When it gets close to summertime the UK pops up with various festivals, most of them open air, despite the rainy weather. One of those is a traditional meeting in the southwest, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. This year the programme was supported by Jamie Cullum as a guest director, whose energy and enthusiasm coursed through the event.
With three stages – The Big Top, The Festival Arena and The Free Stage ‑ as well as a fringe edition with venues all around the city in hotels and taverns, the sun smiled and I could put my feet on the grass in Montpellier Gardens without fear of muddy waters.
The festival was exceptionally well organised and the team involved very professional and helpful to everyone, not only the press or the musicians, a welcome touch. For me, the standout experience was the chance to listen to Eska, Laura Mvula and the show Friday Night is Music Night: Hoods, Horns and Hooch.
Eska has collaborated with Zero 7, Grace Jones and Cinematic Orchestra and the concert at the festival was to celebrate the first release of her own material. Her voice sometimes recalls that of Tracy Chapman, but somewhat more sophisticated and warm. Her band is formed by multi-instrumentists, who can make music from a crisp packets or uncanny touches on the contrabass. That night she had Laura Mvula as special guest, who enriched the night with some reggae.
The main event, though, at The Big Top, a circus tent in the middle of the park, was a series of classics from the golden age of jazz, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Big Band, with the talented vocalists Kurt Elling, Curtis Stigers and Liane Carroll. The two-hour concert took me to a time where the dream was not over yet, not only by the classics played, such as original compositions from the Al Capone’s Chicago times, but also because of the tale that preceded each number. It was nice to be sat in a circus tent and suddenly be moved to the time of the Dry Law, enraptured by Kurt Elling, who was described in The New York Times as “the standout vocalist of our time”. Make sure you don't miss the sessions on BBC Radio 2.