When James Taylor introduced his Quartet’s version of the theme from Blow-Up at Swansea International Jazz Festival last night [Sunday June 17, 2018], he told the audience it was written by Herbie Hancock. “And,” he announced, gesturing to the wings, “he’s here tonight!” For a split second, you sensed some people believed it – because as this festival has grown, such superstar appearances no longer seem impossible.
It was, of course, a joke – the multi-time Grammy (and one-time Oscar) winner was not waiting backstage at the Dylan Thomas Theatre. But the scale and quality of this fifth edition of the festival show that it is now clearly Wales’ top jazz festival, with 55 events at 16 venues in and around the city’s Maritime Quarter.
At its peak, the previous holder of that unofficial title, Brecon Jazz Festival, attracted huge stars like Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison, Humphrey Lyttleton, Dionne Warwick, Gregory Porter and Robert Glasper.
Swansea doesn’t draw such household names, but you get the impression, that if that was the way it wanted to go, it could – although that may mean moving the biggest gigs away from its waterside base.
Its patron is certainly a big name – renowned composer Sir Karl Jenkins, whose background is in jazz, and whom I think I saw in the bar at the Dylan Thomas Theatre on Friday evening.
The 11 ticketed shows over four nights (and two afternoons) were again held in the theatre and the nearby Dylan Thomas Centre, and were timed to allow people to attend both venues – just a short walk apart.
With free fringe events at bars and other locations, there was hardly a quiet moment.
Highlights for me this year included acid jazz star James Taylor with his Quartet, and Pete Long’s Big Band recreating Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, with some educational insights (and amusing quips) between the numbers.
There were treats for funk and soul fans, with Laurence Cottle and his band performing the work of Tower of Power, and Derek Nash and Noel McCalla with the music of Stevie Wonder.
Louis Prima Jr got the audience at The Centre jumping, and even joined in a 1am jam session as a bonus, while the weekend rounded off with the Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly.
Again the festival was a triumph for organiser and artistic director Dave Cottle, who now faces the challenge of how to follow that. I wonder if Herbie Hancock is available next June?
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