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Enticing line-up for Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Sage Gateshead's annual celebration of jazz continues to broaden the popular perception of the genre

Saxophonist David Sanborn
Saxophonist David Sanborn

These pages normally celebrate classical music but this month, in acknowledgement of its sheer brilliance, Gateshead International Jazz Festival takes centre stage.

If further justification were needed, this is in the spirit of music being a broad church which Sage Gateshead has embraced since the start and which makes perfect sense when you scan the festival programme.

Here we have the Royal Northern Sinfonia with pianist Gwilym Simcock who could grace any stage in any company anywhere. He studied jazz piano at the Royal Academy of Music and has performed with jazz ensembles and orchestras.

Accomplished on piano and French horn, his versatility is equally clear from his commissions, a piano concerto for the BBC Proms sitting alongside big band compositions and a piece for a tour of cathedrals.

At the Sage concert on April 11 he will perform as a soloist, with his trio (piano, double bass and drums) and the orchestra, playing his suite Move! which was originally commissioned by City of London Sinfonia.

Allan Titmuss The Loose Tubes big band
The Loose Tubes big band

Another gig with a foot in both jazz and classical camps is Jazz vs. Opera – a Tenor Battle.

This, on April 11, is a platform for Norwegian musician Håkon Kornstad who established himself as a jazz saxophonist before finding that he also had a voice suited to opera.

In this supposed conflict between the genres, he will sing Puccini and Verdi while accompanying himself on the sax. How this works we’re not entirely sure, but it could be fun finding out.

A major attraction for aficionados, and anyone who likes laughter in their music, is the return of Loose Tubes, the jazz orchestra which in the 1980s became the springboard for some glittering careers – including those of Django Bates and Iain Ballamy who will be in the Gateshead line-up.

A co-operative never less than 20-strong, Loose Tubes came out of a 1983 jazz workshop organised by the late Graham Collier, a Tynemouth-born musician, composer and educator who joined the Army as a musician and later became the first recipient of an Arts Council bursary for jazz.

In 1987 Loose Tubes became the first jazz orchestra to perform at the BBC Proms. Three years later it disbanded.

Last year, though, saw a Loose Tubes revival at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. At the time of writing, the Gateshead appearance on April 12, enhanced by the presence of Andy Sheppard on sax and pianist Rita Marcotulli, was the only confirmed date for 2015.

Another great sax player is the American David Sanborn, 70 this year but still a major force (in 1975 he released his first solo album, Taking Off, and also contributed to David Bowie’s Young Americans).

Catch him on stage on April 10 supported by jazz guitarist John Scofield and pianist and vocalist Jon Cleary.

Then there’s Under Milk Wood, the late Stan Tracey’s jazz suite inspired by Dylan Thomas’s famous poem. The story goes that Tracey, who died in 2013, heard an LP of the BBC’s 1953 recording and was at first entranced and then spurred into action.

Here Stan’s son, Clark Tracey, will be joined by Bobby Wellins, who played sax on the original album, for a 50th anniversary rendition.

This is scratching the surface of a festival with a line-up of sheer quality. Also look out for Ruby Taylor with the James Taylor Quartet, the Joshua Redman Trio, Dutch trio Tin Men and The Telephone, and our own Zoe Gilbey with a line-up of top North East musicians and in a double bill with Alice Zawadzki, who is also offering a vocal workshop.

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