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Dorothy & George Jacob: Putting Bray On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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Many of these foreign musicians are long-term residents in Dublin, with some teaching alongside their Irish counterparts in the city's numerous music institutions. Inevitably, these musicians from Africa, the Middle East, from South America and Europe, end up gracing the stages of the Bray Jazz Festival fringe trail, and generally enriching the live music scene with their distinct musical vocabularies.

The trio CEO Experiment is a good example; Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet, Venezuelan pianist/keyboardist Leopoldo Osio and Hungarian electric bassist Peter Erdei collectively and individually have been enablers on the Irish music scene, straddling genres and binding musicians from different backgrounds together. The trio became a quartet in in 2016 with the addition of saxophonist Michael Buckley, one of the true tenor greats of Irish jazz.

CEO Experiment is on hiatus at time of writing, as Calmet has moved to Spain, but few who were present will forget its performance in the Harbour Bar during BJF 2017, nor for that matter its collaboration with Kurt Rosenwinkel in the Sugar Club later the same year.

Though there have been experiments with various venues over the years, the Town Hall, from the beginning, and the Mermaid Arts Centre, from the fourth edition, have been mainstays. In recent years another heritage venue has joined the roster. The Well, formerly St. Paul's, is a church that dates back to 1609, making it the oldest building in Bray.

After falling into disuse for decades it was renovated in 2011, functioning once more as a place of worship and a social functions space for the community. For the past four years The Well has provide the third main venue for the Bray Festival Jazz programme, with The Necks, Lauren Kinsella and Ronan Guilfoyle providing highlights in recent years. Two highly recommended gigs this year are those by Mats Gustafsson's electrifying Fire!—not for the faint-hearted—and Speak Low, the trio of the much-lauded singer Lucia Cadotsch.

To mark the festival's twentieth anniversary the Jacobs are taking Bray Jazz Festival On The Road, with a series of satellite concerts taking place in other towns and historic sites throughout County Wicklow.

The early nineteenth-century Calary Church, Roundwood, is the venue for experimental folk/ambient multi-instrumentalist Dowry (aka Éna Brennan) on Friday, 3rd May; the sounds of West Africa and Eastern Europe combine when kora player Solo Cissokho and kankles player Indre Jurgeleviciute come to Russborough House, Blessington, on Saturday 4th May; the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely plays host to French virtuoso quartet No Tongues on Sunday, 5th May.

These concerts undoubtedly open a new chapter in Bray Jazz Festival's history, with the Jacobs casting an eye, not just outward, but to the future.

"Yes, it's an experiment of sorts," says George of the On The Road programme. "There are these wonderful venues throughout Wicklow that can bring international arts to local communities. The use of more such performances spaces can only increase the possibilities for Irish musicians as well."

To what extent the locals in Roundwood, Blessington and Tinahely will embrace such contemporary music remains to be seen, but the Jacobs see only positives in the On The Road initiative.

"You're never going to get it 100% right nor should you try," says Dorothy, "because that's never going to be obtainable. There is always going to be an attitude that people have about what they perceive as jazz. We come across that all the time. But what you're constantly trying to do is have people listen to things that they've never heard before. The surprise element can spark people's imaginations and then they might want to come back to see 'what next?' You're stretching the boundaries for people."

If the Jacobs see themselves as links in the greater chain, then two other vital links have been Gerry Godley and Kenneth Killeen—respectively the former and current directors of Improvised Music Company—in the programming of Bray Jazz Festival. "We've learned an awful lot about jazz over the past twenty years, but we didn't know so much at the outset," admits George. "One of the best things we did was to recognize as much and look to the expertise of Gerry Godley for fifteen years, and latterly Kenneth Killeen, as professional programmers."

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