Looking back at the origins of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

Looking back at the origins of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

Revellers enjoy jazzing with Rent Party at the Country Club in 1987.

After last year's festival was scuppered by the pandemic, the renowned Guinness Cork Jazz Festival is set to make its highly-anticipated return next week.

The festival, one of the biggest and longest-running events on the Irish music calendar, was cancelled in 2020 in line with Government guidelines.

The return of the festival, which will take place over the bank holiday weekend from October 22-25, was confirmed last month.

Ella Fitzgerald performing at the Jazz Festival at the Cork Opera House in 1980.
Ella Fitzgerald performing at the Jazz Festival at the Cork Opera House in 1980.

Rory Sheridan, Head of Partnerships, Diageo Ireland, said this year's events will be particularly meaningful. 

"This will be the first major festival in Ireland since the pandemic to take place, which is a significant milestone not only for musicians and the events industry who have been one of hardest hit industries, but also for festival goers who have been waiting for some good news," he said. 

The annual festival began on Friday, October 27, 1978.

First established by Jim Mountjoy, the then Marketing Manager of the Metropole Hotel, it was largely down to serendipity that the festival became such a big success.

In 1977, Labour Minister Michael O’Leary introduced a new bank holiday at the end of October, giving Corkonians an extra day off.

Kenny Ball and his group arrive at Cork Airport for the Jazz Festival, 1978.
Kenny Ball and his group arrive at Cork Airport for the Jazz Festival, 1978.

The newly instated bank holiday lent itself well to a new event for the city, and after a significant cancellation from a bridge club, Mr Mountjoy set about organising the inaugural Jazz Festival to fill The Metropole Hotel.

John Player was the initial sponsor of the festival, which, from the outset, attracted thousands of jazz fans.

The line up for that first year included Kenny Ball and the Jazzmen, George Melly and the John Chilton Feetwarmers, the Ronnie Scott Quintet with Louis Stewart, Annie Ross, the Harry South Trio, and Monty Sunshine.

In 1981, Guinness became the major sponsor, a collaboration that has continued to this day.

Since the 1990s, average annual festival visitor numbers have exceeded 40,000, with visitors travelling from far and wide to experience the festival.

Buddy Rich on stage at Cork Opera House. during the Jazz Festival in 1986. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Buddy Rich on stage at Cork Opera House. during the Jazz Festival in 1986. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

To date, over one million jazz fans have visited Cork to hear noted globally-renowned musicians such as: Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Torme, Wynton Marsalis, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins, John McLaughlin, Gregory Porter, Billy Cobham, Damon Albarn, and many others.

Headline events for this year's festival include New York hip-hop legend Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def; the hugely popular Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; composer, trumpeter, producer, DJ and founder of Gondwana Records, Matthew Halsall; Cork’s much-loved singer-songwriter Mick Flannery on stage with the critically acclaimed Susan O’Neill; Mack Fleetwood and DJ Jenny Green.

Nancy Wilson performing at Cork Opera House during the Jazz Festival in 1984. 
Nancy Wilson performing at Cork Opera House during the Jazz Festival in 1984. 

The music of legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen will also be performed by a collective of outstanding musicians at an event as part of this year's festival.

Pauline Scanlon and The Whileaways will celebrate many of Leonard Cohen’s best-loved life works when they take to the stage of Cork Opera House with their acclaimed show 'Bird on the Wire: The Songs of Leonard Cohen'.

For full details or to purchase tickets see www.guinnessjazzfestival.com

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