The Hull Jazz Festival Winter Edition, 2016 kicks off this month. We caught up with the man behind the music.
What’s your name, and what do you do?
I’m David Porter and I’m the director of J-Night, the music promoters who’ve been producing the Hull Jazz Festival for the past 24 years, amongst many other varied and wonderful things.
What is Hull Jazz Festival?
Hull Jazz Festival’s evolved and developed over the years since we started in 1993. In the early days we provided one of the few opportunities to see great Jazz and World artists in Hull in large scale, free, outdoors settings.
The Festival made a huge impact with a series of events in 2007, commemorating the abolition of slavery and William Wiberforce, culminating in the massive reggae celebration Sankofa Sunsplash in Queens Gardens, curated by Audrey Fosu.
2012 saw the birth of the Hull Jazz Festival’s iconic Yellow Bus stage, situated in the heart of Freedom Quarter, which immediately caught the public’s imagination. Providing a unique blend of Jazz influenced, high energy non-stop performances, Yellow Bus aims to bring the best international, regional and local artists to Hull to celebrate Freedom. Our artists celebrate the spirit of Freedom and audiences respond to their passion. There’s a really varied range of styles, from Akala’s hip hop to the coolest of bebop jazz sounds of Empirical – both MOBO award winners. And from the rocksteady Jamaican sounds of Last Train to Skaville via the Cuban classical violin of Omar Puente to the New Orleans street sounds of New York Brass Band – just to name a few. I guess that sums up our approach.
We programme three festivals a year now. We’ve got the summer jazz festival in July at Hull Truck, the Freedom main stage outdoors in September and the jazz festival’s winter edition in November, where we work with young people from Hull Music Hub and the University, who perform on the same bill as leading international artists.
The Jazz Festival Winter Edition is bringing artists from around the world to Hull. Who can we look forward to seeing?
Headliners Robert Glasper Experiment are definitely worth checking out when they play at Hull Truck on 18 November – this show’s a coup for the festival. Robert Glasper’s an incredible jazz pianist and one of the most in-demand hip-hop producers and collaborators in the US just now. Over the past few years he’s worked with Bilal, Common, Mos Def, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu, to name just a few. And he’s at the forefront of a wave of artists, including Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar, who are redefining jazz for a new audience. This is really exciting.
Robert Glasper’s an incredible jazz pianist and one of the most in-demand hip-hop producers and collaborators in the US just now.
Another American artist, Stacey Kent, brings her band to Hull Truck on 15 November, performing exquisite versions of classic American jazz standards like The Very Thought of You. It’s great to be part of a world tour that also takes in legendary jazz venues like Ronnie Scotts and New York’s Birdland! Tickets for both these headline shows are flying out of the door.
We try to make the Festival full of contrast. I’m particularly looking forward to the intriguing combination of ex-Communards singer Sarah Jane Morris (she provided the lush, deep voice on Don’t Leave Me This Way) and Italian acoustic guitarist Antonio Forcione, who’ll be with us on 17th November.
There’s a really diverse mix of artists in the programme, from big band jazz to Cuban fusion to hip hop. How do you define jazz at the festival?
We’re aware that audiences have a wide range of tastes, influences and styles and it’s our aim to provide a diverse range of music styles in different venues across the city. For us, jazz is a contemporary art form, very much alive, and we’re really fortunate that there are so many highly talented artists, from the UK and further afield, who’ll come to Hull. Audiences here respond to musicians who mix up traditional genres to make fresh sounds for the 21st century and we’ll continue to push this. We have a broad definition of jazz – reggae, blues, fado, soul, urban, hip hop – are all massively influenced by the jazz tradition.
If I’d never been to Hull Jazz Festival before, who should I come and see?
If hip-hop and R&B are your thing, you should definitely book your ticket for Robert Glasper Experiment. If you like salsa, Omar Puente’s Cuban Sextet are the real deal. Cleveland Watkiss is one of the best male vocalists in Britain and he’ll be performing with Tom Harrison Quintet, celebrating the music of the late, great Duke Ellington.
And if you love the Big Band sound of folk like Buddy Rich then you should check out our Big Band Spectacular with City of Hull Youth Jazz Orchestra, East Riding Youth Jazz Orchestra and the jazz festival debut of Hull Big Band.
How would you sum up the festival in three words?
Thrilling, different, surprising (in a good way!)
2017 is just around the corner. What have you got planned for our year as UK City of Culture?
We’re working with Serious, Europe’s largest jazz producers (who run the London Jazz Festival) and we’ll be bringing some big international names to Hull. 2017 also marks Hull Jazz Festival’s 25th anniversary!
In February we’ll celebrate the influence that composer, drummer and Hull resident Basil Kirchin had on the music industry with an immersive and far-reaching weekend of music, talks, film screenings and more centred on City Hall. Highlights announced so far include the BBC Concert Orchestra with Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, DJ sets in unusual spaces from Jerry Dammers. Watch this space for more artist announcements very soon…
Kirchin’s intriguing history represents a collision of popular and experimental musical cultures that predate and define so much of the music we hear today.
In July we’ll present a new piece of music from the Mercury Prize-nominated Manchester jazz trio GoGo Penguin, renowned for their minimalist piano themes, deeply propulsive bass lines and electronica-inspired drums. They’re creating a piece inspired by Basil Kirchin and the Northern industrial landscape that they’ll premiere in July at the PRSF New Music Biennial in Hull at Fruit and at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
The July Jazz Festival will be headlined by a new band led by Courtney Pine with the extraordinary Omar (There’s Nothing Like This) on vocals.
We’ll be announcing more of our 2017 programme soon, with exciting artists throughout the year. Keep an eye on our website www.jnight.org and sign up there for latest news.
We’re celebrating Basil Kirchin in February 2017 at Mind on the Run. What influence do you think this forgotten musical pioneer has had on the jazz scene today?
Basil Kirchin is without a doubt the forgotten genius of post-war British music. He covered so many styles and influenced so many movements – a pioneer of musique concrete, his remarkable life stretched from the days when British dance hall music mutated into rock’n’roll, through a succession of film scores and pop song-writing, before retreating to Hull, where he created sonic landscapes that still challenge convention to this day. Described by Brian Eno as “a founding father of ambient music”, Kirchin’s intriguing history represents a collision of popular and experimental musical cultures that predate and define so much of the music we hear today.
Basil Kirchin connects the first British rock’n’roll discs of 1950s Britain, Vincent Price and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the nagra tape recorder and the industrial sounds of the north. His riches-to-rags journey embraces Hull, its urban and natural landscape, and the city’s uncanny ability to harbour artists and visionaries who’ve reflected and influenced the much wider world around them.
He sadly died in obscurity in Hull in 2005. We hope that this celebration of his work for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 will re-spark an interest in his extraordinary music.
Find out more about Jnight and Hull Jazz Festival at jnight.org.