10th Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham, England
“ Quite aside from the annual jazz festival and several other related festivals, Cheltenham also lays claim to being located in some of the most beautiful countryside in England. ”
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Running from April 27th to May 2nd in sunny Cheltenham in the south-west of England, the festival marked its first decade in some style. It scored two large coups in bringing Ornette Coleman, who celebrated his 75th birthday this year, and Herbie Hancock, each of whom performed a single bill at the Cheltenham Town Hall. The festival also featured the likes of Mina Agossi, Enrico Rava, Joshua Redman, English lasses Gwyneth Herbert and Clare Teal, German Markus Stockhausen and Brit-Jazz outfit Jazz Jamaica, performing in various venues over the town. There were also three 'Chill Out' chat sessions with Stockhausen, Ken Vandermark/ Bobby Previte and finally Yorkshire-girl Clare Teal to choose from. So some choices had to be made and at the end of the day, for me it was definitely Coleman and Hancock, Redman and a Chill-ed Out session with Teal.
Clare Teal: The 'Barbara Streisand of Harrogate'
Chill Out Lounge, Town Hall
Sunday 01 May, 5 p.m.
In her chat with broadcaster Christopher Cook, Claire Teal came across as a sincere, humorous and down-to-earth person. Quite unlike a person with 4 albums and critical acclaim to her credit already. The singer-songwriter grew up in Harrogate, Yorkshire where, like the story usually goes, she discovered big band music from a collection of her granny's records in the attic which introduced her to people like Glen Miller. From listening to these records, she started to sing along and from age seven knew that she loved the music. Early attempts at playing an instrument were limited to attempts on the organ her father bought that everyone in her family tried their hand at, and the clarinet. Her forays on the organ were apparently shortened by a "vicious" Yorkshire terrier that drove her to the clarinet. But later on in life she realised it was voice she wanted to do and left the instrument in peace.
As a young girl, Teal confessed, she was terribly afraid to reveal her love of jazz, going to the extreme of subscribing to the pop magazine Smash Hits in order to disguise it. So while she ended up being as well-versed in the pop charts as any other teenage girl, she scarcely knew the pop songs she talked about, preferring instead the music that would become her life - jazz. It was evident early on that her career was going to be a musical one, Teal said, and her parents were generally supportive of their daughter's chosen path; she went on to read a degree in music at university, but ended up selling advertising space to earn a living, continuing to write songs and sing in her spare time. Gigs were had to come by, and it was her love for performing that kept her searching. Somewhere along the way she placed second in a Billie Holiday competition, and went on to win some precious further exposure, although she realised early on that imitating Billie Holiday was not what she wanted to do, especially as she felt she could not compete with Holiday's emotional delivery.
That realisation may have been the point at which Teal felt she had to find her own voice. She describes herself as a song stylist, rather than a jazz singer, pointing out that it took her about seven years to develop her own distinct sound. She is a perfectionist, and loves the performing life. Teal's first album Nice Work came out on Candid records when she was 26, to which she was signed till last year when she came to the notice of Sony Music and Universal. She eventually signed to Sony after a bidding war between the two, and her Sony debut Don't Talk has been making waves here in Britain. With regard to this change, she appreciates the increased freedom and time that have come with having more money at her disposal to make an album, but found it hard initially to change bands as she had been through her early days with her previous band.
With a new album coming out in September and a busy touring schedule, Teal certainly has her best days ahead of her, despite her relatively late-found popularity. She acknowledges that many of Britain's younger pop-jazz acts like Jamie Cullum are really more jazz-y than jazz, but appreciates that they have shone the spotlight on British jazz, or perhaps more accurately, jazz in Britain; something which Teal herself is doing too.
Ornette Coleman: The Grand Old Man of Jazz
Town Hall Main Stage, Town Hall
Sunday 01 May, 8 p.m.