Brewing up the best in music for the 42nd Cork Jazz Festival

As the countdown continues to the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival this October bank holiday, excitement is building. Now in its 42nd year, the festival is one of the country’s premier music events. Sales manager at Diageo, Michael Lyons, talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about this year’s line-up, and the future of ‘The Jazz’ in a changing city
Brewing up the best in music for the 42nd Cork Jazz Festival
Michael Lyons, Diageo at the announcement of a globally-renowned line up of Jazz greats for the 42nd GUINNESS Cork Jazz Festival. Picture: Clare Keogh

THE Guinness Cork Jazz Festival is the city’s annual music showcase. It invites visitors to partake in its bustle and splendour. ‘The Jazz’, as its known locally, has been the biggest weekend of the city’s cultural calendar since 1977, when the Cork Jazz Society played a free weekend at the Metropolis Hotel, after the cancellation of that year’s National Bridge Congress. From such unlikely beginnings has risen an international festival every October bank holiday. It has hosted everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Stéphane Grappelli, to Damon Albarn and Herbie Hancock.

Michael Lyons, a spokesman for drinks festival partner, Diageo, says: “The response to this year’s programme has been fantastic. ‘The Jazz’ continues to be a highlight for many people, both at home and abroad, who travel to Cork city to make the most of the unique, colourful, and lively experience. R’n’B, soul, and Motown genres are prevalent again this year. The festival offers a line-up of music for the soul and we are thrilled to welcome some of the greatest jazz musicians. The 2019 festival wants to host an array of top, international headline jazz acts, including Kurt Elling, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Big Brass Band Explosion, Linley Hamilton Quintet, Fred Hersch Trio, Mica Paris, and Spyro Gyra. As well as ticketed events, we have an exciting fringe lineup, as part of the 2019 programme, offering free experiences in venues across the city, throughout the week. “

Of the festival’s long-lasting appeal, Michael cites the passion of the organisers and the willingness of the people of Cork to take something good and make it better.

“‘The Jazz’ is one of the biggest and longest-running events on the Irish music calendar. Every nook and cranny of Cork city comes alive across the festival weekend, to the sounds of over a thousand musicians and creative artists, from more than twenty countries. The festival’s success is a testament to the people of Cork. And, of course, behind every great festival is a dedicated team, many of whom have been involved over the years, including the committee, local government, and the local business community.

“I’ve been involved for many years, and I’m really proud to be part of it. The countdown is on now, as publicans, hoteliers, and musicians prepare for thousands of visitors to arrive, and Cork transforms into a world stage for jazz. It’s special.”

A defining feature of the festival is its international appeal, in terms of attracting talent and tourists alike. And though it is now established, in the early days it relied on word-of-mouth to attract talent.

“Music is a fantastic unifier. It brings people together, and we strive to deliver a world-class programme of music that excites a broad range of tastes, with jazz at its core. We’re always blown away by jazz: the festival always attracts people from almost every country in the world, who make their way to Cork for the festival. Whether you are looking for an avid jazz fan, or simply looking for a great weekend in a beautiful Irish city, there is a magnetism to Cork.”

Part of the fun is the debate between the organisers, music critics, and fans about their dream line-ups. Michael explains the approach to booking bigger names, and the balance between marquee names and the genre’s finest. “Cork is recognised as the home of jazz in Ireland, and as one of the most important jazz festivals in the world. It has always been firmly rooted in jazz. Every year, we like to review what’s worked in the previous year, as well as bring a fresh approach. We are proud of the fantastic mix of music, with more to come, and we will have exciting elements for all musical and cultural tastes again this year.”

Cork has a vibrant domestic music community year-round in many smaller venues. As ‘The Jazz’ is performed across the city, Michael outlines how it interacts with the city’s musical grassroots. “Cork is a city with music at its soul. Throughout the year, Patrick Street and Oliver Plunkett Street are alive with the sounds of street musicians, and, at night, music spills out of bars and clubs. ‘The Jazz’ provides a platform for bringing this local talent to a global audience.

“It puts Cork on a world music map. We are lucky to have an experienced and focused team, who are passionate about the festival and its success. Homegrown talent, including saxophonist Gary Baus and the Art Crimes Band, jazz guitarist Bren O’Ruaidh, jazz singer Christiana Underwood and the Underscore Orchestra, and singer/trumpeter Harry Connolly, a founding member of the festival, play in venues across the city, alongside some world-renowned jazz musicians.”

The festival is the lynchpin of the city’s social and cultural calendar, but, over the next 10 years, major social and demographic changes are expected, as the city expands via house-building and commercial development.

Michael explains how the jazz might respond to the city’s shifting form, emphasising jazz’s experiential qualities.

“People value experience more than ever before, and ‘The Jazz’ provides a unique and truly immersive experience.

“From the global and local jazz talent playing in venues across the city, to the fringe line-up, street food fairs and family parades, we set out to provide a weekend of unforgettable experiences. It ranks alongside Christmas and St Patrick’s Day.”

Michael is right in the middle of the festival, and has a great time in the city on the weekend. He is excited. “I cannot wait to experience the buzz of activity happening around the city.

“The streets, pubs, bars and restaurants come alive with a colourful array of experiences, and they are hoping to see a jazz legend, or a local band playing in a bustling bar.

“There really is something for everyone. It’s set to be unmissable.”

The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival takes places in Cork city during the October bank holiday weekend, from Thursday, October 24, to Sunday, October 27. For listings, tickets and further information, check out guinnessjazzfestival.com, or search for ‘Guinness Cork Jazz Festival’ across social media.

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