ONE of the UK’s leading female jazz musicians will launch this year’s newly expanded Aberdeen Jazz Festival, which opens on International Women’s Day on Thursday.

Georgina Jackson, a trumpeter and resident singer with the Ronnie Scott Jazz Orchestra and who sang at the BBC Jazz Proms last year, will perform with Aberdeen Jazz Orchestra.

She is just one of the many women taking part in this year’s festival which will run for 11 days – it was five last year – and has been lauded as “one of the most impressive events organised in Aberdeen”.

“We have always tried to ensure women in jazz are given a fair share as quite often at music festivals it is all-male headliners,” explained Fiona Alexander of Jazz Scotland, a charity set up to promote the genre and which organises the Aberdeen, Islay and Dundee jazz festivals.

“When we realised that the expansion meant we were opening on International Women’s Day, it was obvious we had to have a raft of very strong female performers.”


WOMEN feature prominently throughout the festival. Seonaid Aitken and the Groove Merchant Big Band will celebrate the music of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald at the final-night gala concert.

Also performing are saxophonist Camille Thurman and pianist Myra Melford, who are flying over from the US, with the latter showcasing her latest band, Snowy Egret.

Other women performers include award-winning Alison Affleck, London-based Zoe Rahman, Glasgow’s Laura MacDonald and Aberdeen singers Marisha Addison and Morag McColl.

MacDonald, Addison and McColl will be part of the West End Jazz Trail featuring a range of singers and funky bands performing simultaneously in various venues on the second Sunday of the festival, March 18.

There is also a Dinner Jazz Concert with Lorna Reid and an Intoxicating Afternoon Tea complete with cocktails and close harmony group The Vintage Girls.


THE festival is growing in popularity and a 100 per cent increase in ticket sales last year gave organisers the confidence to expand from five to 11 days, thanks to funding from Aberdeen Inspired.

“What is fantastic about this festival is the array of different styles of music and the different ways in which people can listen to it,” Alexander says. “As well as Jazz On The Green, a taster event which takes place in the city centre across nine venues simultaneously for four hours on the first weekend, there is Dinner Jazz, jazz films, standing concerts for young people, and the Intoxicating Afternoon Tea so people can listen to jazz while sipping cocktails.

“We have a core of really interesting jazz programmes and around that there are a lot of accessibility and entry points for people to come and try. There will be a range of styles and opportunities going on.”

Armstrong believes the Aberdeen event is unique. She says: “I’ve not heard of an Intoxicating Afternoon Tea before but apart from that it is quite rare to be hosting concerts in so many venues across the city, such as pubs, hotels and churches rather than just in established concert halls.”


AS well as bringing in musicians from south of the Border and the US, the festival aims to foster local talent. Alexander says: “It has been really embraced by local musicians and local people so we have, for example, the Aberdeen Jazz Orchestra and the Aberdeen University Big Band as well as the Community Big Band, which has around 37 members aged from seven upwards.

Musicians from elsewhere in Scotland also have a strong showing on the programme and include Fergus McCreadie, one of the bright, young stars of the Scottish jazz scene.

At the other end of the spectrum are well-established musicians such as Brian Kellock, who will be playing with American Scott Hamilton, one of the world’s leading mainstream saxophonists.

There’s also the Edinburgh-based Colin Steele Quintet and Aberdeen guitarist Graeme Stephen, who will perform with Fair Isle fiddler Chris Stout.

Glasgow-based Spark Trio, a young band who fuse jazz with Scottish trad, will be playing with American saxophonist Andy Middleton, while Hamish Stuart and Molly Duncan, two founder members of the Average White Band, are also appearing at the festival.


WITH 35 concerts, performers from two continents and live music over 11 days, it would be easy to assume that jazz is in a healthy condition in Scotland, but Alexander revealed that funding is a continual struggle for the genre.

She says: “There is a lack of concert opportunities for musicians. There are a lot of pub gigs and some festivals but nothing in the middle for them.

“Festivals are able to put a gloss on it but there is a lack of opportunity for jazz musicians to play in different contexts, especially now that funding is being contracted.”

Alexander adds: “There is not enough support for jazz, especially when you consider that as many people report being interested in jazz as are interested in opera. But the funding is not quite in line with that. There could be more done in the way of support.”

In the meantime, the organisers are grateful to both Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and Creative Scotland for their support.

Festival chair Neil Gibbons has the last word: “The new expanded festival offers an even better celebration of jazz music by increasing the number and breadth of acts which remember our past, revel in the music of now, and showcase new directions and younger players.”