Adapt and survive
ENDURANCE is everything. Since the jazz festival in Cork began in 1978, Ireland has had 12 taoisigh, two major recessions and has seen a flock of other music events rise and fall. But every October long weekend for the past 40 years, the city by the Lee has been swinging to the sound of jazz. Half of the city’s population can’t even remember a time when there wasn’t a jazz festival.
While the jazz has remained at the core of the festival, in recent years, the lineup has broadened to feature acts with little relation to the genre. Purists raise an eyebrow or two; others accept that big crowds will help ensure the festival’s survival.
And, filling the spectrum between hardcore jazz and the contemporary pop, are dozens of other acts of various hues.
Jack McGouran is artistic director of the event and works with the venues, sponsors Guinness and the local festival committee on the lineup. “Jazz is a broad church,” says McGouran. “If we make it too contemporary we turn the mainstream people off. People who have never liked jazz are nowadays discovering its different strains. They are discovering it is extensive in its reach. We always look at opening doors to people who have maybe not considered jazz before.”
The definition of jazz varies from listener to listener — which is what makes it such an exciting, shape-shifting genre, he says. “Jazz is like a piece of elastic. What is jazz? You could ask 25 musicians and they would all have a different idea.”
Headliners McGouran is looking forward to welcoming to Cork include the Kenny Garrett Quintet and Grammy-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. There is also an ambitious Irish programme, including Dublin up-and-comer Soulé.
“We like to give a platform to as many Irish artists as we can,” he says.
This year’s festival also comes full circle with a link the late Ronnie Scott, the late saxophonist who headlined the event’s very first concert in 1978.
The esteemed London jazz club that bears his name is bringing its first ever ‘pop-up venue’ to Cork.
It’s quite a coup — but in line with the event’s status as one of Europe’s leading jazz fests, says McGouran.
“We want to celebrate contemporary [i.e. cutting edge] jazz but also look back at some of the middle of the road jazz that is very popular in Cork,” says McGouran.
“We joined with the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. The first main headliner was Ronnie Scott himself. Today it’s the top jazz club in Europe. We made contact and asked if we could do something together to celebrate. Ronnie Scott is quite mainstream — it spreads its programming over a wide range, from blues to mainstream jazz to contemporary.”
CORK is the perfect size for a jazz festival, says McGouran. “There are a few very cities that can handle a jazz festival that isn’t just a series of gigs in a hotel or a concert here and there.
“You come to Cork for the Jazz Festival and you know there is a festival on. In most cities you couldn’t be aware of that. People in Cork talk about ‘the jazz’.
“Anyone who comes to Cork — in my experience, they want to come back. The life of a travelling jazz musician is that you land at the airport, do the gig and then leave. In Cork it is totally different — you get an experience you have never had before. You are made welcome. The artists love the up-close-and personal interaction with the crowd. The festival is really renowned around the jazz world. It is one of the top festivals.”
This year’s festival includes a special jazz parade that will begin on Grand Parade at 1pm on Saturday.