From 29th April to 4th May, Cheltenham will be one heaving, bubbling pot of jazz, soul, and swing, as the town hosts its annual Jazz Festival. With well over 20,000 music-lovers descending on the spa town every summer, Cheltenham is easily one of the most popular festivals of its type in the country.
Far form being the haunt of jazz aficionados, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival is amazing in how open and inviting it is for those who know little about the genre, or for those who, like myself, have always felt that jazz ‘wasn’t really their thing’. By bringing together a huge number of incredibly talented and massively different artists under the umbrella of jazz, the festival actually offers something that most don’t: variety.
I know that ‘Jazz Festival’ at first glance might not leave too much to the imagination, but trust me when I say that this is one of the few places where you can find something for every taste. Jazz dictates the spirit of the festival, and the artists really do get into the ‘anything goes’ mentality of the genre. Yet this is not one long weekend of sax-solos and finger clicking. Soul, R&B, classical, funk, and yes, jazz musicians, all dig deep into their creative roots to produce vivid, raw and very real live performances.
everyone likes a bit of Frank on a Friday evening
This year’s line up is definitely something to get excited about if you take any enjoyment in seeing engaging and rewarding live performances. I can say with certainty that all of this year’s performers are capable of giving their audiences a show that will leave them feeling like they have just seen something special. The quality of this year’s acts is also something to be impressed with.
Friday Night at the Big Top will see Kurt Elling, Clare Teal and Anthony Strong take to the stage with support from the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Band, where they will celebrate the enduring musical legacy of Frank Sinatra. This will be a phenomenal performance for everyone, because let’s face it, everyone likes a bit of Frank on a Friday evening.
Saturday will be something to savour for Jazz lovers. While Sun Ra is regrettably no longer with us, his Arkestra keeps his soul very much alive. Again taking place at the Big Top, Ra’s long-time saxophone collaborator Marshall Allen leads the Arkestra through an hour of funk, swing and doo-wop, all draped in the band’s unmistakable kaleidoscopic capes. Speaking from experience, a night seeing these Jazz icons is nothing short of sensual. Certainly not something to miss.
If I had to choose just one thing to see at the festival, however, it would be Monday’s Gershwin Rediscovered performance by Laura Mvula and Gregory Porter. I have been excited since I saw this as listed; two phenomenal singers will be paying homage to George and Ira Gershwin through 90 minutes of music that you are unlikely to hear anywhere else again. While I appreciate the music, I am not particularly a Gershwin fan. I am however a fan of bold and clever music, and of new takes on accepted classics. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy the festival so much, not to mention the good-time atmosphere and relaxed itinerary that somehow few festivals manage to get right.
This year, as always, the Cheltenham Jazz festival offers you the chance to dip in and out of different styles and sub-genres of Jazz, leaving you almost overwhelmed with choice. Whatever acts you decide to see, it rarely matters in the end; you are always bound to have one happenin’ night.
Why not extend your stay by renting a luxury property in the Cotswolds and really make the festival the event of the year!
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