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Guinness Cork Jazz Festival 2013

Ian Patterson By

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Guinness Cork Jazz Festival
Various Venues
Cork
Ireland
October 25-28, 2013

Whether it was chance or fate is debatable but the fact is that had it not been for a cancelled bridge tournament the first Cork Jazz Festival might never have got off the ground. The 35th Guinness Cork Jazz Festival was officially launched in the Gresham Metropole Hotel, with a bit of the red carpet treatment for guests, sponsors and local dignitaries. It was an entirely appropriate setting in which to kick start four days of music and celebration: "The very first festival was held here in 1978," explained Roger Russell, General Manager of the hotel. "The Gresham Metropole is the spiritual home of the GCJF."

Russell—who has been involved with the GCJF in a variety of capacities for 15 years—related how the festival had been the brainchild of the then hotel manager Jim Mountjoy. "A bridge tournament to be held that Bank Holiday weekend was cancelled so Jim had the idea to run a jazz festival to fill the hotel," said Russell. The Cork Jazz Festival, as it was known in those less branded times, was Ireland's first jazz festival and although it started on a small scale it didn't lack for ambition.

Within a few short years it had attracted such jazz legends as singer Ella Fitzgerald, pianist Oscar Peterson, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Mountjoy, the festival director until 1986, did much to expand the festival and make it a genuinely city-wide celebration, with jazz in the local pubs, a jazz boat on the river and a jazz train from Dublin to Cork.

Any festival that has lasted this long is bound to have evolved and the GCJF is no exception. Guinness came on board in 1982 and has been a loyal sponsor ever since. As Cork's Lord Mayor and the representative from the Irish Tourist Board told the gathering at the festival launch, the GCJF plays an important role in fostering tourism to Cork/Ireland, in creating jobs and boosting the economy. It's quite a responsibility and the slightly corporate tone of the speeches at times underlined the evolution of the festival's role and character over the years.

The 40,000 people who attend the festival each year, pumping 18 million Euros into the local economy, have also been very loyal to Guinness, it has to be said. The pumps of Cork's bustling pubs work overtime during the GCJF, dispensing Ireland's famous black stout to locals and increasingly, foreign visitors against a continuous backdrop of jazz. The GCJF is a fun weekend and the atmosphere is, needless to say, pretty damned relaxed. And as Roger Russell recounted, the Gresham Metropole increases its staff by about 50% over the weekend of the festival. Every hotel, B&B and flop house in the Cork is fully booked weeks ahead. Jazz, it seems, is good for business.

The first day of the GCJF 2013 started in the morning at various venues around the city centre. Workshops, talks, photographic exhibitions, art installation and jazz in the street announced to the wider public that it was that time of year again when jazz invades the city. Though the festival has contracted geographically speaking over the years, it has at the same time, extended its reach into more corners of everyday walks of life— from schools to shopping malls, and from shops and restaurants to galleries, squares and churches. Cracking after hours jam sessions fired passions in the Metropole Hotel. The serious business, however, got underway on Friday evening at the Everyman Palace Theatre with a double bill of singer Rene Marie and saxophonist Courtney Pine.

Rene Marie is a jazz singer of the old school, with a dozen titles to her name and collaborations with the likes of drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts, Gerald Cleaver and pianist Mulgrew Miller. Her voice was steeped in the blues and gospel and her delivery was sassy, teasing and soulful. Marie's set showcased I Wanna Be Evil (Motema, 2103)—a tribute to the late Eartha Kitt and the jazz singer/songwriters of yesteryear. Kitt's "They Say I'm a Witch" got things off to a swinging start, and introduced saxophonist Perico Sambeat.The saxophonist is one of the most renowned jazz musicians in his native Spain—pianist Brad Mehldau has played on four of his albums—but his interventions were mostly short and rarely caught fire.

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