Since its inception in 2003, the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival has showcased some of the best local and world talent. This year’s event is set to be bigger than ever, with plenty of international – if slightly more pop than jazz – headliners, including Train, Macy Gray, Lifehouse, Jools Holland, Alison Moyet, Jessy J, Mica Paris, Joshua Radin and Mindi Abair. ‘We used to have two or three headliners, one each night, but this year we’re having two on February 16, 17 and 18,’ explains Anthony Younes, CEO of organiser Chillout Productions and founder of the festival. ‘We’re also going to do everything on one stage and do three acts per night instead of four, because we found that the 6pm show was too early for most people.’
Organisers are also determined to iron out any problems from last year’s event. For example, some guests were left disappointed after paying for seats that, it transpired, would only be available on a first-come, first-served basis; as a result, many were left standing. This year they will not face the same situation. An additional seating area has been added and guests with tickets for this area will be guaranteed a seat.
But what about the pop-centric line-up? ‘I can’t lie to anyone – jazz doesn’t sell. If we don’t bring pop, we won’t sell a lot of tickets and we won’t make money,’ Younes admits. ‘But when you attract someone for a pop act and he comes early and sees a jazz act, he starts liking it. So it’s helping us to make money and, at the same time, educating people about jazz.’
Having paid regular visits to Dubai over the past 20 years for private functions, British soul singer Mica Paris knows her way around the city But after being in the music business for the past 23 years, it will be her first time performing at the jazz festival. ‘A lot of people only know me for the TV thing now,’ she says, referring to her stint on hit UK fashion series What Not to Wear (a role she insists she didn’t go looking for). ‘It’s going to be interesting to see who turns up.’
These days, Paris is involved with a number of charities, has published a book called Beautiful Within (about body confidence, finding happiness and generally staying sane), and speaks publicly on the subject of women’s empowerment. And why not? With music, radio and TV presenting jobs under her belt, Paris has seen some phenomenal career highs over the years. ‘Being invited to Minneapolis to work with Prince when I was 19, and being asked by Dionne Warwick to do a show, those kind of things are incredible,’ she explains. ‘But you have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve had loads of people tell me my career is over and I’ve got no future.’
In reality, she has just returned from a tour with Michael Bolton, is back in the recording studio and is about to film the pilot for a new TV show (about which she remains tight-lipped): it’s safe to say things are far from fizzling out. Next stop: Dubai. ‘I’m coming to give you raw soul,’ she says. ‘I’m just bringing three guys with me; bass, keys and drums.’
And what of her on-stage alter ego? ‘When I go on stage, I’m there for two minutes, but after that – lift off, I’m gone. I don’t know who she is that comes in; some chick, but I know she does the job!’
One of the more ‘jazzy’ members of the line-up (though she claims she’s ‘definitely not your traditional jazz artist’), American sax player and singer Mindi Abair will be performing alongside British-born smooth jazz guitarist Peter White.
Though she’s now well and truly an artist in her own right, with the first single of her latest album In Hi-Fi Stereo sitting at number one for seven weeks in the US, Abair started out playing with pop acts including Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore, even going on tour with Duran Duran at one point. Unsurprisingly, she has no qualms about choosing a favourite. ‘Oh, Duran Duran. [Bassist] John Taylor is such a great friend – he actually wrote and sang with me on my first record.’
But it was touring with the band that Abair describes as ‘life changing’ and the first night is one of her fondest memories. ‘We played a club in LA to kick off the tour, and every celebrity came. Gwen Stefani, Beck, Nicolas Cage… It was almost one of those nights when everyone is way too cool for the room but, by the end, everyone was sweating and dancing, and I thought, “This is going to be the best tour ever!”’
Asked about her performance in Dubai, Abair says she’s thrilled to have been invited. ‘I hope this opens the door for more Dubai shows, because it seems like such a beautiful place, and I know I’m going to want to come back,’ she gushes, promising a high-energy show mixing rock’n’roll, pop and a few acoustic touches. ‘I want them to get into it; I want people on their feet dancing with us. Expect a lot of fun from our show!’
When we ask 36-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist Joshua Radin if he plays many festivals like Skywards Dubai’s International Jazz Festival, he’s quick to put us straight. ‘I’ve played at festivals, but usually they’re not jazz festivals because I don’t really play jazz.’ Ah. And if you harboured any doubts, just listen to his latest album. ‘There’s a lot more rock’n’roll on it,’ Ohio-born Radin explains. ‘The first two records were really mellow, so when I started touring the world, I didn’t want to play mellow, acoustic music. When you’re playing Glastonbury and there are 60,000 people in front of the stage, you want to get out there and make some noise!’
Surprisingly, Radin never had any ambition to become a musician when he was younger, and only began performing in 2004. ‘I was just a fan. I didn’t grow up playing music at all, it was just six years ago when I started playing that I said “I’m going to do it,” and things just happened.’ Since then, the highlight has been playing and selling out New York’s Bowery Ballroom, something he admits to fantasising about when he lived in the city.
‘I never really feel professional. It’s hard to feel professional in any sense when you get started late in life,’ he reveals, admitting he still has no idea how a hobby became his career. ‘It’s like, “wow, I don’t have to work any more?,” so I haven’t worked in six years!’ Working or not, flying all the way from the US to Dubai for just 24 hours is going to be tough on the system, but Radin assures us he won’t let it affect his game. ‘I’m going to try my best. You can probably expect slight jet lag, but it will definitely be live music all the way.’
Who else is playing?
Also playing on the main stage are British pop singer-songwriter Alison Moyet, industry veteran and legitimate jazz handle Jools Holland, R&B and soul artist Macy Gray, American alternative band Lifehouse, jazz musician Jessy J and modern rock group Train.
The latter, a San Franciscan band best known for the title track on their 2001 album, Drops of Jupiter, will be the final act to take the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre stage on Friday February 18.
The action kicked off on January 20 with Chillout Jazz World on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, featuring free performances from almost 20 locally-based and international solo musicians and bands. The second instalment of the festival will run from February 8-15 in Dubai Media City’s du Jazz Garden – admission is free if you register online. Smooth jazz artists Ian Shaw, Ronnie Scott’s Jam Night, Cleveland Watkiss, Get the Blessing, Soweto Kinch, Neil Cowley Trio, Arun Ghosh, Nate Harasim, Marion Meadows, Bob Baldwin, Down to the Bone, Darren Rahn, Elizabeth Mis and Julian Vaughn will each be taking the stage during the week, with the exception of Friday February 14, which will be a dry night: as a result, there will be no performances.
du Jazz Garden
Tuesday February 8: Ian Shaw, Nate Harasim
Wednesday 9: Ronnie Scott’s Jam Night, Marion Meadows
Thursday 10: Cleveland Watkiss, Bob Baldwin
Friday 11: Get the Blessing, Down to the Bone
Saturday 12: Soweto Kinch, Darren Rahn
Sunday 13: Neil Cowley Trio, Elizabeth Mis
Tuesday 15: Arun Ghosh, Julian Vaughn
Venue: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.
Timing: Doors open 7pm, first show starts at 8pm.
Price: Free with online registration, Dhs150 for walk-in guests including two beverages.
Wednesday February 16: Mica Paris, Alison Moyet, Jools Holland
Thursday 17: Mindi Abair & Peter White, Macy Gray, Lifehouse
Friday 18: Jessy J, Joshua Radin, Train
Venue: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.
Timing: Doors open 6pm, first show starts at 7pm.
Price: VIP central terrace and open bar Dhs975; Front seat Dhs495; middle seat Dhs350; standing Dhs275.
Tickets available at www.timeouttickets.com.