2014 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival launch

Another top jazz line-up promised for the city’s second festival

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Bristol Jazz and Blues FestivalGet the Blessing perform in the foyer of Colston Hall

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival is going full-steam ahead with its aim to be artistically linked in 2015 with the spiritual home of jazz РNew Orleans. This is a process that has already put down deep roots, thanks to the successful inaugural festival earlier this year, which began building a partnership with New Orleans through its cultural ambassador, Lillian Boutt̩.

As festival director Denny Ilett explains, ‘Lillian Boutte has connected us to a lot of artists. We’re aiming to build up an exchange programme with New Orleans so we can bring bands over here and send bands over there.’

The launch for the 2014 festival (which will take place 7-9 March) took a bold step – compared to last year’s small-scale event – by opening its doors wide open to the public. It took place in Colston Hall’s foyer, as a free event for the people of Bristol to come and get a taster of what’s in store for them next spring. Last Friday, from five o’clock onwards, crowds started to flood in (and were later swelled by the queues for a Jools Holland concert in the main Hall). The foyer’s performing space and stairwells above it were filled with hundreds of people watching some of the city’s best jazz talent.

Headlining the launch was former BBC jazz award-winners Get The Blessing (whose ranks are swayed by members of trip-hoppers Portishead), who, dressed in their trademark black and white suits, gave the crowds a teaser of their new album Lope and Antelope. This will be officially launched in March at the festival. They gave a sneak preview of the track ‘Uneasy’ as well as some old favourites such as ‘Low Earth Orbit’ and the soaring ‘Einstein Action Figure’.

Local jazz legend, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, was also in attendance. A former James Brown sideman, he will be teaming up with another Brown veteran, Fred Wesley, for this year’s festival. Bristol-born saxophonist Andy Sheppard will also be making a welcome return in March.

And with a further emphasis on local talent, saxophonist James Morton joined Ellis to perform at the launch. Morton has been mentored by Ellis and Sheppard and has worked on projects with many local musicians; including drum 'n' bass pioneer Roni Size. He performed with his own All-Stars group, which featured the gospel-edged vocals of local singer Celestine. The evening got off to start with the rumbustious Zen Hussies and their charismatic lead singer Jules Landau, plus a guest appearance by veteran trad jazz trombonist Chris Barber (a highlight from the first festival).

Among next year’s line-up of international headliners are US drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, a founder member of New Orleans funk pioneers The Meters, who will be performing on the opening night, and Afrobeat legends Osibisa (who braved the rain at this summer’s WOMAD festival). The programme will also include a Gershwin Spectacular, with singer Jacqui Dankworth (daughter of Cleo Laine), British saxophonist Alan Barnes, plus the return of singer Lillian Boutté with a Gospel Project.

Director Denny Ilett sees the 2014 festival as an important stepping stone towards raising awareness of the city’s music at an international level.

‘I go to a lot of festivals on the continent and people come to them from all around because they know they’re established,’ he says. ‘I want this festival to become like that – we have so many great local bands and I want to put them on an international stage so people can become aware of them too.

For further information visit the Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival website