He may look like a cross between James Blunt and Chris Martin, but James Morrison sounds closer to the soulful vocals of Al Green and Otis Redding – a sound that is, he claims, due to a severe bout of whooping cough suffered as a baby. Suffering is at the heart of the James Morrison story: alcoholic father, neglectful mother, personal loss and occasional bouts of poverty have acted as both inspiration for his music and a handy way to distance himself from the upper-middle-class likes of Martin and Blunt.
Even his introduction to the world of professional music came with an almost Dickensian reversal of fortunes, as he explained to The Times last year. ‘I met [friend and guitarist] Kev Andrews at an open-mic session at a pub in Derby [in the UK]. He offered to put some demos together for me, but I got a job cleaning vans.
A year later I was fired. I was walking down the street wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life when I bumped into him and he offered again. So that was how it all started: by pure luck.’ Morrison’s luck has held out over two top-selling albums that combine his soulful vocals with radio-friendly soft-rock tunes. His headline position at a jazz event may seem odd, but is pretty much in keeping with previous editions – like last year’s appearance by none other than, yes, pop-rock musician James Blunt.
James Morrison plays the Skywards Stage on February 19 at 10.30pm.
The Brand New Heavies
This four-strong band of London-based acid-jazz pioneers have flirted with European charts for the best part of 20 years now, exploring and blurring the borders of genre. They started out as an instrumental acid-jazz group in the late ’80s, spreading into vocal work with singer N’Dea Davenport and mashing in hip-hop for good measure with their critically celebrated 1992 album Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol 1, which included performances by The Pharcyde and Gang Starr. With two new albums out this year, including a follow-up to Heavy Rhyme Experience, expect some tasty new tracks.
The Brand New Heavies play the Skywards Stage on February 17 at 10.30pm.
Has there ever been a more appropriate name than ‘David Gray’? (Apart from ‘David Beige’, perhaps…) Then again, who are we to complain? The man’s particular style of unthreatening, middle-of-the-road folk rock has given him a healthy career and a CV that includes two Ivor Novello awards, a Q award, two Brit nominations and a Grammy nomination, not to mention sales of 12 million for his album White Ladder, which included his breakout single, ‘Babylon’.
Expect the head-wobbling musician to play his better-known songs and some new stuff from last year’s album Draw the Line. It’s still not really what we’d consider jazz, but it’ll be a pleasant end to the Thursday event.
David Gray plays the Skywards Stage on February 18 at 10.30pm.
The rest of the fest
Here are the ones to catch.
Oli is kicking off the festival on the Network Jazz Garden Stage with a smooth blend of jazz piano and funky grooves. Hailing from the UK, he’s already scored a top 20 radio single (‘Easy Does It’) and an album, 2008’s wonderfully titled Chill or be Chilled, which clocked in at number three on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 10, 8.30pm.
Inspired by Miles Davis – and if you’re going to be inspired by anyone, Miles is a great choice – Nils picked up the trumpet at the age of 10, progressing from classical tuition to youth jazz orchestras and international tours. Now he’s five albums into a career that draws together jazz, indie rock and classical music into a wide-ranging but cohesive whole, which should make for an interesting performance.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 11, 10pm.
This award-winning Teutonic jazz pair have enjoyed chart success in their home country with a series of albums whose contents range from intimate, small-scale songs to raucous tracks that incorporate electronica elements. But at the heart of the band is Reiner Winterschladen’s expert, soulful trumpet work.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 12, 10pm.
Randy Scott hails from the US, where his smooth sax stylings have won him the nationally televised It’s Showtime At The Apollo competition three times, not to mention The Hennessy Jazz Search and the respect of his friend and mentor, the late Grover Washington Jr. Expect live jazz tunes with a synthesised bed.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 13, 8.30pm.
Bringing a touch of the strange and wonderful to the Jazz Festival, Mischa focuses on heavily experimental jazz. Armed with a piano, looping equipment and a brain full of both European and African influences, he’ll be playing challenging, complex and fascinating soundscapes.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 14, 10pm.
Massoud Godemann Trio
Another offering from Germany, Massoud Godemann Trio pride themselves on standing apart from the crowd, and having heard their leftfield, groove-heavy freestyle work in action we think they’ll have no problem doing that.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 15, 10pm.
Running the gamut of jazz moods, from soul to experimental (and sometimes downright chaotic) noodling, Quintet Jean-Paul are masters of their craft and not afraid to mix things up. Award-winner Gabriel Coburger is in charge of this merry band of virtuosos.
Network Jazz Garden Stage, February 16, 10pm.