Deep south beckons thousands to the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival


It's October and for jazz fans, that can only mean one thing - a trip to the deep south for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, which this year promises to be one of the biggest to date with a host of millennium street events included in the programme.

For four days and four nights - October 22th-25th - there is jazz on tap with over 100 bands and 700 musicians from 25 coun tries beating out a variety of styles from dixieland to swing, R & B to bebop, even acid jazz and groove at Cork Opera House.

Over its 21 colourful years, the festival has featured many of the greats of jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Dave Brubeck.

While the emphasis originally was on traditional jazz, this year's festival further underscores the eclectic and dynamic nature of modern jazz with the first appearance in Ireland of jazz popsters, Manhattan Transfer.

The four-piece group, whose smooth vocal harmonies have earned them 10 Grammy awards and countless fans worldwide since they were founded 25 years ago this month, have refused to limit themselves to just one type of music.

"Our signature is clearly four-part harmony," explains founding member Tim Hauser. "We based our voicings on the structure of the sax section of the Count Basie band, blending soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices."

Their concert at the Everyman Palace Theatre - the first of an eight-country European tour - is sure to get the festival off to a sell-out start on its opening night, but there's plenty more to draw the crowds and set the joint jumpin'.

Among the other major attractions is the Mingus Big Band from New York, which was formed in 1991 by Sue Mingus, widow of blues and gospel influenced bassist, composer and bandleader, Charles Mingus, who died in 1979.

The band, all chosen by Sue, includes musicians who either played with her husband or would have passed his stringent criteria if he were still alive. They've been described as "the coolest, hippest Big Band on the planet".

Also sure to go down a treat is the TS Monk Band - led by the son of the legendary, Thelonious - who play a vibrant hard bop and the Courtney Pine Band featuring the exciting British saxophonist who's paying a return visit to Cork.

Meanwhile, Philadelphian Michael Brecker, who has played with everyone from jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Chick Corea to John Lennon, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen, also promises to be an exciting debutant at Cork.

An old friend of the festival, Louis Stewart will be playing with young Kentuckian saxophonist, Don Braden, while among the other interesting offerings is Brazilian vocals/keyboards bombshell Tania Maria at the Everyman Palace Theatre.

An estimated 40,000 visitors are expected and while most of the main venues involve admission charges, over 90 per cent of venues, some 40 pubs and clubs - are offering jazz, R & B and roots music free, day and night.

Also free is a millennium programme of street theatre including The Night the Birds Swung Back, which will involve 150 performers accompanying a 30-ft bird spitting fire as it winds its way through the streets to Kennedy Quay.

There, festival-goers can see Walk the Plank, which has been described as "a breathtaking display of pyrotechnics" - while there's also a millennium drumming clash between a bodhran and a lambeg as well as the London Community Gospel Choir.

The Millennium festival's general manager Doireann Ni Bhriain commented : "This new element to the Guinness Jazz Festival will add excitement, colour and extra onstreet atmosphere. It promises to be a party with something for everyone."