Steve Crocker has been a mainspring of Leeds jazz for many years. As a highly experienced jazz double bass player (he’s worked with Harry Edison, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilbur, Jimmy Witherspoon and Art Farmer amongst others). He’s also a highly experienced radio presenter, promoter and organiser of jazz, and has worked tirelessly to encourage the music at venues throughout Leeds. Here he talks here about this year’s ambitious JazzLeeds festival (July 19 – 24)
Given that there are already several major jazz festivals in the north, why do you feel Leeds needs to provide another?
Leeds has always been a fantastic city for jazz. The College of Music offered Europe’s first-ever jazz course 50 years ago and has produced alumni like Alan Barnes, Dave Newton and Chris Batchelor. The first woman big band leader in the UK Ivy Benson was born in Leeds. There are currently 24 venues in the city putting on regular jazz events. But so far it’s been an undiscovered city for the outside world whereas the festivals in other towns and cities have thrived. Given the extraordinary amount of high quality music produced in the city, Leeds’ the musical talent in the city deserves to be much better known.
How did the Leeds One Day Jazz Festival go last year?
Oh, it went very well. It let us test the water with free jazz concerts in Millennium Square, a jazz workshops and a ticketed evening concert. All of these proved very popular so last year’s success has given us the confidence to put on a six day festival in the city this year.
A big programme! Tell us something about it.
We launch the festival on 19 July in one of Leeds’ jazz cradles, Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton. The opening big band, Leeds Youth Jazz Rock Orchestra led by Brendan Duffy, is made up of musicians still at school which in itself says a great deal about the healthy state of the jazz scene here. And the festival then rolls out until the following Tuesday, like a long weekend! There are three main venues – The Wardrobe the College of Music, and Millennium Square and over 300 musicians playing in 50 bands performing everything from traditional jazz, swing dance band through to free-improvisation . And there will be small jazz groups busking in the city and even an “Otley Jazz Run” with street band Bassa Bassa to whet appetites for free!
Jazz has so much social history attached to it in Leeds which we rarely hear about. So we’ll remember Duke Ellington’s 1958 Odeon concert, when he met The Queen and in her honour wrote the now rarely heard Queen’s Suite. Some people may remember Studio 20, the city’s top 1950s jazz club, now the Sela Bar, where top British jazz musicians like Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes would play, drink the rest of the night and go back blearily to London on the milk train! We’re staging a specially play about those days at the Carriageworks written by Leeds author Chris Nickson, along with an exhibition of many b&w photographs of the place and players by the late Leeds photographer Terry Cryer. Then our final festival concert will be a celebration of the music of Xero Slingsby, Leeds’s late-great punk- Jazz sax player featuring the “Shuffledemons” from Canada
What of the New Jazz Wave coming through the festival?
We’re showcasing a number of young players who are driving up the extraordinary renewed interest in jazz not merely in London but across the country. Nubya Garcia leads the London Jazz Warriors-born group Nérija. Soweto Kinch appears at the Wardrobe. Newcastle based Archipelago bring their fusion of garage-rock and avant garde, while from Leeds we have Têtes De Pois, and Morpher with added soul and Latin / Afro beats
How much of the Festival’s music is played by past or present College of Music students?
The College Influences not just the festival but jazz performances across the UK every year. They produce amazingly creative and technically very able young jazz musicians playing everything from jazz standards to their own original material. Some stay here, other move on to settle elsewhere, of course, but the College is a superb source of UK jazz for the future.
What do you hope will be the legacy of this year’s festival?
By Leeds 2023, the city’s year-long year celebration of culture, we want to have established a much larger ten day international jazz festival which will rival the best in the UK and the world.