On the Record: The Cork Jazz Festival has strayed from its roots
Instead of reflecting what is going on right now, the festival chooses to just pack ‘em in
Back in the 1990s, a lad called Shane Fitzsimons put on a series of gigs in Cork over the October bank holiday weekend called Jazz Me Bollix. His plan was a simple one: put a rake of alternative and indie acts, who wouldn’t be let within an ass’s roar of the city’s jazz festival, in front of some appreciative audiences, who also had no real truck with the jazz fest. Everyone was a winner.
Fast-forward to 2015 and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Cork Jazz Festival have taken a leaf out of Fitzsimons’ playbook. Where exactly is the jazz in the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival?
A glance at the bill of fare on the website lists such acts as The Coronas, Gary Numan, Boomtown Rats and Ryan Sheridan, all of whom who would be quick to admit that their music has little if any relationship with jazz.
Well here is the argument for the defence. Number one, there are jazz acts on the bill. True, but they’re not leading the race in terms of positioning and are well down the page.
Number two, it’s more than a jazz festival. Perhaps, but it’s still jazz, not singer-songwriters or old acts on the reunion money circuit, which is supposed to be your calling card. Number three, look, jazz doesn’t sell any more. Oh really?
What’s perhaps most surprising about Cork’s capitulation to market forces in terms of flogging tickets is that jazz is in very rude creative health in 2015. Acts such as Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire and Sons of Kemet have produced albums of huge depth and width in the last while. When you’ve a collective such as Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder gang pushing a jazz agenda, you know that something is going on.
There’s a huge growth in the number of quality festivals and events too, especially ones showcasing the new school of jazz musicians. It means that the Ella Fitzgeralds and Esbjorn Svenssons of tomorrow are more likely to be found first at 12 Points or the Bray Jazz Festival than in Cork.
Musicians who have played the event down the years will also point to the festival’s general unsuitability for jazz. While there are some jazz-friendly venues such as the Everyman and Triskel Christchurch, the sponsor’s need to flog drink trumps all and means the emphasis is on the mass market. Which is where The Coronas and the Boomtown Rats come in.
The jazz trimmings and traditions remain in situ in Cork, but the music has given up the fight. Instead of actually reflecting what is going on with jazz right now, the festival chooses to pack them in and profile and promote acts who don’t really need that kind of leg-up at this juncture.
In an irony which won’t be lost on Jazz Me Bollix patrons, it seems the country’s leading jazz festival is in need of an alternative that is more jazz than the main strand.
YOU’VE GOT TO HEAR THIS
Coldcut - Autumn Leaves
Be it the original or the lush Mixmaster Morris Irresistible Force remix, a tune for the days when kicking leaves is a great option when you go outside.
Synchronise is the music video sidebar to the upcoming Cork Film Festival. Running at The Pav on November 12, Synchronise will feature work from leading Irish and international directors.
Earlier that day at the same venue, there will be a soundtrack masterclass with Jed Kurzel, the composer who has worked on scores for Slow West, Macbeth, The Babadook and others. See corkfilmfest.org for more.