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Cuckoo Young Writers review Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2014

Posted on 29 April 2014

Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2014 collaborated with the literature development agency New Writing North to involve young writers from their Cuckoo Young Writers Project in reviewing events at the festival. The project operated under the guidance of writer/broadcaster/academic Kevin Le Gendre (winner of jazz journalist of the year at the 2009 Parliamentary Jazz Awards). All the reviews are now available to read here.

Polar Bear and Shiver, Amber Efstathiou
GoGo Penguin, Amber Efstathiou
Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Amber Efstathiou
Jean Toussaint Quartet and McCormack and Yarde duo with the Elysian String Quartet, Matilda Neil
Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Lexy Powell
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke, Lexy Powell
Youth Jazz Afternoon: Jazz North Introduces Stretch Trio followed by Jambone with Rick Taylor, Lexy Powell
Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Barry Quinn
Space F!ght, Barry Quinn
Late Night Club at the Jazz Café, Barry Quinn
Django Bates, Joakim Milder and the Norrbotten Big Band, Mary Winn
The Spring Quartet, Mary Winn

Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2014 Mary Winn

Whilst Gateshead’s 10th International Jazz Festival was always bound to be an unmissable event, with names as big as Courtney Pine and Esperanza Spalding studding the line-up, I’ll admit it wasn’t something that would conventionally appear on my radar. As a seventeen year old girl, I’ve always seen jazz as something quite alienating, a laudable pursuit but not quite my cup of tea: it was the warmth of the Festival’s inclusive spirit which helped to thaw these preconceptions and rethink my approach to jazz music in general.

The bill was crammed with names and faces from across the genre, with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s energetic ode to the classics of Duke Ellington rubbing shoulders with the zany audio-visual experience of Space F!ght. The eclectic nature of the programme was made evident through the audiences who gathered: the melting pot of household legends and rising stars such as GoGo Penguin attracted an inspiring demographic of the young and old, convincing me of the relevance of jazz for all generations.

Commencing with Django Bates, Joakim Milder and the Norrbotten Big Band, Friday night swooped and dove from the funky grooves of Brazilian pianist, guitarist and vocalist Ed Motta to GRAMMY winners’ Robert Glasper Experiments’ jazz/hip-hop fusion in the space of two hours. Saturday packed a heavyweight punch, offering forth legends such as Courtney Pine CBE, one of the biggest names on the British jazz scene for the past three decades, and the first UK appearance of The Spring Quartet, a coalition of four of the most influential names of jazz, from the legendary saxophonist Joe Lovano to bassist Esperanza Spalding, whose name has been gracing the halls of pop in recent years after winning the first Best New Artist GRAMMY Award awarded to a jazz musician.

Whilst excitement for Sunday’s line-up was concentrated predominantly on two performances from the award-winning Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, ‘Jazz North Introduces’ in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall offered young artists from the North East the opportunity to make their stamp on the contemporary jazz scene. To stumble across events such as these embellishing the international line-up- with the Sage’s Concourse also providing a launch pad for aspiring musicians across the weekend- was refreshing. The jazz that the Festival offered was nowhere near that of my misplaced prejudices: rather than something inaccessible and elitist, I was hit firmly around the face with the understanding that jazz can be a fluid and flexible thing. The dexterity with which it was manipulated from artist to artist was truly mind-boggling, and that in itself is a credit to the passion of the event’s organisers, who, for now ten years have been bringing the genre to Gateshead in new and imaginative ways.

All in all, the proof of the Festival’s success was in the pudding: with venues crammed to bursting and an infectious excitement thrumming in the air, it will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the region’s musical highlights of 2014. Here’s to another ten years.