Jazz Central Festival is set to take place at 1000 Trades in Birmingham from 8 to 10 September 2023. This event showcases five commissioned projects, each led by a young, Birmingham-based musician and mentored by an established artist during the writing and rehearsal process.
Jazz Midlands, a consortium of jazz promoters established by Birmingham Jazz, has created a Mentoring Scheme called Jazz Central. It aims to help recent graduates from tertiary level jazz courses transition into the professional world. The scheme provides support to young musicians by commissioning them to write a set of music and offering mentorship from an established musician.
The Jazz Central Mentoring Scheme addresses the challenges faced by jazz students after graduation. While studying, students have plenty of performance opportunities in a close-knit community. However, after graduation, gigs can become scarce and many musicians turn to teaching, leaving little time for their creative pursuits.
The five commissioned projects were premiered in Birmingham during the weekend of September 8-10, and each will also be performed at a club within the Jazz Midlands network.
Shiv Singh – ‘Loophole’ – with Soweto Kinch
Bass player Shivraj Singh collaborated with Soweto Kinch on his project, presenting a set that alternated between intriguing, angular compositions and softer pieces featuring the EWI (electronic wind instrument). The band’s performance showcased great interaction between Soweto and guitarist Steve Saunders, while maintaining a strong pulse from Shivraj and drummer Luke D’Aurelio.
Lucy Mellenfield – ‘Songs of the Understory’ – with Neil Yates
Vocalist Lucy Mellenfield partnered with trumpeter Neil Yates on Songs of the Understory, a collection of original songs that beautifully fused jazz and folk elements. The gentle, occasionally melancholy atmosphere was enhanced by contributions from Yates on trumpet, flugelhorn, and the bodhran, along with captivating guitar lines from Tom Henry.
James Owston – ‘Songs from An Imaginary Childhood’ – with Trish Clowes
Bass player James Owston worked with saxophonist/composer Trish Clowes to create a set of compositions based on childhood memories. As a versatile performer, Owston’s music included a variety of styles, from free jazz to straightahead. The band, featuring Clowes and pianist Nick Manz, provided strong rhythmic support and impressive solos.
Liam Brennan’s – ‘Collidescope’ with Laura Jurd
Saxophonist Liam Brennan was mentored by Laura Jurd and developed new compositions for his Collidoscope group. The band, which has been together for some time, featured James Borland on trumpet, Tommy Fuller on bass, and Kai Chareunsy on drums. The front line’s unique textures and seamless transitions between writing and improvised solos made for an engaging set.
Dan Lockheart – ‘Roots to Leaves’ with Alex Hitchcock
Saxophonist Dan Lockheart, mentored by fellow saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, led a group that included Torin Davies on guitar, Josh Vadiveloo on double bass, and Jim Bashford on drums. Their set, titled Roots to Leaves, was based on the theme of trees, featuring poems that served as inspiration for the compositions. The success of the performance was built on the solos from Lockheart and Hitchcock and the interaction between the spoken word and the instrumental music.
Jazz Central is an essential project overseen by bass player and tutor Arnie Somogyi, who teaches jazz at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Birmingham Jazz has successfully secured a second grant, allowing the project to continue next year.