All That Jazz

‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’, and my experience at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival encapsulates just that. After months of closures and uncertainties, there was a tremendous collective spirit to be felt around the Rebel City streets. Some of the country’s finest jazz musicians were to grace stages for the first time in months, much to the excitement of all those attending. The line-up boasted both established and up-and-coming artists from Ireland and abroad that added vibrancy and nuance to this festival.
I planned to attend a few of the headliners but missed my chance as gigs were sold out before I could grab myself a ticket. The resulting ramblings around the streets of Cork down south featured a lot of craic but not as much ceol as I had expected. This was due to the lengthy queues that stretched down Oliver Plunkett Street for bars such as Conway’s Yard. Each group waited rather patiently in this particular queue, ready to be called to arms. Or rather, ready to be called for a seat at last and a freshly poured pint of Guinness! After an hour or two, we were lucky enough to get a seat in Conway’s directly under the neon green screen of the Manchester United V Liverpool match. Not so much jazz to be heard, but a great time had all the same!
Following on from this, the ramble continued. This time in the search of food. Our noses led us to a burrito bar in the centre of town. Our ears alerted to a distant swing, we investigated further. We were in luck. A band had set up camp on the corner of Winthrop street. Both they and listeners alike revelled in the powerful yet effortless rhythms and brassy tones permeating the brickwork of the old building above. This image stands in my mind as a stand out from the weekend - individuals standing joyfully in unison and appreciation of the art flowing from each instrument, hanging on to each note and beat in the fear that such an opportunity might elude them in the future.
The ease with which such a festival can take place in our current society differs greatly from the Ireland of just 100 years ago. As shown by Johannah Duffy in her 2009 paper; ‘Jazz, Identity and Sexuality in Ireland During the Interwar Years’, jazz music was cast aside by high profile Irish figures in the early 20th century. In particular, the Gaelic League associated jazz music with the denationalisation of the country and launched its anti-jazz campaign in 1934. This campaign, along with pressures from the Catholic Church led the Irish government to introduce the Public Dance Hall Act of 1935. This act prevented unlicensed dances from occurring thus regulating how, when and where jazz music could be played in the Ireland. Ironically, the Public Dance Hall act is also linked with the decline of traditional Irish music in rural areas, as unlicensed house and crossroad dances were also subject to the new dancing laws.
As I roamed the streets of Cork, finding my way with GeoFindIT, it became increasing apparent just how much Jazz music and its relationship with Irish society has evolved since the creation of the Public Dance Halls Act. The freedom with which it emerges from mismatched doorways across the city brought a sense of fulfilment that has been difficult to tap into since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. My best-laid plans for the Jazz Festival may have gone awry and I might not have seen all the artists I had hoped to but I wouldn’t have changed my weekend all the same! That said, my plan did feature a lot of great artists that might be of interest to you. These are a few of the artists I would have love to have over the weekend. I’ll just have to try again in 2022!

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Playing at St. Luke’s Church, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble returned to the festival for the first time in two years. The ensemble is made up of seven brothers from the south side of Chicago. The brothers are no strangers to Cork Jazz and have performed at various locations across the city over the past decade. Their hit single ‘War’ also featured in The Hunger Games film as the theme song for Caesar Flickerman’s show! Check out their song ‘Straight Business’ here.

Matthew Halsall

Matthew Halsall is an English composer, producer, trumpeter and DJ that fuses a multitude of jazz influences into his performances. He is said to produce music “that is rooted in Northern England but draws on global inspirations”. His ambient and almost-spiritual sounds differ from the brash quirkiness of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. This reflective soundscape is no-less valued at Cork Jaz Festival and as the rain loomed on Friday evening I’m sure gig-goers were delighted to cosy up to the sounds of his new album ‘Salute to the Sun’. Give it a listen in the clip here and see what you think!

Cormac McCarthy and Paul Dunlea

Pianist Cormac McCarthy and Trombonists Paul Dunlea are two local artists that headlined Triskel Christchurch on the opening night of the festival. This performance seems to have been ever-more special due to the fact that the pair are both Cork born and bred. As mentioned earlier in the blog I referred to the evolution of the relationship between jazz and Irish society. McCarthy’s involvement in fiddler Martin Haye’s ‘The Common Grounds Ensemble’ shows how this relationship is ever-growing. The Common Grounds Ensemble grounds itself in traditional Irish music while branching out to genres such as jazz, contemporary classical, avant-garde and improvisation in its works. Dunlea has also worked with renowned Irish artists such as Liam Ó Maonlaoi and Mick Flannery. Their wealth of knowledge and appreciation for their work is sure to have made this performance something special. You can get more of an insight into the performance through the link here.

The Art Crimes Band

The Art Crimes Band featured outside Bodega on Sunday night. The six-member band released their first album featuring their own original material ‘Radio’ at Jazz in 2015 and have grown from strength to strength since. Judging from previous reviews, their performance always attracts a crowd and a good time and the clip here from this weekend’s antics confirms just that.

Denise Chaila

Denise Chaila performed alongside MasExodus and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on the final day of the festival. The Zambian and Irish rapper unmatched energy when she performs would have only been complemented by the two other groups. It would have been great to have seen this jazz and rap fusion in the ambient setting of St. Luke’s Church. Yet again- one to watch out for in 2022! Chaila featured on the Late Late show and Other Voices in 2020 which you can watch here.

A little hectic but a lot of fun. Experiencing the atmosphere and music of Cork Guinness Jazz Festival was a real treat after the past few months of lockdown. Here’s hoping there will be more events like this in the near future where we can all come together to celebrate the simple pleasures of live music!

If you enjoyed this blog, you may be interested in our top 5 piano pieces.
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Posted: 03/11/2021 08:16:12

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