PREVIEW: Durham BRASS ('Women and Brass' 13-20 July)

Bands at the 2016 Durham BRASS festival
Publicity photo

Durham BRASS, an annual festival in mid-July, has taken on the theme of 'Women and Brass' for 2018. Dave Whetstone explains:

Jazz and big band drummer Crissy Lee from Essex is among those heading north this month for Durham’s 12th annual celebration of brass music.

Durham BRASS, spanning musical genres but with a strong jazz element, offers the perfect excuse to travel in the same direction for a stimulating city break. 'Women and Brass' is a theme running through this year’s festival and who better than Crissy, one of the last surviving members of the Ivy Benson Band, to kick it off at Durham’s Gala Theatre on 13 July?

Crissy, now 75 but with no plan to call it a day, will be joined by her all-woman jazz/swing outfit and a set list of Ivy Benson favourites – some Count Basie and Duke Ellington plus Sing Sing Sing, immortalised by Benny Goodman.

Gunhild Carling, the Swedish multi-instrumentalist whose YouTube videos have contributed to her large international following, shares the double bill. Also on at the Gala in the following days are the Scottish Swing Orchestra (BRASS Goes to Hollywood – 15 July) and The James Morrison Quartet (16 July). This is a rare opportunity to catch the Australian trumpet virtuoso before he heads back ‘Down Under’. A jazz legend, he graced the BBC Proms last year and is likely to raise the roof at the intimate Gala Theatre.

Break Out Brass Band
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A newcomer to the jazz scene is Break Out Brass Band which is performing several free concerts around County Durham throughout the 10-day festival. It has an all-woman line-up from across the country (trombone player Hannabiell Sanders, US-born but North East-based, is just one who’ll blow your socks off) and was formed recently by Durham University music graduate Heather Spencer and saxophonist Felicity Evans.

Heather, still just 22, founded Durham City Jazz Festival (DJazz) and is just completing her year on the inaugural Jazz Promoters Fellowship, an initiative by the charity Help Musicians UK aimed at correcting a perceived lack of opportunities for women in jazz.

Break Out Brass, whose line-up is a reminder that talented female jazz players are there in abundance, can be heard in Wharton Park, Durham, on 21 July at 6pm – and that’s a free concert. More free music can be heard at Streets of Brass (21 and 22 July, 11am to 5pm) when the characterful streets below Durham Cathedral come alive with music. Bands taking part include Shake Em Up Jazz Band, from New Orleans (also all-female), London-based Brass Funkeys, Scottish outfit Reel Brass and the flamboyant Artistas del Gremio from Spain.

Those whose love of brass extends to the classical repertoire can take in Bach and Brass at Durham Cathedral on 20 July and Pictures at an Exhibition, at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, on 17 July when the Fine Arts Brass Ensemble will perform the famous Mussorgsky work and premiere a new piece by composer Nigel Hess inspired by Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Brass bands – this is the North East – aren’t out of the picture with the Reg Vardy Band giving a free performance of Carmina Burana in Wharton Park on the evening of 22 July after the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band’s afternoon gig at the Gala Theatre.

And there is much more. Like the chance to explore one of England’s most beautiful cities.

Dave Whetstone is a journalist and publicist, and is helping Durham BRASS to raise its profile.

LINKS: Durham BRASS Festival website

This is Durham website

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