Stevie G: Excitement building ahead of Cork Jazz Festival 

After Covid, it's an opportunity for reinvention, and to make the festival even better, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Excitement building ahead of Cork Jazz Festival 

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80: Set to perform at this year’s Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.

This year’s Guinness Cork Jazz festival is a real opportunity for re-invention. Though we had a festival last year (quickly cobbled together with a few weeks’ notice), there was still an air of uncertainty at the time regarding restrictions and the spectre of Covid still hung heavily in the air. The previous festival was also called off so this is very much a chance to re-invent the most important weekend in the Cork music calendar. But why re-invent something which already attracts huge crowds and huge money to Cork? Well, I think it’s a chance to make it even better.

Originally started in the late 70s in The Metropole on MacCurtain, the jazz festival was initially a small enough affair, but grew in to being a highly respected music festival very quickly, and it attracted some of the biggest names throughout the jazz world. Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Roy Ayers and Sonny Rollins, were just some of those who played the jazz festival in Cork. As the years proceeded, the amount of legacy jazz greats has obviously diminished, but we were very lucky to see so many of these legends in Cork, as many have now passed on. In the week when another jazz pioneer has passed, Ramsey Lewis, it’s worth reflecting that a small city such as Cork has had a very respectable amount of these greats playing here.

The evolving years meant that the festival, which was now a big financial winner for the city, was faced with a number of tricky dilemmas as they tried to keep it both relevant and economically profitable. Guinness and Diageo have remained sponsors, but jazz has remained a fairly niche music really. At any jazz gig in Cork you’ll find the same faces over the years. The music has a small but very loyal fanbase here.

There’s always been a slight conflict between the rich history of jazz, and the subsequent evolutions of a music genre that touches everything from hip-hop and soul, to house and afrobeats. This conflict is nothing new, and the likes of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker were often misunderstood and criticised by jazz fans and critics in their day. The urge to push the music forward was not always accepted by those clinging to tradition, which is ironic, since most of the traditionally well respected jazz was also made once by young artists who were innovative in their day.

As hip-hop evolved, many jazz greats like Herbie and Roy Ayers moved with the times, but others remained stubborn. In the modern era Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington and many others not only fly the flag for jazz, but they are at the cornerstone of lots of cutting edge hip-hop too. The most obvious example is their contributions to Kendricks Lamar’s critically and commercially acclaimed “To Pimp a Butterfly”, which has opened many new ears to jazz in the modern era. This has been a feature of hip-hop since the 80s, and rap legends such as A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, De La Soul, Snoop Dogg and many others, have worked with the legends of jazz both old and new.

One of the rappers who best demonstrates this, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), was scheduled to play here last year, but this year’s jazz festival has got a top class line-up that will appeal to those into the music and its rich culture and history. Crucially for me, it’s a line-up that reflects where jazz is now in 2022, and it’s one that encompasses sounds from all over the world. This is why it’s gonna be one of our best festivals yet.

The recent festival launch saw one of our own best music artists, Denise Chaila, joining Brazilian jazz funk legends Azymuth on stage, and Denise returns once more this time to play a headline show at the Cork Opera House. A former visitor to Cork in times past, Prince, will be honoured by the appearance of the New Power Generation in Cork, while another Godfather of music, Fela Kuti, will also be very much here in spirit. His son Seun will be joined on stage by his dad’s legendary Egypt 80 group, in what should be another huge festival highlight. Uk soul icon Omar, Jazzanova, GoGo Penquin, Brandee Younger, Portico Quartet, Amaro Freitas and many more complete a superb line-up.

Get your tickets fast. In the week leading up to the festival, I’ll properly preview the wealth of great events that take place on the periphery of Cork’s foremost music weekend!

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