Musician Linley Hamilton on looking forward to the Cork Jazz Festival
Do you prefer your jazz acid, Afro-Cuban, bebop, hard bop or post-bop? Dixieland, trad or smooth? Big band or intimate trio? You'll find it all at the Cork Jazz Festival, where Northern Ireland's foremost exponent, Linley Hamilton, will be playing a blinder
YIPPEE. Another item will be ticked off my bucket list next week when I head to the deep south to attend my first ever Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and longest-running events on the Irish music calendar.
I’ve always wanted to attend the country’s foremost jazz festival which in the past has hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald (swoon), George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Cleo Laine, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Gerry Mulligan, Stéphane Grappelli and a whole court full of other jazz royalty.
This year every nook and cranny of Cork city will come alive across the festival weekend to the sounds of over 1,000 musicians and creative artists from more than 20 countries.
This year’s festival will host a fantastic array of top international headline jazz acts, including Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Kurt Elling, The Big Brass Band Explosion, Dr Linley Hamilton Quintet, the Fred Hersch Trio, Mica Paris and Spyro Gyra.
There’s also a great line up at the Metropole Festival Club, and an exciting fringe programme of free gigs and entertainment in over 70 city venues across the city by the Lee.
And there is something for all ages. This year’s festival kicks off with the Blaze of Jazz Parade on Friday October 24. The family-friendly parade will feature a mix of red-hot jazz bands with fiery Cork characters in a dramatic musical march full of flaming antics.
Other highlights include the Jazz Jamboree, Jazz Food Fair, and The Artistry of Frank Sinatra audio-visual event with more to be announced soon.
You could spend your time wandering from venue to venue, taking in free on-street sessions but the festival also offers people from all over the island the one-off chance to see some of jazz’s legendary figures.
But of course, the question has to be asked: What is jazz?
Is it the Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane’s free jazz? Is it a martini dinner party with Nat King Cole singing in the background? Do you prefer your jazz acid, Afro-Cuban, bebop, hard bop or post-bop? Dixieland, trad or smooth? Big band or intimate trio?
Well, there is only one man to ask to define jazz for me and that is Linley Hamilton, trumpeter, broadcaster and academic who is playing at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival next weekend.
Linley speaks about jazz the way he plays it – beautifully, nuanced and with passion.
“Jazz is a language,” he explains.
“Whenever you hear jazz musicians playing, they are creating melodies to play and to improvise over. The structures they are improvising within are predetermined, but the solos are in-the-moment.
“It’s just like when we are talking – when you ask a question, within a second or two I am fluently replying with ideas that I have stored in one of the boxes in my brain.
“Similarly, we are doing the same thing in jazz, playing vocabulary and grammar.”
Linley also talks about the pent-up release in jazz, towards the end of your “sentences”.
“It is complicated, but if you are into it, you get it,” he says.
“If we all think about the very first time we sat at the wheel of a car and someone gives us the keys, there is an awful lot going on and eventually we practice driving and we end up going to different places and doing it regularly, you just internalise the motions and you respond automatically in the moment and that is exactly what is happening in jazz.”
But of course it is more than that. There is creativity and emotions and excitement and a special kind of camaraderie in jazz where you get the members of a band listening intensely to their colleagues as they play.
“These are people who have a predetermined desire to make music, to create passion and energy, to make culture, to generate love between the musicians and then to involve the audience in that space, that is where all the good things happen.”
Linley then, surprisingly perhaps, brings up the idea of politics as seen through the prism of a jazz musician.
“Nowadays, most people seem to be chasing victory rather than success and if we were to seek success rather than victory, that would most certainly be for the common good, something that everybody would benefit from.
“I think that someone should write a book where they look at what happens on stage at a jazz concert or in a recording studio because I think that cultural or societal structures would learn a lot from how we do it,” he says.
No-one in a jazz band is trying to be the winner, everyone in the group is just trying to play as best they can, wanting everyone else to play the best they can and together, coming up with something special and uplifting.
With a philosophy like that, it is no wonder Linley is in huge demand. He himself says he has played on at least 85 albums, not including other things like singles.
He has a number of jazz projects of his own up and running, he presents Jazz World on Radio Ulster and he teaches music at the University of Ulster at Magee in Derry, where he says the quality of musicianship among young jazz performers is going through the roof.
When I spoke to Linley on Monday, he was jet-lagged after playing a hugely successful concert in Moscow and was due to play in Japan but that was cancelled due to last week’s typhoon.
The next time he will have to get his passport stamped will be when he enters the People’s Republic of Cork for a festival he loves.
“Most of the best players in the world have performed at Cork, which is the longest-running jazz festival in Ireland, this year being its 42nd year but it also gives a place for Irish jazz musicians to play and develop.
“On the other side, you have the fans who
over the years have built up friendships going from gig to gig and from festival to festival. When it all comes together, it really is special,” he says.
You can hear Linley’s preview of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival at bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0009593