No musician more embodies the dramatic transformation in the British jazz scene over the past thirty years than saxophonist Courtney Pine.

A groundbreaking multi-instrumentalist; in the 80’s he was one of the first black British jazz artists to make a serious mark on the jazz scene, with his first album “Journey To The Urge Within” – and some 30 years on (now with an OBE and CBE for services to music), he continues to break new ground with a string of highly-acclaimed recordings and numerous prestigious industry awards. His album “Modern Day Jazz Stories” was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000 and he was the recipient of the Gold Badge award in 2002.

He has released 16 studio albums to date and continues to tour worldwide with his award-winning band, playing clubs, concert halls and festivals from Glastonbury to Fuji Rock, Montreux to Cape Town.

The team at mjf were privileged to sit down with Pine and learn a little more about his influences, career highlights (of which there are many) and most importantly, what Manchester audiences can expect from his gig with us this year at #mjf2024. 

1.) What we love about your work is that you seamlessly blend reggae & hip-hop with classical jazz. Could you speak a little about what lies behind this and influences you in this musical
choice? Seamlessly blending music from different parts of the world is very difficult but I found that the roots of all these different styles are African. My study of African music made it easier to blend rhythm, harmony and melodies and perform these style in a personally satisfying way.

2.) What can audiences look forward to from your performance at manchester jazz festival (mjf)? Are there any special arrangements, repertoire choices, collaborative teams etc.? And, what can fans expect as part of your 60th celebration release of ‘House of Legends’? I have found Manchester audiences to be very open and understanding of what I have been pursuing musically over the years. Improvisation is core to my performances and this project, ‘House of Legends’, reflects our cultures ever evolving diversity in sound.

3.) As one of the first black British jazz artists to make a serious mark on the genre following the release of your debut album Journey to the Urge Within, how do you feel things have changed for up-and-coming young black artists and musicians within the jazz world and has it changed for the better? I believe that the musical environment has changed and I do remember as a sixteen year old being advised not to pursue and career through the university route as black people like me were wasting time going in this direction. I believe from the evidence of the many positive diverse British jazz musicians that we have now that their experiences in higher learning has helped them, and us, as supporters of UK Jazz Music. 

4.) Reflecting back on your career to date, what have been some of your top highlights? I have far to many highlights and most of them are about achieving more than what was expected of me and my choice to perform improvised music. Meeting my heroes; Sonny Rollins, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Ernest Ranglin, Monty Alexander, Grace Jones, Manu Dibango, Donald Byrd and many others has enriched my quest for knowledge. Performing in Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil and Japan. Recording with artists as diverse as Bob Marley, Brian Ferry, Kate Bush, Paul Young, Soul II Soul and Alan Parker – the list can go on, but I do realise that signing to Island Records for 7 years and still making music to date is also a big highlight.

5.) Is it true you practice 8 hours a day, every day? No, the truth is that I don’t practise enough! 8 hours is not enough! Jazz music is such deep water and when I think about the humans that have created this legacy, there’s not enough hours in the day but still I try to research, apply and develop myself as a positive musician. 

6.) Here at mjf, we champion the very best homegrown, up and coming contemporary jazz artists. We’d love to know what you see are the current opportunities and challenges in the music industry for new artists? Do you have any good advice for the younger generation who are pursuing a career as a professional jazz musician?I believe that artists, especially, in the United Kingdom, have in this day and age the opportunity to reflect who we are and make a positive artistic statement without prejudice. Technology, our society blended together under the improvisers muse, can make for a very unique sound. I have found that when music reflects life, then life will reflect music.

Courtney Pine will close the manchester jazz festival, 2024, with a very special concert, marking his 60th birthday with a special edition of his award winning-project ‘House of Legends’. Band on the Wall, main stage, Sunday 26th May, 8PM, £28. Click the link here to purchase tickets. 


This year, we are proud to announce a very special collaboration with Matt & Phreds, as part of the festival. Fancy listening to one of the North West’s most revered 20 piece big bands, whilst tucking into a slice of pizza from a very special brunch menu? Well, now you can as the Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra’s Big Band Brunch comes to mjf2024! And there may even be chance for you to control the setlist… Read on to learn more about this large jazz ensemble, as we sat down with leader, Tom Sharp, for an exclusive interview.

Even more exciting: for this performance, TSJO invites you to play BIG BAND BINGO with them! Pick a number between 1 and 200 (yes 200) when you arrive, and it will be entered into a draw which aligns that number with a song the band can play. That means YOU get the chance to influence a portion of the band’s setlist; and there’s some pretty fun tunes in that list of 200…

1.) You started life as a rehearsal big band – what does that mean and how did the band transform into one of West Yorkshire’s most in-demand jazz ensembles? 

When I moved to Yorkshire in 2012, it struck me instantly that the students at the Leeds Conservatoire (then the College of Music), University, and other establishments, had ample opportunity to practise the art of big band playing while they were within education, but there was nothing for them as soon as they were ejected out of the system, only a handful of professional-level jazz orchestras whose members were holding onto their seats until they were fired or died. I don’t know why I felt like I should be the person to provide such an opportunity – perhaps coming from the Midlands where such institutions exist more readily and having experience of them, or simply because I had a drive to enlarge my own musical circles – but I invited the few players I knew, they invited the players they knew, and fairly swiftly we had a group of us meeting fortnightly with the sole aim of challenging ourselves with increasingly difficult repertoire. It was baffling to me at the time, as it still is now, why people kept on turning up, but they did, and we found ourselves after a couple of years in command of a pad of tunes that were picked almost because of their esotericism. As to being in-demand, it wasn’t long after that that people began to want to hear them played. Fundamentally, when you set a group up with no intention of it ever performing, the sole focus becomes on the quality of the music, rather than anything else, and, in a somewhat backwards way, this is the group that people want to hear play more than any other!

2.) Any highlights from this past year touring together? 

After recording our upcoming album ‘Daybreak Express’, which functions somewhat as a celebration of the type of music in which the ensemble has specialised for its first decade, we’ve taken some time to focus on some lesser known bodies of work, and engrossing ourselves in the soundworld of a particular composer or arranger for half a year or so. My highlight of the last year was almost certainly performing Johnny Richards’ epic Cuban Fire Suite in its entirety (which is as sweaty as it sounds) replete with bass saxophone, tuba and auxiliary percussion on the hottest day of the year last summer to close an outdoor festival in Leeds.

3.) We know that your band seamlessly blends big band repertoire of the 20th century alongside arrangements from members of the orchestra. Could you tell us what inspires you so much about these classics 

When most people think of big band ‘classics’, their minds drift to Ellington and Basie in the thirties and forties. Personally, the canon on which I was brought up was a slightly later school of arrangers like Bill Holman, Bob Florence and Rob McConnell. These charts all swing, hit hard and fast, and are what the majority of the players in the band would term ‘a roast’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting chops on a pedestal, far from it, but very often the difficulty of these arrangements dissuades most ensembles from bothering with them, so it’s a delight to be able to give them some air time.

4.) And what can audiences expect from those newer arrangements of yours 

We’re blessed to count amongst our personnel past and present some incredibly gifted arrangers. Again, the way the band was formed has something to do with this – when you have an ensemble who meet religiously to do nothing other than rehearse, it provides a perfect opportunity for people not only to workshop large ensemble ideas in the flesh, but also to know exactly for whom they are writing, as opposed to perhaps writing a piece for an ensemble that meets less frequently, or is put together for a specific concert. The outcome of this is that the arrangements can be carefully and especially prepared for the group, and can be workshopped over a longer period. And of course, our members have changed over time – but this just makes the development of these charts all the more fun as time goes on.

5.) What is the best part of leading/playing in such a big band?  

When the band began, as a result of being short of players, and of wanting to direct the sound most easily from within the ensemble, I was playing lead trumpet, and couldn’t take the opportunity to direct the group from without. Consequently (and again, because the majority of our experience is rehearsing in a square where we can all hear one another, rather than on a bandstand where you might all be able to follow a conductor), and perhaps in part because of the fast and hard-swinging repertoire we began life playing, one of our core musical priorities was on developing a good sense of time and ensemble expression without the need to have someone waving their arms. The sense of ownership of the sound that every individual player needs to take, because of this, is enormous, and I am incredibly grateful to all the players in every section who willingly burden themselves with this mantle. As the band grew, I was able to take more of a back seat from playing, which only led me to discover my favourite thing about leading this band – it directs itself! Medical mishaps meant I was unable to be present at the first day of recording our most recent album, but I didn’t even need to be. I have immense confidence and respect for each individual player to take care of themselves, their section, and the sound of the group as a whole – and that very firmly constitutes the ethos of the group.

6.) And, finally, can you give a short phrase to sum up what our audiences might expect from your Matt & Phreds Big Band Brunch featuring, ‘The Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra

Big. Band. Bingo: YOU CHOOSE THE SETLIST (watch and learn…)

The Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra will play Matt & Phreds as part of their Big Band Brunch, Sunday 19th May, 12-3PM. Tickets can be found here. Click here to view the rest of our lineup for the festival.

To mark International Women’s Day this year, we sat down with two established and widely respected composer-musicians from the mjf2024 programme, Nikki Iles and Carole Nelson, to celebrate their biggest achievements in the sector and, most vitally, to discuss what it means to them, to be a woman in jazz today. The two also took a moment to share their wisdom obtained from a lengthy and varied career. 

As the UK’s first festival signatory to Keychange, mjf has a long history of gender balance and representation throughout its work: not just in each festival line-up, but in our talent programmes, teams, board, and in our approach to making the jazz sector a fairer place to work and enjoy music. We are proud to programme some of the best contemporary femaleidentifying stars spanning all ages across the jazz industry. View our full lineup here. 

Carole Nelson Trio  

Pianist, Carole Nelson “a rare and undervalued talent” (The Irish Times) will take to the stage at mjf to present her trio’s latest work, ‘The Last Song’. Commissioned by the BAN BAM scheme in Dublin (a development opportunity for female and gender-minority artists from across Ireland),. Nelson and her trio will present the story of the Hawiian Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird, which became extinct in the 1980s.  

Throughout Nelson’s work, she strikes a balance between composed and improvised pieces. When asked about her background, upbringing and musical influences, Nelson noted I grew up in South London and learned piano as a child. I kept up classical music up to the ARCM Performers Diploma but was always more interested in playing by ear, improvising and being creative. In my early 20s I started playing in bands and doing gigs. Back in the late 70s it was a great time for emerging women musicians, and we formed all-female groups and supported each other.  I made a decision to be a musician and do whatever it took to keep body and soul together. So, as well as composing and songwriting, I played for children’s dance classes – my first free improvisations!” 

After a debut performance at the 2015 Dublin Piano Trio Festival, Nelson and her Trio recorded their first album ‘One Day in Winter’, inspired by the South Carlow landscape of Nelson’s home. Her proudest achievement, in jazz? Nelson naturally affirmed It is to have found my own voice as a pianist and composer with the Carole Nelson Trio. We have recorded three albums, with another on the way this year – all since I entered my sixties. In older age I finally found a confidence and ease in myself in performance. I’m also very proud of having a choral piece I wrote included in a publication of women choral composers from the Baroque to the present day. My aim now is to continue creating and performing as long as I can!” 

And, when asked, if she felt there had been a positive change in opportunity for and attitude towards women in the music industry, Nelson went on to divulge that “I do think there is change in the air for women… It hasn’t been easy for women to participate fully for a great number of reasons. I’ll single out the boy’s club atmosphere…I’ve been the only woman in so many bands over the years. There are so many initiatives now to support women and girls in music, far more scrutiny of festival programming, radio air play and any other musical territory where women have long been underrepresented. Initiatives like the Ban Bam award for women jazz composers is a huge support and I hope encouragement for aspiring female creatives.” 

Nikki Iles  

After her enchanting performance with Stan Sulzmann at St Ann’s Church last year, we’re delighted to welcome Nikki Iles back to mjf2024, where she will take the stage, with her 20+ piece orchestra at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). Gathering commissions from over the years, new orchestrations of her own small band tunes and new compositions, the depth and range of her exhilarating writing and arranging will illustrate Iles’ seasoned hand and distinctive voice. 

Much like Nelson, Iles too has always been drawn to the improvised world of jazz, noting that what excites her most about the genre is, The spontaneous nature of improvisation… composition in the moment. Being in the middle of a great feeling of a groove and generating that energy and feeling with others also excites me. I also love the danger of improvisation and the empathy and trust between musicians whilst speaking the same language, musically.” 

When asked of the change in attitudes towards females in the music industry, Iles, confirmed that she felt “Women still remain underrepresented in jazz performance and education and have struggled to get ahead .”  

Hopeful for the future, she went on to say: “This is not because of a lack of female talent. As long as there has been a jazz scene, there have been women trailblazers helping to set the standard for great jazz musicianship. Now, a new generation of jazz teachers are facilitating a space that creates more enthusiasm and encouragement between girls trying to pursue jazz and make it an equal opportunity art form – and they’re gaining ground. I think more opportunities have definitely opened up for women, now that organisations are more accountable and must book a broader profile of artists, which is a good thing. Girls need to see other girls/women succeed in order to envision themselves doing what they want to do.” 

Iles’ has cited her greatest jazz achievement as a dream come true” artist residency with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg that opened up “so many more avenues” for her to tour in Europe. She remarked that it was “A real rollercoaster for me, but so worth it when I finally got to the studio and the music came to life.” She now hopes to encourage the next generation of young female musicians,and left us with a final piece of advice for aspiring artists: If you stay consistently curious and open-minded about all kinds of music and keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities, you’ll grow as a musician your entire life. Practice hard and be great at your instrument. Music has no gender.” 

The Carole Nelson Trio will play the Band on the Wall Bar Stage on Sunday 26 May (free admission, no ticket required) and the Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra will play the RNCM Theatre on Saturday 18 May, 8PM (£22). Tickets and further information about the full mjf lineup can be found here. 

We are back! #mjf2024 is taking shape with our full line-up announced this morning and on sale via Eventbrite. 

And this years line-up continually strives to push boundaries and blur lines between jazz and the wider musical scene. As always, we are proud to welcome the best UK jazz artists (Laura Misch, Laura Jurd’s Big Friendly Band, Nubiyan Twist) and – for the first time since 2019 we are also delighted to present a wealth of international artists (Daniel Erdmann’s Thérapie de Couple, Sarāb, D’Accord!).  And of course we feature some of greatest jazz artists (Courtney Pine, Julian Joseph, John Surman: Words Unspoken). Learn more below and browse our full line-up here. 

Opening Weekender: mjf@First Street  

Our free opening weekender celebrates the breadth and individuality of our home-grown scene: bands from, or with a strong connection to, the north. It’s also about shining the spotlight on artists who’ve journeyed through some of our talent development programmes in recent years.  

As well as some of the north’s leading artists gracing our Main Stage (Conor Michael & The Greenskeepers, Secret Night Gang) on Friday and Saturday, you can check out some of the northern bands from our Soundcheck and hothouse artist development programmes on the Ask Garden Stage (Floorkin, Mo.e, Hoda Jahanpour & Pedraum Agahi). Accomplished performers in more intimate settings adorn the Home Stage (Archipelago, Claire Victoria Roberts) throughout each day.  

On Sunday we partner with Jazz North for the return of the Northern Line showcase: on the Main Stage, we’ll showcase five acts selected by industry experts to be elected onto the 2024 artist roster.  

Matt & Phred’s   

Matt & Phred’s at Manchester Jazz Festival 2024 does what Matt & Phred’s does best; throw a brilliant late night jazz party. Featuring sultry sounds to make any dancefloor irresistible (The Vinyl Steppers, Gypsies of Bohemia) and of course, there’s an appearance from at least one brass band (Band Pres Llareggub Brass Band). Special mention has to go to the The Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra – M&P’s Big Band Brunch. Enjoy a 20-piece line up performing classic Big Band Jazz of the 20th Century, whilst enjoying a special brunch pizza menu!.   

St Ann’s Church  

A firm favourite venue for mjf regulars, at St Ann’s, we welcome a selection of the UK’s most respected and cherished established players in intimate acoustic performances (Trish Clowes & Ross Stanley) that bring you close to the music. Artistry, expertise and virtuosity, set in an oasis of calm in the bustling city centre.  

Closing weekend at Band on the Wall  

The very best in energetic, contemporary jazz talent (Courtney Pine, Laura Misch, Laura Jurd’s Big Friendly Band) – from legends to fast-rising names to watch all in a classic club setting. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Friday night at Band on the Wall if we didn’t have a Nu Gunea x Mr Scruff take over x Me Gusta! 

And there’s yet more to discover here.  

We can’t wait to welcome you! 

First time attending a jazz gig? – this handy article will let you know what all the fuss is about! 

We are currently recruiting for the role of Fundraising & Partnership Manager at mjf. mjf is Manchester’s longest-running music festival and a cherished part of the local and international jazz landscape. Here at the festival, we operate a small core team; the role of Fundraising & Partnerships Manager is a permanent part-time post within mjf […]

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We are currently recruiting for the role of Operations & Festival Administrator at mjf. mjf is Manchester’s longest-running music festival and a cherished part of the local and international jazz landscape. Here at the festival, we operate a small core team; the role of Operations and Festival Administrator works with all roles across the entire […]

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With her second single (G.O.T.Y.O.U) from her highly anticipated debut album ‘Power Out’ released only yesterday and a tour underway, we sat down with former hothouse artist, Sarah Heneghan, to talk all things solo drumming, electronics and light shows. 1.) ‘Power Out’; a ‘solo show of live drums, electronics, and lights.’ Please tell our audience […]

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Click the link here to apply! Deadline 30th October, 10 am. mjf was the first festival to pioneer an open artists’ submission system and, with over 30% of our programming coming from these submissions each year, it still very much informs our work today. As a  contemporary jazz festival, we champion and prioritise: artists playing […]

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The hunt for Manchester’s best street pianist is over as we have announced our winner of the mjf 2023 piano trail! Delivered in partnership with both Yamaha and Forsyth the trail saw 13 pianos dotted around the city over the month of May to be enjoyed by the community. And we are delighted to introduce […]

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For those of you that are new to mjf and our talent development programmes we have three stands and are looking for artists at all stages of their careers and musical journey to apply. Soundcheck  mjf soundcheck is for musicians who want space to try out new things and be supported to grow creatively. The […]

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