Tuesday 6 August 2013

Manchester Jazz Festival - Some Reflections

The Teepee

The Teepee was still up when I passed by yesterday (Monday). It blends nicely with the masonic architecture all around, it’s triangular shape in harmony with the larger triangle of the three-sided Town Hall and complementing, noughts and crosses-style, the circle of the Central Library. 

The Magic Hour on a long hot summer day in the Teepee is around 8pm. That’s when the rays of the declining sun are in the right alignment to project the silhouette of Prince Albert under his canopy onto the white canvas of the Teepee. His stolid presence graced part of the first set by township jazz group Taiwa on Thursday night. But, like his consort, he might not have been amused, because he departed soon after. 

The challenge of all the musicians in the Teepee was how to deal with the loud bongs that emanate from the Town Hall Clock on the hour. There were different reactions. Lots pretended it wasn’t happening. Matthew Bourne of Billy Moon gestured for the music to stop, and patiently waited for eight tolls to sound before he started the song again. With nice serendipity, Laura Jurd finished a beautiful ballad at just the right moment: the reverberations of the last chord hadn't yet faded or the first clapping started when a portentous bong sounded. Best of all, Adam Fairhall played a chime-like figure in counterpoint. You can do that kind of thing with free jazz. 

I found myself worrying about MC Chunky’s drinks order of ten tequilas during the Riot Jazz performance. If I’m not mistaken, he offered to stand the round, which would almost certainly have wiped out his fee for the show (in addition, he promised a beer to the man in the front row, after snatching a spare tequila from his lips in order to gallantly present it to a woman neighbour, and I saw him fulfil the promise after the show). Of course, ten tequilas might have been on the rider of the band’s contract, or MJF may have met the expense, in which case there’s already a sizeable dent in the funding of next year’s Festival. The funding of MJF is ever more precarious, and I noticed concern beneath Steve Mead’s usual light-hearted banter when he appealed for donations. 

The VIP Launch Party, with Steve Mead, far right, and the Mayor of Manchester, second from left

If the worst happens, and MJF does go under, it will be an incalculable loss. The Festival has an identity that places it apart from every other music festival in the land. It strikes a nice balance between populism and originality, even if purists gripe about the absence of ‘proper jazz’. I think Mead’s instincts are right. Cynics may repeat the tired trope about never going broke by underestimating the taste of the public, but MJF prove that new music can find an appreciative audience. Even the difficult stuff, like the free jazz of The Markov Chain, received a generous response. It’s grotesque that music as immediate and universally attractive as the folk-jazz crossover of Times 4 should be relegated to Ken Marley’s shoebox on the grounds of obscurity, while the man himself pays the bills by endlessly warming over ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. But how would we know about Times 4, were it not for MJF? 

An appreciative MJF audience 

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