Cheltenham brings out the jazz in all kinds of music

Kurt Elling - Saturday in Cheltenham Town Hall.

Kurt Elling – Saturday in Cheltenham Town Hall.

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which starts tomorrow and runs until Monday 5 May, is about celebrating all that is wonderful in modern jazz but it is also about making links between jazz and other styles of music.

Birmingham’s biggest 21st-century star, Laura Mvula, is artist in residence at the festival. After wowing the crowd with a performance in the smaller Jazz Arena last year, Laura gets her own Big Top show on Thursday 1 May and will also be appearing as a guest with another great young singer ESKA on the following day.

It wouldn’t surprise me if she also pops in to see Cheltenham’s guest festival director Jamie Cullum who, having sold out the Big Top once for the festival’s opening tomorrow night is now in the process of selling it out twice. He appears with his band at 6.30pm and 9pm.

And there are many more fabulous vocalists at this year’s Cheltenham, including a soul diva, Roberta Flack (Saturday 3 May – and already sold out), a British treasure, Liane Carroll (Sunday 4 May), the son of a legend, Frank Sinatra Jr (Sunday 4 May), and a pop star turned jazzer, Curtis Stigers (Monday 5 May). My favourite is the man from Chicago, though I think he is now living in New York, Kurt Elling. He is appearing with his Quartet in Cheltenham Town Hall at 7pm on Saturday 3 May.

Gregory Porter is becoming a regular at this festival – this will be his third consecutive year in town – and with good reason. No one is doing more to bring real jazz singing to a broader audience. He will be in the Big Top on Sunday evening, 4 May, with other musicians from the legendary 75-year-old Blue Note label, including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. This event is sold out. Akinmusire is making substantial waves of his own in the modern jazz world, and appears in his own right in the Jazz Arena earlier that same day.

Representing the blues, are songwriter and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd (Thursday 1 May) and Robert Cray (Saturday 3 May – sold out); bringing pianistic brilliance is the Armenian Tigran (Saturday 3 May) and the German Michael Wollny (Saturday 3 May – sold out); showing that age means nothing to the jazz master, drummer Billy Cobham will be celebrating turning 70 (Sunday 4 May); and the whole six-day musical bonanza is rounded off by the ever-popular Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, with guests including Gregory Porter and Marc Almond (Monday 5 May – sold out).

And there is loads and loads more. Most of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival takes place in a specially created garden of marquees, bars, eateries and a market, with free live music for all and a lovely, warm, welcoming vibe.

  • The 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival runs from this tomorrow to Monday 5 May. For full details and to book your tickets go here.

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