International Jazz Day. To mark the occasion, Jonathan deBurca Butler asked some well-known fans and musicians about their love of the genre.
Mary Wilson – RTÉ Radio One
Every year in July, jazz boffin Mary Wilson heads off to the beautiful Italian city of Perugia to listen to the music she has grown to love.
“I devote one week a year totally to jazz,” says the RTÉ Drivetime presenter. “The entire old city comes alive with jazz for seven days. It’s an incredible experience. Every year a group of students from the famous Berklee College in Boston come over and they set up in a small bar in the centre and play. We went there one year and this fantastic Italian trumpet player, Fabrizio Bosso, arrived and sat in with them and was there for hours. That’s the kind of thing that happens at an event like this. It’s just magical.”
Wilson’s love of jazz came from her partner who was a “jazz lover and played it a lot”.
“I didn’t really listen to it seriously,” admits Mary, “I just to used to let it wash over me, so going to Perugia gave me that ability to listen and then you start discovering new people and that’s a lovely thing.”
Last year Mary was lucky enough to witness one of the all time greats when she attended Keith Jarrett at the National Concert Hall. Jarrett, who has a reputation for being somewhat prickly, was in fine form.
“We were kind of warned not to move in our seats
because he might walk off stage,” recalls Wilson, “but it was one of the great concerts in a packed hall and everyone is involved. He even did an encore. It was a most memorable evening.”
Sinead Dunphy – Cork Jazz Festival
Director of Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, Sinead Dunphy, started her journey into jazz in a“junk shop in Waterford”.
“I was about seven or eight,” she recalls, “and I was with my Dad going through records when I found John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. There was one particular piece on that called ‘Psalm’ which just caught me. It started there and it’s kept developing.”
Dunphy believes that many people are jazz fans without really realising it. She points out that most people know a Nina Simone number or one of Billie Holiday’s pines. Jazz she says is all around us now, in advertisements and movie soundtracks and that can only be a good thing. But for Dunphy, jazz is at its best when
“What’s so exciting about it is the improv,” she says. “The essence of jazz is that the audience is going to be thrown a curve ball at a live performance so it’s incredibly exciting. It’s quite like Irish traditional music in that way; you have your jigs and reels but they’re always being played in slightly different ways depending on the night. We’re really lucky in Cork. We have some great
venues like Crane Lane on Tuesday nights where you can go and listen to what would be considered jazz
standards but they’re constantly being redeveloped by the players involved.”
Tony Sheehan – Triskel Arts Centre
Another year venue that is something of a sanctuary for jazz is Triskel Arts Centre in Cork. Its director Tony Sheehan is serious about hosting and
promoting jazz as often as possible. He believes the “Irish jazz scene is vibrant and healthy” but admits that “increasingly Irish musicians have to go abroad”. According to a jazz legend he once met that’s not always a problem.
“I got to drive Ralph Towner from Dublin Airport to Cork for the jazz festival one year,” recalls Tony, “and I remember him saying to me that it was very important for jazz musicians not to become localised to a scene. His point was that it is an international music and it needs international expressions.”
Tony’s father was a musician and for a brief time he was in show band called The Oriel.
“He was really into brass band music and jazz would have been an integral part of that,” says Tony. “Then in my early twenties I was introduced to Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. It was one of those life changing things.”
GROWING up in the1970s in Dublin, Dominic Reilly liked any music he could dance to.
“My brother had a few jazz funk albums that I liked,” he says. “Herbie Hancock and others recorded a couple of albums in the late ’70s that were very funky but once they got out of that, they got back into more straight mainstream jazz and that’s where I was drawn in.
“There was an album, The Best of Herbie Hancock The Blue Note Years from the 1960s and this was mainstream died in the wool, straight up jazz but Hancock wasn’t the stand out person on that album — it was Freddie
Hubbard,” says Dominic. “I was mesmerised by it. It really moved me and it was the first time that I really
listened to music. He’d be my standout jazz artist.”
Ronan Guilfoyle – Musician & teacher
In his 40 years of playing jazz bass, Ronan Guilfoyle has had some great experiences. Whether it was playing with Louis Stewart in Ronnie Scott’s aged just 21, playing to 5,000 people in Mumbai, Guilfoyle has had quite the career.
Guilfoyle is another afficionado who came to jazz through his father who had a particular taste in post war jazz. He has given as much to the genre as it has to him but his love of the music is evident.
“Jazz is challenging for some people because it’s the only music that’s about the process and not the result,” he says.
“In pop music when you go to a concert you know more or less what you’re going to hear because it’s
already been written, whereas with jazz because the musicians are improvising you’re witnessing the music unfold in front of you. It’s challenging for people because you like what you know so you have to be a little brave with it but there’s nothing like the live experience with jazz.”
John Kelly – RTÉ Lyric fm
“What I love about jazz is the way it makes me feel hat I love about jazz is the way it makes me feel and what it does to my head,” says broadcaster John Kelly. “It opens up the head in a way that not all music does and it will take you on a trip if you allow it to.”
When he was a child growing up in Fermanagh, John saw two documentaries. One was on Billie Holiday and the other John Coltrane. He was instantly hooked.
“There was a lending library back home and I would go there, take out a Motorhead album but quite often I’d grab a jazz album too,” he recalls. “I wasn’t particularly avant garde or out there but I really got into it. When I was older and had a bit of money I went to New York and saw a lot the Blue Note guys, those great players, live. And seeing them play that was a real eye-opener. I think with jazz you need to be there when it’s happening because it is only happening once, because it is improvised.
“I’ve got to see the very best at close quarters so I was very lucky. You’ve got to see jazz live and at close quarters. Get in the middle of it, sitting in a club and get a sense of what’s going on, it’s a great pleasure.”