James Blunt headlines this year's jazz festival. Time Out takes a peek...
Sarah Mitchell 6pm-7pm, Cadillac Stage Mitchell honed her craft on cruise ships, toured with the UK with the show, Mad About The Musicals, and worked with a pop/soul covers band. She has been working on an original jazz album over the past year. Peter Cincotti 7:30pm-8:30pm, Network Jazz Garden After hitting the Billboard charts in 2003, the New York Times labelled Cincott (inset right), ‘one of the most promising singer/pianists of the next generation’. New album, East Of Angel Town, was produced by 14-time Grammy Award winner David Foster. Critic’s choice: ‘Mmmm, this track sounds a bit like Elton John to me, though I hear he’s had some success in the charts jazz charts. Listen to this song – is that Elton or what?’
Spyro Gyra 9pm-10pm, Cadillac Stage Founded in 1974, Spyro Gyra combine R&B, pop and Caribbean music with jazz. Live performances emphasise the danceable melodies rather than intricate improvisations. One of the most popular artists in contemporary jazz during the ’80s, they had a top 40 hit with ‘Morning Dance’. Critic’s choice: ‘I know these guys well. They’ve toured continuously for 30 years and were playing smooth jazz before the term was invented. They mostly do dance grooves first and improvisation second, but that’s not to say I don’t like it. I always thought Jay Beckenstein was a fine alto sax player.’
James Blunt 10.30pm-12am, Skywards Stage James ‘Beautiful’ Blunt (pictured left) has absolutely no jazz credentials, but having sold 11 million CDs in the last three years, he’ll no doubt not give two hoots. Critic’s choice: [Listening to Blunt’s ‘1973’] ‘It certainly sounds like 1973 – a straight beat, slick production and a high-pitched voice with a slightly grainy sound. Maybe he’s doing that on purpose. His voice is nice – very derivative of that era, but then it’s difficult to do something new with that sound. It’s safe I guess.’
What does your name mean? Not much! Thirty-five years ago we were playing a nightly jazz jam in little bar in Buffalo, New York. We weren’t even a band at that point. But the owner wanted to write something outside, other-wise he was going to fire us. So I said Spyro Gyra as a joke – it’s actually a pretty algae I studied in college. They liked it, misspelt it – and it stuck! And then we had people expecting us to play Greek music!
Are you jazz, then? It’s so difficult to pigeonhole us, but fundamentally we use jazz improv. The language we use is jazz.
What can we expect? Fun and a large repertoire!
Network Jazz Garden Programme
Located in a smaller section of the Media City Amphitheatre, the area accommodates up to 1,200 guests and features three performances per night from February 18 (so you’ve missed a few) to 24. A local band will kick things off every night from 8pm, and then ‘Sounds from Armenia’ – a host of Armenian performers and groups – will play on through till 12am. And the best bit? It’s free. To get your pass, register online at www.dubaijazzfest.com; see www.timeoutdubai.com for the full line-up.
Kelly Dickson 6pm-7pm, Cadillac Stage Described by Jamie Cullum as ‘a mature voice with very subtle power that creeps up on you’. Dickinson (pictued below) has released two jazz albums, toured with Paul Weller’s drummer’s band, is a resident singer at London’s jazz haven, Ronnie Scott’s, and is currently recording a more contemporary album.
Jonathan Butler 7:30pm-8:30pm, Skywards Stage South African-born Butler’s first single became the first song by a black artist to be played by white radio stations. A self-titled debut album received a Grammy nomination for the pop hit ‘Lies’, and a slew of other awards and diverse albums have followed.
Dave Koz 9pm-10pm, Cadillac Stage A platinum-selling artist and a six-time Grammy nominee, this year David Koz (pictured top right) is even set to get a sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. He has played with the likes of Ray Charles, Celine Dion, U2, and Rod Stewart and has had a string of jazz hits over a 20-year career. Critic’s choice: ‘My memories of Dave Koz are that he is more of a smooth jazz saxophonist – a style established by people like Grover Washington Jr and made most famous by Kenny G. Do I hate Kenny G? No, it’s very professional and accessible, but there’s just not a lot of substance for me. I hate to slam these people though, as they set up a real nice dance groove.’
John Legend 11pm-12am, Skywards Stage A child prodigy, John Stephens (pictured left) began singing gospel and playing piano at the age of five. He performed on Lauryn Hill’s ‘Everything Is Everything’ in 1998 before he’d even hit 20 and became an in-demand session musician, playing and writing for the likes of Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West, before changing his name and writing ‘Ordinary People’ in 2004. Critic’s choice: ‘I’d rather say it’s not my kind of music. It sounds very bubble gummy to me, with a really simple background. You shouldn’t be asking a jazz person what he thinks of that. This guy is deeply in to pop music. Mind you, look at this – 50 million hits on MySpace. Who I am to argue with that?’
Kaz Simmons 6pm-7pm, Cadillac Stage Simmons (pictured above) made studied classical guitar and jazz performance in London. She performs in venues around the UK and is now composing, blending the Spanish classical guitar music of her youth with Brazilian, pop and jazz.
Lizz Wright 7.30pm-8.30pm, Skywards Stage Growing up as the daughter of a minister and gospel singer, Wright (pictured right) began playing and singing in church. Her 2003 debut Salt reached the number-two slot on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart, with critics comparing her to legendary singers Nina Simone and Billie Holliday.
Mike Stern 9pm-10pm, Cadillac Stage Five-time Grammy nominee Mike Stern has established himself as one of the premier jazz and jazz-fusion guitarists and composers of his generation. He has collaborated with most of the jazz greats of the last 20 years, and played a key role in Miles Davies’ celebrated comeback band of 1981. Critic’s choice: ‘Stern is easily the biggest name on the bill in jazz terms. Playing with Miles Davis back in the ’80s was a big deal, but he was already pretty well established. He has played with a lot of great jazz and fusion players over the years and is still right up there witht the best.’
Incognito 10:30pm-12am, Skywards Stage An acid jazz project with deep roots in the 1970s jazz/funk/ fusion world, Incognito’s hits include a jaunty cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ while third album, Positivity, has been the group’s most successful, with much attention across the UK and Europe. Critic’s choice: ‘I’m listening to them now. This is music that would work fantastically in a dance club I imagine. If people are sitting down in chairs watching it, then that would be a little bit strange. But if people are having a picnic with dancing then, hey, maybe that would be just fine.’
Barry Kernfeld is a freelance jazz writer and saxophonist who lives and works in Pennsylvania. He is author and editor of several books including What To Listen For In Jazz, The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz, and The Story Of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs To Musicians, all available from www.amazon.com
‘The biggest jazz name on the bill’ What has been the highlight of your career? It’s all been fun. Playing with Miles [Davies], Jaco, Michael Brecker. I’ve been fortunate to play with a number of great musicians.
Has there ever been a stage where you have been disillusioned with playing? Sure, that happens from time to time. You just fight through it and keep coming back.
Why do you think jazz has always had a certain cache without ever properly breaking into the mainstream? I don’t know and I don’t care. I just love the music.
What can the audience expect to hear? A great band that always plays their hearts out. I am fortunate to have Bob Franceschini on sax, Tom Kennedy on bass and Lionel Cordew on drums. These guys are all incredible players and I hope that everyone enjoys the show.
‘We may have our heads on crooked if we think of this as a jazz festival – it’s instrumental and vocal popular music with jazz on the side. But then most of the major jazz festivals have incorporated blues and pop as because that’s what they have to do to survive. Apart from the swing era, jazz has only ever sporadically been in the mainstream of popular culture, even though it is popular as an idea. Be careful, too, of labels. Quincy Jones played with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Snoop Dog and 50 Cent. Does that mean he is a rapper or a jazz musician? Most of the really fine musicians are in a lot of different places at once and you can’t confuse the name with the style. That’s an evasive answer, we know, but we do it on purpose.’
Need to know
The Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival 2009 main event runs from Feb 25-27 at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Tickets cost Dhs295 for a one night pass and Dhs750 for a three-day pass. Available from Chillout productions on 04 391 1196, Virgin Megastore, Hallmark, Spinneys and at www.boxofficeme.com pass. Visit www.dubaijazzfest.com