We are proud to announce that manchester jazz festival has signed up to Black Lives in Music’s Charter as one of the founding members.

Black Lives in Music – or BLiM – supports the music community to act on and achieve diversity and inclusion so we can move towards a truly representative music industry.

Recognising poor access to quality music education for those of colour, a lack of diversity in senior leadership positions and in fact a lack of overall data to throw light on the full scale of these issues, BLiM works to provide better professional development opportunities and to help realise equality for black professionals in all areas of the UK music industry. They also support organisations to challenge racism and discrimination and promote greater well-being in black musicians.

At manchester jazz festival we believe in promoting diversity and equality in all areas of our work, but we recognise this is ongoing and there is always more to be done.

mjf Artistic Director Steve Mead said: “mjf is committed to ensuring that the people with whom we work (on-stage and off-stage), the audiences we serve, and the teams behind the scenes genuinely reflect the population of our catchment area: the north of England.

“We’re proud to be one of the founding partners of Black Lives in Music. We’re working together to support mjf’s development and championing of culturally diverse work, artists and partnerships.

“Partnering with BLiM will help us strengthen our reach to diverse artists; eliminate barriers in our recruitment processes; ensure our communications speak to a diverse range of people; and refine our talent development offer to reach an even wider range of diverse new artists.

“We aspire to ensure that our work reflects not only the heritage of jazz, but the people with whom we all live.”

This week, BLiM launched a survey and are looking for responses from Black musicians and professionals. There is currently no data on Black musicians in the UK. Opportunity and access has been denied to many Black creatives in the industry, and with no formal platform to have a voice, many have gone unheard.

BLiM want to change this, and are looking for the experiences of Black musicians.

You can fill in the survey here.

Click here for more information on equality, diversity and inclusion at mjf.

We’re thrilled to announce the creation of five pioneering new works as part of the mjf originals commissioning scheme.

Ranging from AI-generated musicians and historical commemorations to immersive drum performances and dirty cinematic electronica, the pieces will be created and shared with audiences over the coming year.

The suite of five works sets a new record for the number of commissions awarded to artists in any one year by mjf, with just one or two mjf originals piece normally being created.

The 2021 mjf originals commissions are:


Meet Me in the Real by Dirty Freud. The unruly prince of electronica, Ninja Tune fave and Glastonbury electronic artist brings together some cutting-edge improvisers and soulful vocalists for a set of anything-goes collaborations, mashing up their jazz lines with infectious grooves, animations and his own personal style of dirty cinematic electronica.

Gandering by Mark Hanslip. A radical digital audio-visual work in the form of miniatures fusing five solo improvisations from fellow musicians with AI-generated imagery that itself responds in real time to the music being created. Borne out of the surreal dystopia of lockdown and responding to the barriers to physical and musical interaction, the resulting pieces will be a fitting reflection of our recent collective experience, as well as a ground-breaking methodology for creating new work.

Spaces by Night Porter. Led by Leeds saxophonist/composer Emma Johnson and singer/composer Nishla Smith, Night Porter will create four melodic, evocative and experiential songs tethered to specific types of space: trees, water, garden and buildings.
Audiences will be encouraged to visit such spaces near to them and to listen to the pieces in the environments for which they were intended, creating a connected yet remote listening experience that each audience member can make their own.

Elegy for the Departed: Remembering Tulsa 1921 by Alexander Douglas and Hymnos. An instrumental suite that marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Through spoken word from an informed historical perspective, archive footage and an original score for chamber jazz ensemble Hymnos, this intimate work offers an opportunity for audiences from Britain and beyond to discover the haunting, disturbing story of what happened to the Greenwood neighbourhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago, offering a chilling reminder that the triggers behind today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement have been present for generations.

Power Out by Sarah Heneghan. An immersive, powerful duet between solo drummer Sarah Heneghan and contemporary dancer Megan Hatto, in which Sarah’s EDM-inspired Sheffield beats explode with dynamic lighting design, improvisation and movement into a full-length show that was originally evolved through the mjf hothouse talent development programme.

The mjf originals commissioning scheme supports northern artists to create jazz-related new music. Since the very first commission in 2000, mjf originals has produced 25 major works, each premiered at the annual manchester jazz festival.

mjf Artistic Director Steve Mead said: “For artists and our audiences, the mjf originals commission is a highlight of the annual festival.

“This year, we’re taking a new approach to tackle the challenges of creating new work in unpredictable times. Our values for the scheme are still the same: artist-led, high-quality, ground-breaking, northern-focussed, and championing artists from all backgrounds. But in a time when gathering large forces of musicians and audiences in a physical space is unpredictable, we still want to provide our cherished platform for artists to innovate new creations for our festival audiences.

“That’s why we’ve awarded five commissions to artists working in a range of mediums that can be shared and experienced by audiences throughout the year on various digital platforms.

“We’ll have news on this year’s live mjf activity soon, but meanwhile, we’re proud to announce these five challenging, surprising and diverse stand-alone new pieces from our 2021 mjf originals artists.”

At manchester jazz festival, we have a long history of championing a gender balanced scene across the music industry, from supporting new and established female-identifying artists to the make-up of our staff teams and crew.

In 2018 we became the first UK jazz festival to join the Keychange initiative, pledging to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in our festival programmes by 2022. It’s worth noting that we were already achieving this, so we were proud to support Keychange’s global mission. In fact, the very first festival line-up in 1996 boasted a 60% Keychange achievement.

Our annual festival continues to champion female and female-identifying artists, and our talent development schemes mjf hothouse and the newly-launched Soundcheck go further, by tackling head on the barriers to music-making, offering bespoke support and opportunity for those under-represented in the jazz sector.

Esther Swift’s Light Gatherer

Some ground-breaking new works led by female artists have been realised through the mjf originals commissioning programme. The most recent include Esther Swift’s Light Gatherer in 2018, inspired by the works of Carol Anne Duffy, the weird and wonderful video and soundscape pieces in Maja Bugge’s Northern in 2019, and Nani Noam Vazana, who worked with Abel Selaocoe in 2019 to create Both Sides of Africa.

Watch out for more news on our 2021 commissions very soon that continue to champion diverse talent from across the north.

Whilst it’s tempting to continue blowing our own trumpets (excuse the pun), it’s so important to recognise that more work needs to be done to achieve gender equality across the music industry.

mjf’s staff team is 50/50 gender balanced, our board sits at 58% female and our team of volunteers is always equally split.

A recent report by Dr Sarah Raine in partnership with Cheltenham Jazz Festival details frequent gender discrimination, direct sexual harassment and barriers in education still experienced by female musicians.

Dr Kirsty Fairclough, manchester jazz festival’s chair of the board of trustees, said: “We have always adopted a ‘show, don’t tell’ attitude in our approach to gender diversity in the hope that the gender balance in our programming, talent development schemes, staff teams and wider work will set good examples.
“However, we recognise there is always more work to be done and we renew our pledge to challenge gender imbalance, discrimination or any barriers to opportunities wherever we see them.”

We’ll be sharing news about the incredible women we work with all this week. Join in on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.