March 12th marked the official kickoff of the Aberdeen Jazz Festival. Held annually over 10 days, this wonderful event celebrates Jazz in Scotland and the rest of the UK, as well as globally. They hope to demystify Jazz to the masses and introduce new audiences to the genre.
What is it All About?
“The Aberdeen Jazz Festival is a chance to see great live music in great venues across Aberdeen”, said Keith MacRae, Director of the Aberdeen Jazz Festival, in The Blue Lamp. “This is a chance to listen to something, to a thing you’ve never, ever listened to but also to listen to music that’ll be very familiar to you.”
“There’s a variety of Jazz and Blues and gigs across course different venues”, said Matthew Kilner, saxophone player of the Jazz fusion band Hamlet. “There's The Blue Lamp, the Carmelite Hotel, and Jazz on the Green, which is an open-air [gig].”
Hamlet released their debut EP, Act One, last year. The six tracks vary in style from what one would think of as ‘traditional’ Jazz to lengthy bluesy jams and even some Hip Hop grooves. They played at the Festival on Sunday, March 14th in The Blue Lamp.
The city of Aberdeen has had a short but varied history with Jazz with the Festival itself has been running for about 20 years. The Festival was started by several players performing at The Blue Lamp venue. Both Keith MacRae and Hamlet laud this venue as one of the best Jazz venues in the country and potentially the best in Scotland!
“There are great acoustics, we have a great sound system and we a really varied and informed audience”, said Keith.
“I've been to a lot of the Jazz clubs in London. I've been to Jazz clubs across Europe… There’s none that come close to The Blue Lamp”, Matthew excitedly said. “The fact people listen, it’s just such a nice atmosphere.”
“I think that it's such a great place”, said Finley Campbell, Hamlet’s bass player. “The audience is always fantastic. They're always behind you.”
The Diversity of Jazz
There is often a false impression with Jazz that it’s all the same with very little variation between regional scenes and acts. Like many other musical genres, that could not be further from the truth.
“You have everything from New Orleans Jazz to modern [styles]”, Keith said. “There’s really something for everyone.”
“It came from Blues and the kind of turmoil people face with that and it's just such a multifaceted thing”, said Matthew. “It’s really just changed over time and Jazz is different in all the parts of the world. The Latin South America [styles] changed North American Jazz and Bebop and European Jazz is coming from more of a folk tradition.”
In addition to Jazz, the Festival shall be playing its related genres such as Blues, Funk, and Soul.
“The question that often gets asked - and I never answer it - is ‘what is Jazz?’”, explained Keith. “The reasonable answer is that Jazz is a combination of a lot of different things. The genre has taken a lot of influence from Blues. Jazz has been influenced by many musical genres over the years; from Pop to Funk and more recently Hip Hop. I think it’s all Jazz!”
There is also a misunderstanding that there is a lot ‘gatekeeping’ in Jazz. Both Keith MacRae and the members of Hamlet are keen to eliminate that stigma and prove that the music they love can be enjoyed by anyone.
"I got into Jazz through Matthew when I came to [Aberdeen] university”, said Finley. “I sort of got fed on it as we were playing it! From there it was growing arms and legs!”
“Through the Festival there is a real effort to attract an audience across the demographics, through ages, interest groups and an international audience”, Keith explained.
Young People in Jazz
Jazz is often seen as a genre for a very niche audience and older generations. The reality is that young people hold the key to Jazz’s future.
“In the last 20 years there have been many great, young Jazz musicians who have developed in Scotland”, Keith said. He continued by saying that “there’s a misconception that Jazz is closed off and is old people’s music; it simply isn’t! It has an appeal to a younger audience.”
Matthew, Finley, and their fellow bandmates in Hamlet prove Keith’s point as all of them appear in their 20s and are fresh out of university. Matthew, in particular, has been living in Birmingham since September and has come back up to his home in Aberdeen to play the Festival.
“Playing Jazz has totally shaped my life”, Matthew said. “I've seen the benefits that, not even just playing Jazz, but playing music in general has. I've met so many good friends and I've seen so many great places; it's just thanks just to playing music!”
“Having been part of the Youth Festival and going to schools and just seeing the benefit; the kids have loved it”, said Finley.
“It can be a break from school”, added Matthew. “The only two good things I was good at were PE and music! So I used to look forward to my Friday lunchtime where I was playing in the school Jazz band… especially as a kid, you don't have to be like practicing six hours a day and wanting to be a full-time Jazz musician. It can be like a hobby! Neil Kendal, our guitar player, for example, is a full-time chemical engineer in London. He still plays guitar in our band! So it doesn't have to be this really intense thing!”
The Festival kicked off with The Gil Scott-Heron Songbook on Thursday, March 12th in The Blue Lamp and will end with the Aberdeen University Jazz Orchestra on Sunday 22 at 8pm. The venue shall be host to a number of acts including the Steve Hamilton Quartet on Friday 20 at 7:30pm and Jon Green Sextet on Saturday 21 at 7:30pm and offers student discounts to £5 from their normal prices of £15.
Student concessions vary by the venue so please check the Aberdeen Jazz Festival website to find more details: https://www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com/