‘At this stage, we can’t remember how many times we’ve played, and we have to go home tomorrow… if we make our flight!”
The Netherlands’ May Day Jazz band were getting ready to regale Cork City from an open-topped bus on the Sunday of the 34th Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.
One of seven international brass bands to take to the streets and bars in a year noted by performers and punters for its phenomenal atmosphere, the band said Cork is one of the highlights of their festival calendar.
“We get a great response from the public here,” drummer Pim Huijgens said. “We do 12 festivals a year and this is our biggest one.”
The Jazz Festival’s long-term strategy of broadening its programming to provide a glut of acts in musical genres to suit all tastes is paying off.
Happy punters queued at Cork Opera House to see acts ranging from high-octane Waterford dance act King Kong Company on Friday to Mexican guitar virtuosos Rodrigo Y Gabriela on Sunday, while sold out fringe events at Live at St Luke’s included Cathy Davey and The West Cork Ukulele Orchestra.
Yet a solid core of world-class jazz in sub-genres from Swing to Gypsy, Dixie to Improv catered to true jazz aficionados in The Everyman, Triskel Christchurch and of course The Metropole Hotel, the birthplace of the festival.
An award for Rising Star went to YouTube phenomenon Jacob Collier, while pianist Robert Glasper, who played a sell-out show to an enthralled audience in the Everyman on Saturday night, picked up the award for jazz personality. Texan Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, the so-called “Godfather of fusion,” picked up the Jazz Legend award for his lifelong contribution to the genre.
Programme director Jack McGowran hailed the weekend as a huge success for the team and said attendance numbers were up by between 5%-10% on last year.
“We knew how busy it was going to be in advance. Hoteliers were reporting advance bookings way ahead of last year. We had over 5,000 foreign visitors staying in the city, which makes the Jazz festival the biggest Cork festival in terms of foreign visitors.”
The weather was a major factor in the celebratory mood this year, he said, with pop-up appearances by brass bands on Grand Parade and Oliver Plunkett St, an open-air food market and a free open-air stage in Emmet Place hosting home-grown acts like HamSandwich and Picture This.
The proximity of Halloween added to the carnival atmosphere as witches’ hats mingled with straw boaters in bars and pubs, where the foot-soldiers of the festival were Cork’s hard-working session musicians.
“Our strategy is to employ as many local musicians as possible,” Mr McGowran said. “There were hundreds of sessions taking place all weekend all over the city, and depending on what they play, some musicians are in high demand all weekend.”
Indeed, Chicago-born, Cork-based songstress Karen Underwood had to post a notice to her Facebook page apologising to friends and fans: she was under doctor’s orders not to speak between gigs so that her voice would hold up for three performances a day over the weekend.
If you play a brass instrument, the main difficulty at the festival is being able to stop playing, according to saxophonist Olly Elsholtz. He played 13 gigs with five different bands over the weekend, and said that’s not a record: he has friends who’ve notched up 20 gigs in three days. “Lips, shoulders, neck, diaphragm: all fatigued,” he said. “But I’ve had a great weekend. The atmosphere has been brilliant this year, especially on the streets in the daytime.”
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