Neil Bateman is an expert in Welfare Rights and Social Policy in his day-to-day job, but when he’s not working, he plays saxophone in a band and organises the Ipswich Jazz Festival and the Suffolk Jazz School.
With the green-light for a socially-distanced Ipswich Jazz Festival on 26-27th June, we had a quick chat to talk about what music-lovers and Jazz fans can expect from this year’s festival.
First up, tell us a bit about the Ipswich Jazz Festival…
It’s a not-for-profit venture, run by three people and various other helpers. We’ve attempted to develop a small local festival that brings in some of the top names of jazz. We also aim to have a wide range of different jazz styles.
Normally we would have quite a lot of events going on such as workshops, gigs at pubs, and pre-festival performances on the Corn Hill in Ipswich, but because of COVID it’s really not practical to do that. The other thing is I’m very aware of is that professional musicians have been really hammered financially by the pandemic, so this year we’re going to be putting on nine different bands over the festival weekend, which is the 26-27th of June down at St Peters by the Waterfront Arts Centre in Ipswich.
What can audiences expect from this year’s festival and why should they come and see it?
I think it’s important that the arts can play an important role in the recovery of the economy and in terms of offering a feel-good factor. What they can expect to see are lots of very different styles and just about every style of jazz is going to be featuring at the festival this year; from traditional New Orleans, through to leading-edge jazz being played by young people and established club style jazz.
We’ve got some really top names – Xhoza Cole was BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2018, we’re very lucky to have got him. We’ve got Derek Nash and his Latin Jazz band, and we also have Tina May and Enrico Tomasso, Tina’s a very well-known singer on the jazz circuit. Continuing on there’s Byron Wallen, who’s a critically acclaimed trumpeter and plays a very varied style of Jazz; Alina Bzhezinska is a harp player and she has a band playing with her, but she’s a fine musician and it’s certainly very unusual to have a heart playing jazz together with a jazz trio behind it. Kansas Smitty are a superb bunch of musicians based in London at Kansas Smitty’s bar and we’re also very lucky to have got them, they’re an interesting fusion of different styles of Jazz. Rosina Hepburn Band is more of a traditional jazz standards band, but again a good quality band. We also have a band called The Motuz Group who have a contemporary dancer performing with them, so it’s a varied line-up! We’ve spent all our reserves on this, and just have to hope that it will be a success, so it’s down to people to buy the tickets.
I’m sure they will after looking at that line-up. How challenging has COVID been in organising this?
We’ve had to severely reduce the audience numbers to have social distancing in place. It has been an extremely difficult time, and it’s difficult enough organizing a small festival, but having to do it in a time of COVID has been really challenging. Despite that, we have to press on and try and deliver good quality live music, or else it won’t happen. Onwards and upwards!
Fingers crossed! Just wondering, what are your thoughts on the move to digital with virtual gigs? Do you think it’s a positive thing?
It’s not nearly as good as live face-to-face shows. The quality of the sound is never as good, and the [lack of] interaction with the musicians. There’s nothing to beat live, in-the-flesh, performances. The other thing is that musicians perform better when they’ve got a live audience in front of them. It can be very limiting doing it online; but having said that, it’s played an important part in enabling musicians to keep their heads above water during the pandemic, and I guess we will see more online activity generally as a result of the pandemic on a long-term basis.
What would the message be for those who love and miss live music?
Get out there and buy tickets! Use it or lose it…
Agreed! Is there anything else to add or any other plans on the horizon?
Well, if we can get through this year, we can start thinking about 2022 and trying to make it a bigger festival, but it’s going to be difficult to deliver a festival this year. One thing we’ve always tried to do is to try to have an inclusive festival, so for example for people on means-tested benefits, they can get tickets for £1. We’ve got a limited number of tickets where we offer that.
That’s brilliant! As a fun one to end on – looking to the future, who would be a dream line-up booking?
I’d like to get Herbie Hancock, I nearly managed to book him two years ago. I’d also like to get Diana Krall. They were both interested, but their availability didn’t really fit with the dates of the festival. We were going to put them on at the Ipswich Regent, and it would be nice to be able to do something like that with top names like them. It would be really good for Ipswich to have that because The Regent is the largest indoor live music venue in the East of England, so let’s use it for these top names.
Definitely! Thank you for your time, and good luck with the festival.
The Ipswich Jazz Festival runs from 26-27th June 2021 with social-distancing, so book early to avoid disappointment.