Cork Jazz Festival ends on a high with Sinatra’s favourite pianist

Celebrating its 40th year, the festival had all kinds of jazz on offer, from classic to experimental with performances from Imelda May and Alison Moyet

 

Taste is a subjective matter but it definitely seems that the arguments of old and cries of “where’s the jazz?” have been muted at the Cork Jazz Festival.

If rock and pop gigs at the Opera House, blues covers bands in almost every pub in the city, and core jazz acts at the Everyman theatre and Triskel Arts Centre are happy enough bedfellows, then so be it.

If you’re a fair weather music fan who just wanted to pass the weekend listening to various Blues Brothers bands whipping up a storm, then you’d have a blast. If you’re a finicky jazz connoisseur who knows their John Coltrane from their Art Blakey, experimental jazz from classic, then there was also a fine time to be had. The former was all over Cork during the weekend. The latter? You might have had to dig deeper, but it was definitely there.

While the likes of Imelda May and Alison Moyet were selling out the Opera House, the other side of the River Lee was where some of the real jazz resides. The central hub of the festival vibe, replete with more versions of The Lady is a Tramp and Moon River than you’ll ever need, was along MacCurtain Street. The music at the Everyman theatre was far removed from pints, porkpie hats and piano ties, but it was no less potent.

On Friday night, jazz heads dreamily nodded at Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop rendition of Miles Davis’ legendary album, Kind of Blue. Originally released in 1959, it is regarded not only as Davis’s masterpiece and one of the best albums of all time, but also jazz’s greatest record. No pressure, then? No pressure is right, as London-based double bassist Crosby and his band delivered as subtle and soaring interpretation of the album as you will hear in a live context.

Forgotten jazz era

Another element that genuine jazz fans clearly appreciated was Saturday’s Q&A session at the Everyman theatre with three festival musicians. South African saxophonist and jazz educator Dan Shout had amusing things to say about wedding gigs that went haywire. Renowned Jamaican piano player Monty Alexander told anecdotes about his time in the early 1960s as a pianist in a New York jazz club owned by one of Frank Sinatra’s closest friends, Jilly Rizzo. It was a fascinating insight into an almost forgotten (and by now, virtually mythical) pre-pop music jazz era in which celebrityhood, hoodlums, notoriety and pending crooner retirees ran in parallel with craft and a degree of naivete. At the other end of the age spectrum, we heard Australian jazz singer Sarah McKenzie, who gave a newcomer’s view of how to listen to familiar-sounding material with a fresh pair of ears.

Later on Saturday, UK folk and experimental jazz group Quercus played to a full house at Triskel Christchurch. Here was another example of how running the gauntlet of MacCurtain Street’s jazz/blues party atmosphere can quickly lead you to music that has found a more discerning audience. Traipsing back to The Metropole Hotel – which now has a smartly branded Ronnie Scotts makeover in a few small, intimate rooms – sifting through the amount of music on offer will unearth some really good jazz as well as some acts that may fall under the genre but deviate from the style.

The OhnO! Jazz Band from the Netherlands at The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival Parade in Cork city centre. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
The OhnO! Jazz Band from the Netherlands at The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival Parade in Cork city centre. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary, ended on a high at the Everyman with a double-bill show by Sinatra’s favourite pianist, the aforementioned Monty Alexander, and acclaimed singer jazz Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Over at Triskel, the Michael Wollny Trio wove a less traditional path through the jazz undergrowth. All along MacCurtain Street, and in the multi-roomed reaches of the Metropole Hotel, the blues and jazz bands played on.

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