The Jazzwagon Rolls Back into Brum

The 31st Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival is due to roll into town next month with an average of 36 hours of music each day for 10 straight days.

From July 3rd to 12th Birmingham will enjoy 177 performances in 78 venues as well as a dozen music instrument workshops, 3 Lindy Hop dance sessions, 19 film screenings, talks, photo workshops, exhibitions of photography and a record fair – and almost all of it is free to the public.

Bookings include Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes, Simon Spillett [pictured], Art Themen, Derek Nash and the Festival’s patron, Digby Fairweather. Guitarist Remi Harris who is currently enjoying a spell on the UK jazz charts as well as the charts of iTunes and Amazon, is a strong draw in the region and will be playing throughout the festival and promoting his current Big Bear album Ninick. Two of the region’s leading Big Bands, MYJO (formally Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra) and Walsall Jazz Orchestra will hold sway in The Botanical Gardens and international visitors will include Saxitude (Luxembourg), Stockholm Stompers (Sweden), Les Zautos Stompers (France), The Schwings with Laura Budreckyte (Lithuania), Jerry Senfluk (Czech Republic), Pepper & The Jellies (Italy), The Hot Jazz Alliance (USA/Australia), Sarah Lenka (France), Brooks Williams (USA), and Florence Joelle (France).

There is a festival within a festival on the last weekend (July 10th to 12th) called ‘Holiday In Birmingham’ celebrating 100 years since the birth of Billie Holiday, with 30 dedicated performances headlined by the touring show of Lady Sings the Blues. Fronted by singer Val Wiseman, the band go through Billie’s repertoire from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with original arrangements but of course the band contribute their own solos. Lining up behind Val are Digby Fairweather, Roy Williams, Julian Stringle, Brian Dee, Len Skeat and Eric Ford and this is just as close as we will ever get to witnessing that wonderful repertoire properly played. An interesting thought, the show has been performing the Billie repertoire for two years longer than Lady Day did herself.

Drummer Pete York, a founder-member of the 1960s Brum hitmakers The Spencer Davis Group now lives in Munch, Germany. Pete also enjoys a formidable reputation in the jazz world, not least for his lengthy stint driving the Chris Barber Band. He’s flying home to Birmingham and will be omnipresent throughout the festival, leading The Pete York Big Five, giving free drum clinics to youngsters and playing his part in the festival’s House Rhythm Team with Brian Dee and Len Skeat. He will also join singer Debbie Jones and Justin Randall from Preston’s New Orleans stylists Tipitina, in a programme celebrating the music of Professor Longhair, James Booker, Henry Butler, et al.

And there’s so much more. Free ukulele lessons in a Caffe Nero coffee house, dance lessons from the Chinese Jitterbug Squad in city stores and hotels, shows at New Street and Snow Hill railway stations and on a canal boat, a live blues tour of public libraries and a Pop-Up Dance Hall.

The American singer Madeleine Peyroux has written her own moving appreciation of Billie for this Holiday In Birmingham - attached. Local brewer, The Backyard Brewery, have produced a fine ale to mark this weekend of celebrations – it’s called Billie’s Brew.

Tenor saxophonist Dave Gelly, a published author on Lester Young will deliver a talk called ‘Being Prez’ and Dave will also argue it out with Digby Fairweather over the many books about Lady Day in ‘Billie in Print’.  

For more information click here.

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