By Florrie McCarthy
Well, it’s that time of year again. The murmurs and whispers that started about a month ago, at the first mention of “October 22nd”, are getting louder, to the point that the tension is crackling throughout the cobblestones; you can practically feel the music quivering in the walls, the streets, and even down the river. The haughty ride cymbals flopping lazily, right back in the pocket, in the cracks of the streets, are getting saucier, sizzling more; the jittery, entrancing bass lines twanging all sultry-like from the deep, mature uprights tucked away in the corners of upstairs pub stages starting to turn cheekier, funkier, more aggressive; the effervescent, dreamlike chords from the glossy, black grand piano in the hotel lounge becoming every so subtly busier, the gentlest touch of blues being injected in every next bar; the tinny, whining melancholy of the trumpeter playing his sorrows away under the streetlight in the rain are gathering tempo, with flourishes of ornamentation and more and more swing as he makes his way through the verses, the hot breath of the low, satin moans of the saxophone are climbing up into the dazzling, wailing starscapes with raging squeaks and runs and the hollow-bodied guitar is chugging along with its own chords helping the drummer keep everyone in time as you hear the first brush scrape against the snare and suddenly the band is in full swing and…
That’s right, reader: it’s the weekend of Cork Jazz Festival. It’s the week we’ve all been waiting for, where the people will flood the streets for the music and the pubs for the pints, getting lost in the rhythm and vibes alike, letting their worries aside for a while to swing and be swung. The festival is a classic part of music culture in Cork city, having been around since 1978, when the first festival was held on the 27th of October. Musicians from up and down the country and indeed from far and wide outside the country come to entertain the masses of Corkonians.
Of course, this Jazz weekend will be a special one – it’s not just the music and the pints we’ve all been waiting on for so long. Not only is this going to be Ireland’s first proper music festival in eighteen months, but for the past month it’s been thought we would see a generous portion of the restrictions lifted that have been a damper on our lives for the past year. While the excitement has been building to relax the pressure in terms of vaccine passports etc., unfortunately the rising case numbers have been looming over our hopeful D-Day and we find ourselves in mystery once again. At the time of writing the Cabinet are holding meetings to decide how the whole thing plays out. It is very difficult to know right now how Friday will look, but whether we get to frolic mask-less in and out of pubs or we stick with the awkward herding we’ve become so used to, we can know that in some shape or form, there’ll be music.
Now, you wouldn’t think so, but exactly what kind of music is the next question. ‘Jazz, surely?’, I hear you ask. Indeed, the Cork Jazz Festival has seen its fair share of real-deal legends and . Anyone who knows any of the big names from the history books of jazz will surely be blown away, as I was, to hear of the legends that Cork has had the pleasure of hosting – they include Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis, among others. The stardom that has graced our stages over the years truly is truly amazing. However, as one can imagine, the lack of appreciation for jazz in popular culture that there once was, has, over the years, brought about a widening of the scope of what can be pulled off as ‘jazz’ as well as more and more non-jazz acts generally.
I have to say that personally I absolutely adore jazz and many of the countless sub-genres that spring from its general cultural space and I wish there was a wider appreciation for it. In an ideal world I would be a satisfied purist with a festival this size of all jazz music on my doorstep. However, when the masses have different intentions and want to experience music they can comfortably get behind, a mixed bag with a consistent background theme of jazz is what we get. While some may see this as contamination, if anything giving those who are not inclined to jazz a reason to come out and get immersed in it and exposed to it by spreading all the music all over Cork city is a nice knock-on effect of the slackening of the rules. All that said, some of the names we can expect to see playing in Cork this weekend have been released on Guinness-sponsored jazz festival’s media outlets – let’s take a look at some of the acts.
James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow is an Irish-born singer/songwriter from Dublin whose real genre is difficult to define. “Indie” is a nice, general catch-all, but this is too wide to define the magic McMorrow captures in his music. His style jumps from murky, ominous tracks like Gone to the fun-filled energy on Me and My Friends. With a dynamic songwriting style that incorporates extremely detailed, fascinating, entertaining production and his gentle, airy, somewhat coarse vocals, James is definitely one of the most interesting talents to come out of Ireland recently, and one to keep an eye on. His show will take place in the Everyman theatre on Sunday, the 24th of October.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Perhaps the jazziest act being brought to the festival by the Guinness team, Hypnotic Brass are one of the early pioneers of an ever-growing number of small brass ensembles at the moment. Sometimes known as brasshouse bands, combos featuring trumpets, trombones, a tuba/sousaphone with one or two different types of saxophones are becoming more popular. Hypnotic Brass, however, have been at this kind of thing for quite a while. An 8-piece band, excluding the drummer, they are all sons of famous Chicago trumpeter Phil Cohran! Learning from a young age, the lads would all practice in the living room and put on shows for friends. After putting down their instruments for a bit in high school they found inspiration to pick them back up afterwards and started playing for the masses in subway stations, as your average New York brass combo does. The band will be playing in St. Luke’s former Church on Sunday the 24th October.
Paul Dunlea + Cormac McCarthy
While this act might not draw as much worldwide acclaim as the other two, I couldn’t finish the article without having something that showed off the strength of jazz that is native to Cork. Paul Dunlea and his big band are part of the furniture in terms of music in the city. An unbelievably accomplished and competent musician, Paul and his show-stopping act are actually patrons of Crane Lane, a bar that has often posed as a jazz club in the past off Oliver Plunkett Street. They bring real, sensational big-band jazz, with the screaming, bluesy classics you know and love, to Cork and with the utmost sense of musicianship. Cormac McCarthy has no shortage of accomplishments of his own. He has played the part of lecturer and bandleader in the prestigious Cork School of Music, as well as playing piano on records for some of the biggest names in Irish music, not to mention the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. Compositions that Cormac have written have been played by jazz icons like Phil Woods and Jeff Hamilton, for those in the know.Coming straight from the heart, from home, there is no way that this show can be anything but phenomenal, in the Triskel Arts Centre on Friday the 22nd at 8p.m. All the creative writing courses in the world could not help this writer describe how sorry they are to be working that day. But, for those of us ready to hit the town and swing into the night, there is plenty in store. Head over to www.guinnessjazzfestival.com to see everything going on, and however it happens – enjoy the weekend. You deserve it.