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Dorothy & George Jacob: Putting Bray On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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Nevertheless, in the early years of Bray Jazz Festival Irish artists did grace the stage of the principal venue, the Mermaid Arts Centre, on double-bills that of course featured the big, international names. Then, in the wake of the financial crisis, funding fell off and the headlining performance was reduced to one act.

Since then, as the Jacobs acknowledge, it's been a challenge to present Irish acts on an appropriate stage. When most Irish jazz artists are performing week in week out in Dublin's jazz venues it would make little sense to stage them instead of more internationally recognized names and would pose a considerable financial risk to boot. Still, the Jacobs don't rule out a return to a double-header evening bill in a more financially secure future.

The second major venue, Bray's Town Hall, has featured many leading figures from the Irish jazz/improvised music scene over the years, with standout artists such as Sue Rynhart, Cora Venus Lunny, Hugh Buckley and Italian-born, Irish adoptee Francesco Turrisi, giving memorable performances straddling the jazz/folk divide. Seating sixty people, the elegant heritage building that is the Town Hall also features prominent international artists. This year, not to be missed, is the duo of Norma Winstone and Tommy Halferty, launching their debut CD after twenty years collaborating together.

The Town Hall has also provided other types of memories. "One year we actually managed to get a grand piano up the spiral stairs in the Town Hall, I kid you not," recalls Dorothy. To those familiar with the venue and its staircase it might seem easier, in fact, to have removed the roof and eased the piano down by crane. The Jacobs, however, have proven to be nothing if not determined and that grand piano experience did at least impart one valuable lesson: "That's something we learned," says George humbly. "We didn't try that again."

The best up-and-coming Irish jazz acts are to be found on the Bray Jazz Fringe, a jazz trail throughout multiple venues around Bray. For the last few years the Wicklow Wolf Brewing Co has sponsored the fringe festival, and this year Powerscourt Distillery adds its weight. All the gigs on the Bray Jazz Fringe are free to the public, though the musicians are paid to perform. "The free gigs are about building an audience and providing a platform for emerging artists in Ireland," says Dorothy.

In Bray's packed pubs, hotel bars and restaurants mixed crowds of locals, weekend revellers and tourists can catch the best of Dublin/Ireland's jazz artists. Standout names for the fringe this twentieth anniversary include Derek Whyte and Hugh Buckley, John Moriarty Quartet, Leopoldo Osio Duo, and the guitar duo of Julien and John.

The Harbour Bar, a favourite venue among Bray Jazz Festival regulars, features several great gigs over the weekend, with the Greg Felton Trio, Conor Guilfoyle's Octet, the Aleka Potinga Quartet, the Afrobeat group Yankari and Redivider—arguably one of the most progressive and exciting bands on the current Irish jazz scene-all recommended.

But there are plenty more good vibes on offer as well, with Latin jazz, R&B and swing catering for different tastes. Bray Jazz Festival regulars will also be delighted to see the return of the Late-Lounge sessions in the Martello, which on the Saturday promises grooves and fireworks from Georgian guitarist Dan Nettle's Kinosha Kid, a thumping quartet featuring Berlin bassist Roland Fidezius and Ireland's Shane Latimer on guitar and Sean Carpio on drums. Sunday night's Late Lounge sees Belfast's Scott Flanigan lead his exciting new quartet—fresh from a barnstorming performance at Brilliant Corners—and featuring outstanding Ohio-born, Belfast-based tenor saxophonist Meilana Gillard.

Such international collaborations are increasingly frequent across the Dublin and Irish music scenes, reflecting demographic evolution in the wider society in general. It's only natural, therefore, that there are a greater number of foreign nationals jazzing up the Bray Jazz fringe trail than there were twenty years ago.

One of the major incubators of both home-grown and foreign talent in Ireland has been Newpark Music Centre, whose jazz courses have been led by the internationally renowned bassist/composer Ronan Guilfoyle since the mid-1980s. Newpark has also graduated to become a feeder school for Boston's Berklee Music College.

NMC transferred to Dublin City University in 2017, making it the first Irish university to offer a BA Hons degree in jazz and contemporary music performance -a move that marks a before and after in Irish jazz history.

"What we knew as Newpark Music Centre, now DCU, has sixty per cent foreign students today," explains George, "and that mix over time has brought a growth in what's available, what people are working on and how they sound."

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