a bevy of UK and international jazz figures carefully packed into a madcap two-day event. It was based largely at the Quarry Theatre in the town centre, a purpose built venue on the grounds of Bedford School, which was opened in May 2015.

Among the highlights included saxist, Karen Sharp's quartet with adoptive Bedfordian Nikki Iles, piano, Dave Green, bass and Steve Brown, drums. Their set was an eclectic mix of standards, jazz and Brazillian selections, including Victor Feldman's Falling in Love (recorded by Stan Getz, among many others). The set was climaxed by a blistering romp through Ray Noble's Cherokee.

Guest USA trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's Quartet was the headline act on Saturday night. His first set consisted largely of lengthy original pieces composed of open ended improvisations over somewhat complicated sounding rhythmical permutations that kept this listener guessing and possibly never reaching any kind of resolution or reconciliation until the piece finally wound down to a close.

The repertoire in the second set offered the listener a few more handholds, including Ambrose's poignant treatment of I Fall In Love Too Easily which could have been a tribute to Miles Davis who recorded it in 1964. Akinmusire is a magnificently original voice on trumpet with a masterful command of the instrument without ever resorting to any brassy or shrill histrionics. A major voice in the music and Bedford was lucky to be treated to what he had on offer.

A young and frisky 7-piece ensemble, Kansas Smitty's House Band, kicked off the second day with a sprightly programme of New Orleans and swing era style originals. Altoist and spokesman, Giacomo Smith (who hails from Saratoga Springs, NY) dazzled the audience with his burning and flawlessy executed lines on bassist, Ferg Ireland's opus entitled Anita (cat, not woman) Trumpeter, Pete Horsfall's understated but eloquently delivered vocal on a torchsong ballad scored highly as well.

Another trumpeter, Chris Batchelor's  four-piece Pigfoot followed in a similar vein. This group included pianist, Liam Noble, percussionist Paul Clarvis (replete in brightly coloured jim jams) and baritone saxist James Alsopp depping in the bass role for tuba player, Oren Marshall. The quirky quartet titilated the Beds audience with their "irreverentions" of everything from Fat's Waller's Jitterbug Waltz to Elvis' Jailhouse Rock all the way to Richard Strauss's Salome! Zany Mania abounded.

The festival was roundly climaxed at the spacious Bedford Corn Exchange with a healthy crowd to boot. Another Bedfordian, internationally recognised composer/lyricist, choir leader and pianist, Pete Churchill, led the London Vocal Project on several numbers. His lush arrangement of Lionel Hampton's Midnight Sun showcased guest vocalist Jacqui Dankworth in a solo role to great effect. Jacqui's quintet then followed with Just You, Just Me a theme which featured several duets between her and husband, singer/pianist and arranger, and Memphian, Charlie Wood. The saxophone solos of Ben Castle were so refreshing, adding so much and lets not forget the boys in the "engine room" bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer, James Maddren.

"Rachel and Friends", feat. Rachel Hickey, part of the
programme of free events at the Bedford Arms
Photo credit: © Peter M Butler/Jazz&Jazz

Hats off to festival's director, Bedfordian trumpeter, Tom Syson, and his hearty eight-person organizing team of Bedford locals working countless hours in producing what was a very impressive festival.

LINKS: Peter M Butler's videos of the festival on his Jazz&Jazz site
Interview with Tom Syson previewing the festival

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