Jazz Memories: Festival stalwarts share their favourite moments

Oscar Peterson on piano at the 1987 jazz festival at Cork Opera House. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

As the Cork Jazz Festival turns 40, Richard Fitzpatrick asked a few familiar faces to share their fondest memories of the famous festival. 

Pearse Harvey, festival co-founder, shares some of his magic moments

Buddy Rich, 1986

“Buddy Rich had his flight delayed and diverted to Shannon Airport. They had to drive from Shannon to Cork with a garda escort in record time because the concert was put back to one o’clock in the morning.

Everyone stayed. No one left the theatre. To fill the gap, the pick-up group was more than a pick-up group – it was Spike Robinson and Louis Stewart and a combination of other musicians.

Everyone was on a high. The bar stayed open. It was a magical concert. Unforgettable. They played their hearts out, as Buddy Rich would demand. He was a good taskmaster.

He died shortly after [April 1987]. He was like a wound-up doll.

Buddy Rich on stage at Cork Opera House in1986. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Buddy Rich on stage at Cork Opera House in1986. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

They put him and his drum-kit on a big rise behind the band so he was surrounded by other musicians.

He leapt from that onto the stage, as if it was the start to his day. Sure I suppose it was, in a sense, for him.

For his age, his agility and fitness seemed incredible. He gave the impression that he was more like a PE teacher than an advanced-age musician.”

Sonny Rollins, 1981

“Sonny Rollins was a revelation. He laid on an unforgettable exhibition of technical virtuosity which, allied to a bewildering capacity to improvise with the greatest of ease, left his audience spellbound.

“His performance, albeit a bare hour, and not long enough by half for some punters and he was given a deafening ovation at the end of what was truly a wonderful concert.”

Dizzy Gillespie, 1990

“Gillespie’s 15-piece outfit was a multicultural ensemble that featured a wide strata of exotic jazz talent, as well as his regular combo, Mario Rivera on reeds, Ed Cherry on guitar, John Lee on bass and Ignacio Berroa on drums.

“True to form, the Opera House concert was a wild success, though we could have heard a lot more from the man himself, who was content to favour a set of conga drums over his trumpet.”

Stevie G, DJ

Jimmy Smith and Clyde Stubblefield, 2004

Jimmy Smith was the elder statesman of the Hammond organ, absolute legend. He was very old when he played the festival. He did a night in the Everyman, and the Everyman would be a very respectful, Jazz-playing crowd, music connoisseurs.

It was in 2004, before everyone was using their phones every two seconds, but people still had the technology.

Stevie G
Stevie G

The official people take a few pictures at the start and then put away the cameras.

There was someone taking a picture a bit too long though — and there was a flash in the camera — while he was playing.

He was tiny, very frail; he died soon after [February 2005], but he got up from the keyboard and he said: ‘Do you wanna take a picture of this?’ and he was giving the fist sign.

He was tiny and he was in his late-70s. Everyone just stood still.

There were no more pictures after that.

There was another guy Jimmy Smith played with that night, arguably one of the most important musicians of all time.

He’s the late, great Clyde Stubblefield. He was James Brown’s go-to drummer alongside Bernard Purdie. Purdie was meant to play that gig, but he got sick so Clyde came instead.

A bunch of us – we were all young fellas — brought along our records to get signed.

They signed the records and got a great kick out of it: ‘All you young kids have our records. This is great.’

After an initial frosty relationship with hip-hop, some of the jazz guys have seen in the last 20 years that it’s given them a new lease of life.

Some of the money is rolling in for them from publishing because it’s hard to sample now without paying your dues.”

Pat Horgan, former jazz festival chairman

John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, 1981

“John Dankworth and his wife Cleo Laine had a top room at the Metropole Hotel. They had played at the Opera House. After their concert, they went to change in their rooms at the hotel when they saw three faces outside the window on whatever floor they were on — the fourth or fifth.

These guys were tapping on the window. Cleo Laine opened the window. They said: ‘We’re students from the local university. We can’t get in. Would you mind letting us in? There’s only a few of us.’ Apparently, there was about 15 of them marched through eventually. As they were passing through, the last one of the students asked: ‘Are ye here for the jazz festival?’

Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth were two world-renowned jazz figures.

It was after that it was decided to put axel grease — which the hotel maintenance man got from the garage next-door — on the downpipes on the Harley Street side of the Metropole. That put a stop to it.”

Barney Kessel and Blarney Castle, 1982

“There were three red-hot guitar players who were touring the world — Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. They were called The Great Guitars.

Barney Kessel liked to play and was here for practically the entire weekend. He had met some local guys and he was drinking in the hotel bar until maybe two o’clock in the morning.

He asked the night porter: ‘Hi, I need the keys, Barney Kessel.’ The night porter didn’t know who Barney Kessel was. He said: ‘Look, sir, Blarney Castle won’t be open until tomorrow morning.’

He mistook ‘Barney Kessel’ for Blarney Castle!

Dick Feeney, DJ, Dublin South FM

Marco Petrassi and Shorty Rogers, 1982

“I remember standing outside the Metropole door. I think it was a Friday afternoon. The place was crowded. It was real carnival stuff. There was a lorry coming along MacCurtain St and on the back of it was a band which included Harry Connolly and Marco Petrassi, pictured, on trumpet. Marco was a tremendous trumpet player; back in the 1950s, the Petrassis had a chip shop on North Main St.

“A great hero of mine was Shorty Rogers was standing alongside me, a lovely man.

He was one of the tops. He appeared in films. He had great big bands. He was a marvellous trumpet player, bandleader, composer, orchestrator. We were just enjoying the whole scene, and he turned to me and he said, ‘You know that trumpet guy has great chops’.’”

Marco Petrassi passed away, 27 September 2017.

Sean Brophy, DJ, Dublin City FM

Mose Allison Trio, Everyman Palace Theatre, 2007

“Mose Allison was a fantastic pianist and songwriter. He would have influenced people like Van Morrison. When I saw him he was about 80 years of age [his 80th birthday was a couple of weeks later]. He gave a fantastic performance even though he was fairly frail looking. He didn’t do anything more than he had to do. He just played the set – 90 minutes. He was preserving his energy to play the music. It felt like he was saying a prayer where you’d forget something if you didn’t keep going.”

Bernard Casey, former jazz Festival chairman

Alison Moyet’s road manager, Cork Opera House, 1985

Bernard Casey
Bernard Casey

“Generally the artists were fabulous people to deal with over the 40 years. It’s their managers who are the problems, and their road managers in particular. The artists are on tour, especially if they’re on tour in Europe, they pick up a road manager. They can be picky. I remember for Alison Moyet backstage, the whole corridor had to be cleared when she went from the dressing room to the stage. Nobody was allowed on the wings or anything like that when she was singing.”

Harry Connolly

- The only musician to play in all 40 Cork jazz festivals

“We were trying to get Oscar Peterson for about seven years. Eventually, he came in 1987. He came off the plane with his group. He didn’t say a word. He was brought to the Opera House for his sound check.

Harry Connolly
Harry Connolly

He didn’t say a word. He was brought to his hotel. Not a word. He arrived for the gig about 15 minutes late. Not a word. We were inside in his dressing room. It was before he went on stage. He said: ‘Where is the cheque?’ They were his first four words in Cork. We talked to Oscar after and he was saying when he played Toronto in the nightclubs, they’d be saying how good he was. He said, ‘It didn’t matter. Always get paid up front first.’

Tony Sheehan, artistic director, Triskel Arts Centre

Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, Cork Opera House, 2005

“The Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra was part of a double bill with McCoy Tyner, two of the most influential living jazz masters on the same stage on the same night. Cork was European Capital of Culture at the time. We had managed to secure significant funding for the jazz festival to really go the extra mile. The only perk I asked for was that I got to introduce McCoy Tyner.

"Festival director Jack McGowran went one better and said: ‘Introduce both of them.’ This was the era of George Bush and the Iraq War. Charlie made a stand against this on stage. I remember his version of ‘This is Not America’, that unforgettable adaptation that he made. Of course, Charlie passed away a few years ago. We’ve lost a true jazz legend.

"That night, that packed house, that atmosphere, and that sense of physical strength that Charlie was able to put into the music. Unforgettable. ”

McCoy Tyner, Cork Opera House, 2005

“McCoy Tyner, on his own, on piano. He is one of the true greats of jazz. I got to watch the concert from the side of the stage. I was barely 20 feet away. I couldn’t really hear the music because if you can’t hear the monitor you can’t really hear what’s being projected out onto the stage, but I could hear the piano and I could see and feel his movements, his famous left hand – the way he has carved that unique sound.

His sheer articulateness with the piano, the fluency of the music even the way he would use the pedal or the way he would keep time or mess around with beats.

The jazz festival committee decided to give him a lifetime achievement award. I had to give him a clock. McCoy was walking off stage so I had to walk him back out to the centre of the stage and made the presentation. He took the clock. We were walking back off stage and we started having this conversation about the clock: ‘The clock doesn’t work.’ ‘Maybe it needs to be wound.’ ‘Or is it a battery clock?’ ”

Dino Saluzzi, Felix Saluzzi, Anja Lechner, Triskel Christchurch, 2013

“It was 2013. We were now open in Triskel Christchurch. We had restored our church into a beautiful, 300-seat venue. You know what the festival is like... Everyone is around town. There’s a real buzz. Every pub has music in it. There are trails. It’s nuts. Except in Christchurch. You come in and you’re going into this quiet environment – this 18th century, beautiful baroque church that has been specially redesigned as a concert hall, and it has one of the finest acoustics in the country.

Our main gig that night was a trio – the bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi, his brother Felix Saluzzi [tenor sax, clarinet] and the world-famous cellist Anja Lechner. They were playing music from a project they did together – Navidad de los Andes. It was a blend of art, tango, classical, saxophone, cello sound, bandoneon. Dino began to tell one of his stories about children at play in the mountains, all of this he conjures up. The place was packed – it was stuffed with people and you couldn’t hear a pin drop.

He got so low at one stage that you could actually hear him breathing, as he picked out the notes. He took us on the most unforgettable journey. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had in this church, this sanctuary for music, in the middle of the noisiest weekend in Cork.”

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