New jazz job is music to Sinead’s ears

Sinead Dunphy is set to take over the running of the Cork Jazz Festival. She tells Evening Echo reporter Roisin Burke about her ambitious plans for the festival in the coming years.
New jazz job is music to Sinead’s ears

Sinead Dunphy, the new Jazz Festival director, outside the Metropole Hotel, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

THE highlight of the music calendar in Cork, the Guinness Jazz Festival, is in new hands.

Sinead Dunphy, currently the manager of the Cork Choral Festival, has been asked to be the Cork Jazz’s festival director.

She replaces Jack McGouran and has big plans for the festival.

She will be looking after the business organisation and artistic planning of the festival, which celebrated its 40th edition last year.

“I have only ever been involved in the jazz as a spectator, until now, but I’ve always been a great lover of jazz. In an earlier life, I would have booked acts for different venues for Waterford and Cork, when I first moved to Cork.”

Sinead said the position was offered to her organically.

“It all came from a conversation I had with Michael Lyons, from Diageo, during the Jazz Festival itself.

“I would have worked in the Opera House, as PRO, a good number of years back, and I would have done PR for the Jazz Festival, through the venue, specifically.

“So, I would have a relationship going back to then and I suppose, when Michael heard where I was, he was kind of saying Diageo was hoping to implement a new position and, I suppose, it was the right time for them and for me to have that conversation.”

Sinead said she was delighted to take up the position and has big plans for the festival, specifically making sure that jazz is front-and-centre.

She wants Cork to be the benchmark home of jazz, increasing connectivity with other jazz festivals around the world.

“It is a great progression for me, on a professional level, but, also, my love of jazz, and the Jazz Festival in Cork, is not comparable to anything else. It makes a huge difference to me,” she said.

“In recent years, I have seen that there are fewer headline jazz acts, so my ideal would be to start bringing jazz back to the heart of the festival and looking at the idea of benchmarking Cork as the home of jazz. We would also like to establish Cork as a sister festival to some of the other jazz festivals held around the world. If that happens in year one or year three or four, my idea would be to have us in better company.”

But, Sinead is keen not to lose sight of what has worked so well at the Jazz Festival in recent years. In addition to being an annual event for locals, it is a huge tourist draw.

“I want to keep that tourist piece going, so it won’t just be an artistic concept, but also a touristic element, as well, and that is something I will be working with Diageo and Failte Ireland on, going forward,” she added.

Sinead said her hope was that thefestival would be the “heart and crown jewels” of Cork’s offering as a destination. She said: “I would be looking at reaching out to communities and also third-level institutions, and really starting to bring jazz into our academic field, as well, by really encouraging the development of jazz music right across the board in Cork and further afield. I’m hoping to really make Cork the jazz home in Ireland.”

Sinead said she will focus her efforts on bringing more people to Cork, along with bigger bands.

“My work with the Choral Festival has become synonymous with Failte Ireland and the needs of Cork to be able to stand out on a European and international level.

“One of the major things I want to do is be able to bring that straight over, whereby we are influencing spectators and artists in the field of jazz to come to Cork and experience all that Cork has to offer, as a destination and as a cultural hub,” she said.

“For me, personally, when I start the job this week, I will get a handle on what is logistically possible for 2018. One of the major things, for me, is to align artistic programming with business strategies, as well, for the festival, and start much more advanced planning, so acts are booked two to three years in advance, so that we know the lineups going forward and being able to build on that from a reputational point, artistic point, professional point, and a spectator’s point.”

The business benefit of the Jazz Festival is well-documented, with restaurants, hotels, taxis, and bars all enjoying a major boost. Sinead is keen to strengthen the festival’s ties to the business community, building on the good work of her predecessor, Jack McGouran, who was involved in the festival for the past two decades.

“There is such a love for the Jazz Festival, here in Cork, and what we need to do is to keep nurturing that partnership,” she said.

“Jack McGouran and Deirdre Smith did an incredible job, in terms of bringing jazz to Cork over the years, and I am lucky to go in from a business and artistic point, after such leaders, to be really able to enhance the festival further.”

For festival regulars, Sinead wanted to assure them that the elements of the Jazz Festival that we all know and love will merely be enhanced.

“A major thing, here, is to take what we already have and what the people of Cork love. When you think of the October bank holiday weekend, you immediately think: ‘Are you going jazzin’?

“And what I want to do is to have people making those jazzin’ plans from the summer and to be able to really accentuate all of that, not just for the national or international scope, but also for the locals.

“It is important that they get what they want, as well, and we have an incredible plethora of partnerships, with businesses here in Cork that are willing to support it and grow it to what it has become and, hopefully, to grow it even bigger.”

Sinead faces a hectic few weeks ahead. In addition to her new role, there is the small matter of April’s Cork Choral Festival.

Founded in 1954, the festival has become one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and will welcome 5,500 singers in a few months’ time.

She said: “Diageo has been very considerate and appreciative of the fact that the Choral Festival is on in April.

“I suppose my loyalty was to the Choral Festival. I didn’t want to leave them in the mires, so to speak. In actual fact, I am starting part-time with the Jazz Festival, until the Choral Festival is done for 2018, and I will be aiding in the recruitment process and helping to recruit for the role, when the time comes.

“I have never been one to work to the clock, more to the job, so, for the next few months, I could be working 90-hour weeks, but we will worry about that when the time comes.”

She paid tribute to her new employer, noting that they have never wavered, when it comes to supporting the Jazz Festival locally.

“I suppose, what has to be acknowledged and appreciated, right across the board, has been Diageo’s commitment to the festival and I suppose, in turn, owning the festival. Without their support, the festival wouldn’t happen at all on the ground in Cork.

“Their influence has been massive and what they are looking for, now, is someone to take ownership of the festival on the ground in Cork and bring it to new heights, with them, in a fully supported role,” says Sinead.

Sinead Dunphy is set to take over the running of the
Cork Jazz Festival. She tells Evening Echo reporter,
Roisin Burke, about her ambitious plans for the festival in the coming years

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