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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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Days 1-2 | Days 3-4

Sligo Jazz Project
Various Venues
Sligo, Ireland
July 24-29, 2018

July 24, 2018

The Garavogue River flows slow and lazy through the centre of town to Sligo Harbour. Mountains stand in the distance out in Yeats country, green and rocky, overlooking the fields on the outskirts of town. Looking over the dull metal roofs of Ballast Quay's warehouses to the land beyond Sligo town, the faeries steal away with one's imagination. And the sounds of tin whistle airs dance on the fringes of the mind. Lightyears away from the jazz that swept the streets of Sligo for a week in late July, 2018.

Coming in from all corners of the world armed with saxophones and heathen ideas, master musicians/tutors were lured to this peaceful land for the annual Sligo Jazz Project. To gig and teach throughout the town in venues ranging from the Hawk's Well Theatre to the cosy Hargadon's Pub. Bringing jazz from its birthplace in the noisy social setting of the bar to the theatres it now calls home.

It is across Hughes Bridge, lit by the sun streaming in through its skylights and wide windows, that the Sligo Jazz Project's base of operations rests: the Institute of Technology, Sligo. A centre of learning that opened its doors to the students who studied the fine art of jazz under the 26 musicians/tutors. As trumpet instructor Linley Hamilton would explain, the participants studied not just in the masterclasses and through working with the instructors in their student-ensembles but through the invaluable experience of watching them perform onstage.

Inside the college the sound of the ensembles tuning up snaked down the hallways. Past the foodcourt and the student bookshop. A gentle swing-beat underpinned the tune-up's cacophony and scat singing and saxophone scales coasted atop it. Down a hallway in the Business & Social Sciences building, in the thick of these sounds, "Lord and Lady Sligo," Eddie Lee and Therese O'Loughlin held court. With the festival's red-shirted volunteers sat at tables around the room, organising and discussing the week ahead.

Neither half of the husband/wife team of Eddie and Therese ever stayed still for more than a minute. Their week was spent in third gear -with Eddie billed as "Artistic Director" while Therese fulfilled no less than four roles: "SJP Admin, Merchandising, Hospitality, Artist Liaison." It is their work alongside their three children and the volunteers, that has brought SJP out of the imagination's haze and into concrete reality annually for 13 years.

Everyone from the tutors through to the students and onwards to the volunteers spoke highly of the Lee/O'Loughlin clan. Through their leadership, the Sligo Jazz Project is kept a loose and passionate affair. With no divides between the Project's participants and their instructors, the free exchange of knowledge, wisdom, gratitude and emotion was encouraged. Making Sligo Jazz Project a unique learning experience.

All doors along Sligo I.T.'s many hallways were open to the inquisitive. And the curious were free to wander, peering in doorways to better soak up all that there was on offer. Italian bass-master Federico Malaman arranged his ensemble in preparation for the climactic "Sligo Jazz Project Big Bash" on Sunday. Where in their instructor-led ensembles, all the students would perform onstage for their newfound friends and mentors.

Maestro Federico nodded and smiled as an American gent, who described himself as a "musical virgin" when he stood up, sang into a microphone for his first time. And if his preceding confession hadn't betrayed his inexperience it would have been revealed through the way he held the mic: moving it around in circles so that the sound of his Sinatra-esque croon faded in and out.

Post-tune a younger female singer named Cara Lynch explained about holding the microphone steady. And the American gentleman took the advice onboard with grace and an eagerness to learn. It's this coupling of experience and the lack thereof, the teaming up of musical virgins with such recognised masters as Malaman, that makes the SJP experience memorable, priceless and addictive. Many of the participants return year after year. Some have for as many as five years running. Precisely because the atmosphere is so non-judgemental and welcoming.

The philosophy of Sligo Jazz Project is one of open-armed welcome. All ages, instruments, and experience-levels are encouraged to partake. In order to facilitate the personal growth of the participants and the continued growth of jazz.

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