Magazine article The Spectator

All about Jazz

Magazine article The Spectator

All about Jazz

Article excerpt

The great Louis Armstrong once said of jazz: 'If you have to ask what it is, you'll probably never know.' Such an enigmatic observation could have been made about this year's London Jazz Festival (in association with Radio Three), which runs from 12-21 November. Now in its 12th year, the LJF has established itself as a major event on the international jazz circuit; this year it has an expansive line-up of the best international and homegrown talent, with more than 120 performances at many different venues, including the Wigmore Hall and Royal Academy of Arts for the first time.

By any account these are good times for jazz. Jazz FM recently announced an all-time high audience of 845,000 listeners per week, with much of that increase coming from new female listeners. That is partly due to the rejuvenation of vocal jazz in recent years with the success of Norah Jones and Diana Krall. This has triggered a wider re-examination of the great American songbook, from Gershwin to Cole Porter. Not surprisingly, singers and divas feature strongly in the festival billing.

One of the stellar lights is the Michael Parkinson-sponsored crooner-extraordinaire Jamie Cullum, who has sold nearly two million copies of his album Twentysomething. He'll return to his roots to perform two intimate club dates at Soho's Pizza Express and the 606 Club. Another is the chanteuse Gwyneth Herbert, whose remarkable journey from busker to pub entertainer to concert-hall singer will see the Fitzgerald- and Simone-influenced 21-year-old take the headline spot on the opening night. It's also worth looking out for the deftly vivacious Nordic songstress Silje Nergaard and the fiery, gospel-infused soul-jazz of Lizz Wright.

Key figures from jazz history loom large over the festival programme. The spirit of the 1960s avant-garde will be present on 15 November, when there's a major double bill which teams inspirational piano improviser Cecil Taylor, radical trumpeter Bill Dixon and uncompromising British percussionist Tony Oxley. They'll be supported by the boundless imagination of the controversial saxophonist Anthony Braxton.

On 14 November, the hugely underrated composer and saxophonist/flautist Sam Rivers brings to the festival a jazz pedigree dating back to the 1940s, which has seen him play alongside Miles Davis and Billy Holliday. …

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