Preview: Cheltenham Jazz Festival, various venues, Cheltenham

British jazz takes its turn to blow
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The Independent Culture

A jazz festival by any other name is still - well - just a bunch of people standing around on stage waiting for their turn to blow. Isn't it? Normally, yes. But the Cheltenham Jazz Festival - now in its 10th year - has another dimension that gives it a uniquely valuable place in British jazz life.

A jazz festival by any other name is still - well - just a bunch of people standing around on stage waiting for their turn to blow. Isn't it? Normally, yes. But the Cheltenham Jazz Festival - now in its 10th year - has another dimension that gives it a uniquely valuable place in British jazz life.

Its artistic director, Tony Dudley-Evans, explains: "I think we're too diffident in Britain about our own players. Everyone's talking about this great scene in Norway, and it is very interesting, but it is kind of one thing. Here, it's a combination of several things, and it's very exciting. What worries me is the opportunity for getting it out there."

Not a man to theorise without acting, he has created a platform himself - the Rising Stars scheme, sponsored by the Jerwood Charity. Dudley-Evans hires strong young talent of all kinds, including DJs and rappers, to appear at the festival. In addition, he commissions a musician to write a piece to be premiered at the following year's festival. This commission has helped players such as the saxophonist Denys Baptiste; this year, it's the saxophonist/composer Jason Yarde.

"With Rising Stars, we don't have to worry about audiences. When I started it, I did wonder whether we'd end up saying, 'Well, not bad for 2pm on a Saturday,' but those concerts have always sold well," Dudley-Evans says.

This year, the Rising Star programme will feature the guitarist/vocalist Sid Peacock with two groups; singer-songwriter Eska Mtungwazi - "a stunning talent" - the Synergy: F-IRE Collective Big Band; and the saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her quintet.

"Cheltenham is different," Laubrock says. "A couple of years ago I stayed the whole week - I just love checking out the acts. The music in the Jerwood Rising Stars slots was really exciting. Tony is quite daring; he gives it a shot. There's a lot of exciting music out there that would not get heard otherwise."

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