August 23, 2008
Boulevard to Bounce With All That Jazz
B ritain's biggest jazz festival is about to burst on to the boulevards of Bude, airing the music of New Orleans and much more.
Now celebrating its 21st year, the festival packs 166 events into eight days, running from tomorrow until Saturday, August 30.
This year, for the first time, there will be a dedicated jazz marquee offering swing, jive and New Orleans bands, and also a late- night jazz club featuring hot meals and a jam session.
Fretboard wizard and festival regular Martin Wheatley will be doing much to help illustrate the spectrum of jazz styles. His two bands - Hula Bluebirds and Wheatley's Arcadians - offer everything from hot Hawaiian music of the 1920s and 30s to the history of swing jazz from 1890 to 1950.
For Martin, one thing led to another after listening to Hawaiian records.
"It is very liberating and interesting to move into steel guitar because there are so many things you cannot do with ordinary guitar that are stock-in-trade with a Hawaiian guitar," he says.
"You can hold a note longer and the most interesting thing is the expression you can get into playing."
Martin says the dreamy, romantic sound that has become a cliche of Hawaiian guitar has obscured its versatility.
"My music is hot swinging, but we do slow numbers as well," he says. By contrast, his Wheatley's Arcadians deliver a musical history of string jazz from ragtime to western swing.
With Martin playing up to nine instruments from banjo to guitar, son Tom on double bass, and two other musicians adding more texture with a mix of violin, guitar and banjo, this is a slice of history that promises to be foot-tappingly enlightening.
"We use 1950 as a convenient cut-off point with electrification," says Martin.
"It is a history of stringed jazz, but also covering more and more of the crossovers and fusions of ragtime, country music and blues, and seeing how they all relate to each other."
With top reedsman and composer James Evans at the helm of the eight-piece Octuple Odyssey, audiences will be treated to a mix of new and familiar pieces.
"I enjoy composing," says James. "There is a bit of hard work after the initial inspiration, but when you go to the gig and it works it's a great feeling.
"I think it is a good thing artistically in that you are playing something totally relevant to yourself - so you can play it with complete conviction."
He says he is sometimes surprised at the "far out" material audiences will embrace if they are introduced to it in the right way.
"I don't bombard them because I want them to come to it with an open mind rather then feeling they are being lectured!" he says.
However, audiences do still like to hear something they are familiar with, so James sprinkles his set with standards such as Cole Porter rearranged in his own style.
His own compositions are melody led, with harmonies and rhythm laced around the tune.
"I write music that is melodic - I'm not trying to reinvent music or be progressive," he says.
The band have an interesting rhythm section featuring drums, double bass, electric guitar and banjo.
"The electric guitar gives a smooth, round jazz sound and I wanted something spiky - and banjo is as spiky as you can get in the rhythm section. This really does work, and they don't get in each other's way."
Organiser Rachel Hayward, now in her second year of running the festival, has worked hard to put together a top class line-up. Such is the desire among jazz musicians to play Bude that she can afford to pick and choose.
"I get a lot of CDs and demo tapes through the post from people who want to play here," she says. "We have to turn hundreds away."
This year Rachel is delighted to have booked the six-piece Jazzin' Babies from Norway.
"They are exciting because they have moved on in an accessible way for a new generation experiencing the New Orleans sound for the first time," she says.
"They were playing it in a way that was so exciting. It was recognisable New Orleans, but not in a way you have heard before."
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