34 jazz festivals – and counting

Birmingham’s longest-running music festival comes to a successful end.

The 34th Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell Jazz Festival came to a glorious finale on the evening of July 29th at O’Neills on Broad Street which brought together much that makes the festival unique.

The outstanding Preston-based, New Orleans-style three piece, Tipitina, provided the music while the big screen presented the audience with reminders of the great music and occasional comic moments of 10 days of festival. To begin with a superb collection of sketches by the Birmingham Urban Sketchers captured much of the atmosphere of the festival, to be followed by photographs by the Festival’s official lensman, Merlin Daleman, and some half-dozen other talented photographers.

It was an evening full of reminders of outstanding UK instrumentalists such as Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes and Art Themen, wonderful entertainers from other countries such as France’s Les Zauto Stompers de Paris, Canada’s Shuffle Demons and the New Orleans Jump Band from Spain and appealing jitterbug dance sessions, ukulele lessons and barber shop singing.

It’s impossible to do justice to a festival which comprised 234 events over ten days, taking in classy hotels, shopping malls, town centre stages, libraries and museums, parks, restaurants and bars, theatres and botanical gardens, with music ranging from the improvised excellence of cigar box guitars to the sophisticated sounds of one of the USA’s top jazz conservatories.

As well as a comprehensive programme in the city of Birmingham, the Festival reached out to Solihull for a wonderful town centre programme on July 20th to 22nd and a superb set of gigs in the libraries and museums of Sandwell, including an impressive presentation to West Bromwich-born star singer Val Wiseman, plus the first-ever Halesowen Town Centre Jazz Day on July 28th.

The Jazz Festival monitors audience reaction carefully via a thorough distribution of surveys. A preliminary random sampling of this year’s survey forms suggests a remarkable level of audience satisfaction, with somewhere in the region of 99% finding the music good or very good (84% very good, 15% good) and 94% definitely planning to attend in 2019 (6% possibly attending).

Reasons for such satisfaction were varied, including the availability of vegan food and fun for all the family, but most centred on the variety and excellence of the musicianship and the fact that most of this fine music is free of charge.

The 35th Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell Jazz Festival is scheduled for July 19th to 28th, 2019. More information will be published as it becomes available at www.birminghamjazzfestival.com