So, perhaps you’re new to Jazz and maybe you’re wondering…what on Earth ALL the hype is about? Maybe all these talks of jams, jazz standards and improvisations have got you in a pickle? Or maybe you’d never ever consider sticking on a jazz record, let alone attending a concert or a 10 day festival? Whichever it is, you’ve come to the right place. We think jazz is great (yes, of course we’re biased!) and by the end of this quick read, we hope that you’ll also agree! So grab a cuppa and a couple of biscuits, settle in and be prepared to be immersed in all things jazz…

History of Jazz 

Jazz originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its roots can actually be traced back as far as the 1820s, when, in Congo Square, communities would gather and play music. This tradition brought together people from many different countries, blended together each nation’s unique sound and cemented New Orleans as the home of jazz.

Interested in learning more? We’d recommend checking out this handy article.

Is it all about improvisation?

Improvisation is absolutely one of the defining characteristics of jazz. Many artists have the impressive ability to compose on the spot and most jazz singers are able to improvise a new melody over chord changes (typically known as scat singing). However, no… it’s not all about improvisation and if you prefer a more structured performance, most gigs you come to see at mjf will have had months of rehearsals and planning. Keen to see improv in action – check out this performance from jazz sax player and rapper Soweto Kinch…

You had me at Standards 

A ‘standard’ simply means a composition or piece of music that is used repeatedly in different songs. It acts as the basis or bare bones of many different jazz arrangements… and hip-hop tracks! No, that’s not a typo – many rap artists and producers have for many years now being taking jazz samples and rapping over them. Just like when Jay-Z sampled If I were a Bell in Picasso Baby or Kendrick Lamar took The Spinning Wheel by The Impressions for his song For Free? (Interlude). And it works the other way around too: hip-hop culture has also had an influence on modern jazz itself, watch here to find out more. Here’s a video by Robert Glasper explaining how jazz is the mother of hip-hop:

What can I expect from a Jam? 

A jam is simply lots of musicians coming together to make music or… to ‘jam’. There’s usually a house band that will begin the night by playing one set together. They will then swap out with audience members keen to get involved. It’s essentially the open mic of jazz land. And just as most open mic’s work, you have to sign up with the host, on arrival, if you want to play, so there’ll be no nasty surprises if you just want to come along and enjoy these new musical collaborations unfolding in front of your very eyes.

Fun Fact; the jam at Cully Jazz Festival, Switzerland, takes place in their tiny Cavour or wine cellar. Most festival go-ers end their night by squeezing into the packed out room with the jam starting at 9pm and lasting until as early as 4am!

Do I have to sit? 

In short, no. Whilst some of our gigs will have seating, if getting up and dancing is more you’re vibe then you’re in luck as most actually require you to be up on your feet and grooving along. Want to know what a night in a jazz club is like, check out the New York Brass Band in town at Matt & Phreds. Recognise the song?

Pixar loves jazz

It’s true! They created a whole movie centred on the lead character’s big dreams of performing jazz live on stage. Of course, we’re talking about the Academy award winning Soul with music composed by jazz artist, Jon Batiste. When talking about the impact  the movie has had on the jazz community, here’s what he had to say:

“I was almost in tears, because you see your essence and you think: Wow, this is the first Black Pixar lead and we’re putting jazz culture out there in this massive way.”

However, Pixar have been obsessed with jazz for quite some time now, featuring the genre in many of their film scores. Why not put this playlist on as you finish reading our article?

Pepsi Jazz? 

It’s no secret advertisers have being using jazz for years to help boost their revenue but we think the best of all has to be when Pepsi introduced… PEPSI JAZZ, a whole new flavour dedicated to our genre. Need we say anymore?

What does Jazz sound like? 

We honestly wouldn’t know how to begin to answer that; as you’ve seen it can sound like Pixar or a Pepsi Cola ad! Last year our festival saw many different and most importantly contemporary artists take to the stage. Sounds ranged from the electronic afro-funk band Ibibio Sound Machine, to Rosie Frater- Taylor; an artist who skilfully blends rock, alt pop, neo soul, new-school jazz and folk. We saw the soulful Mica Millar take to the stage and the legendary funk and jazz artists; the Hot 8 Brass Band, kick off our Saturday night in style.

Jazz can be this:

And it can also be this:

Or this:

And even this:

But where do I start? 

Don’t worry…we’ve got you covered. Listen to our top picks from last years festival and discover your new favourite artists.

Hooked on a feeling? Could it be Jazz? 

manchester jazz festival will return from the 17 – 26 May 2024. Follow our socials and sign up to our newsletter to be the first to hear about our line-up, tickets and more. See you there!