There’s a large sign at the back of Cheltenham’s Town Hall during the Jazz Festival
where individual white letters spell out ‘J-A-Z-Z’. It’s fair to say it’s not quite on the same scale as the Hollywood sign but it’s the thought that counts. And it’s fitting that some glitz is in evidence for a festival that is actually drawing on the likes of ‘Hollywood’ star/blues musician Hugh Laurie and the UK’s most popular jazz pianist (and film soundtrack star) Jamie Cullum, who is in place as artistic director.
And talking of jazz A-listers, this year’s festival included a set by the 70-year old tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders: a welcome chance to catch a musician who played alongside John Coltrane in his last line-ups, just before Trane’s untimely death in 1967.
Under an unlikely psychedelic backdrop in the Town Hall, Sanders led a six-track set, topping and tailing each of the pieces with magnificent technique, ranging from wistful melodies to train-horn harshness. Sitting out for most of the tunes’s middle sections, Sanders sat calmly at the side, as pianist Jonathan Gee (often standing) played through a range of styles, appropriately displaying former Coltrane sideman McCoy Tyner-type technique. A highlight for Coltrane fans was Sanders playing ‘My Favourite Things’, a version of which he famously played on the 1967 Trane album Live at the Village Vanguard Again.
A man of few words, at one point Sanders declared ‘I’ve got the blues’ before a showcase in blues form, which got even the most suited of the Town Hall audience tapping their feet. I particularly enjoyed his play-out track, ‘Africa’ (from the 1980s), where bassist Marc Hodgson and drummer Gene Calderazzo set a driving groove. With his distinguished white beard and glittering gold jacket, Pharoah Sanders looked and sounded every bit a jazz celebrity.
for more information on this year's Cheltenham Jazz Festival