Cambridge Highlights

Cambridge Jazz Festival is undoubtedly where it’s at this month (16th to 27th November).  Although launched only two years ago, as an annual celebration of jazz across the city this festival succeeds in bringing together nightclubs and theatres, double-bills and workshops, mainstream and modern, town and gown.  The festival’s banner tentatively inserts the word ‘International’ but it would seem to live up to a programme with artists who, if not actually from, are celebrated beyond these shores or bring along a world of styles.  Among the numerous venues (too many to mention here – go to the Hot Numbers coffee house has something on most festival days, or check out places such as the Earl of Beaconsfield community pub where you can see the Cleveland Watkiss Quartet for the price of a good pint or two.  You’ll find Soweto Kinch in trio format at the Hidden Rooms cocktail bar or leading the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra (CUJO) at the Mumford Theatre.

Kinch grew up in a Birmingham before it could claim a more fashionable second-city status; went to Oxford University; was inspired by Courtney Pine’s Jazz Warriors as well as trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis (who gave workshops here to young hopefuls), and then burst onto the UK jazz scene in the early Noughties.  His first CD ‘Conversations…’ was great but I confess I found follow-ups a struggle and Kinch more recently has explored various projects and media stints.

Beyond Cambridge, Jay Phelps, also now into his 30s, had a similar experience as a founder, along with Norwich’s Kit Downes, of the youthful ensemble Empirical, who enjoyed massive acclaim for their eponymous 2007 CD and – as with Kinch – the BBC rising star jazz award that duly follows.  Phelps moved here from Vancouver when 17 but he also followed both Marsalis and Pine, and came to join Tomorrow’s Warriors before Empirical.  But Phelps acknowledged a couple of years ago, in an Artefact interview with Guido de Boer, that young talent still needs those years of real playing experience “… to give the music the extra meaning that it should have, that extra expression which always has to be part of it. It’s something unquantifiable that’s only attained through life.”


STOP PRESS: If you’ve not yet reached 24, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) is looking to recruit tomorrow’s generation ‘with experience of playing big band jazz [and] preparing for a career as a musician’.  Just visit