The out-of-towners

Rob Ryan on a trio of this summer's jazz festivals worth leaving the city for

Saturday, 23rd April — By Robert Ryan

Jazz_Gregory Porter_Love Supreme festival_1

Gregory Porter is artistic director at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival and headlines the Love Supreme Festival

WITH Easter out of the way, the jazz festival season begins in earnest, and I thought I’d highlight three of them, all easy to reach from London by train. It might seem early to think about booking now, but pent-up demand means some tickets and Early Bird deals are already scarce.

First up is Cheltenham Jazz Festival (Wednesday April 27-Monday May 2), an eclectic, family-friendly, whole town take-over, with the major concerts either in a big top tent or the town hall and plenty of interesting satellite venues (all shows are priced individually).
There is also a very lively free outdoor stage and free gigs across town, with a strong presence from the young players of London’s Tomorrow’s Warriors, including the fine pianist Sultan Stevenson.

Artistic director this year is the avuncular Gregory Porter, who told me: “I’ve loved Cheltenham and the Cotswolds ever since I first visited eight years ago. The countryside is gorgeous and there are really cute hotels. A boy from Bakersfield never knew such places existed. It’s why I keep coming back.”

Lady Blackbird plays Cheltenham on April 30

Porter brings his gospel-tinged show to the Henry Westons Big Top o­n Saturday April 30. Also playing that day are Camden girl Nubya Garcia and US star Lady Blackbird.

Sunday May 1 brings the exhilarating mix of old and new when ex-Miles Davis saxophonist Gary Bartz teams up with Jake Long’s nu-jazz stalwarts Maisha.


Kansas Smitty’s – Sunday May 1 and Monday May 2

Elsewhere, those giants of the New York scene, trumpeter Dave Douglas and drummer Joey Baron give a masterclass in intuitive improv. Also on Sunday is the estimable trumpeter Laura Jurd (of Dinosaur), leading an 11-piece ensemble at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, no less, and the Bank Holiday Monday sees Moses Boyd, Jamie Cullum and Gill Scott Heron’s partner Brian Jackson.

And London-based Kansas Smitty’s seem to be playing everywhere, every day.

Don’t miss the free late-night jam sessions at Hotel du Vin (, you never know who’ll pitch up. Further details:


Erykah Badu plays the Love Supreme Festival on Saturday July 2

Gregory Porter pops up again headlining the Love Supreme Festival (Friday July 1 to Sunday July 3) in Glynde, not far from Lewes. This sprinkles in funk and soul to keep the appeal broad, so there is Erykah Badu, Sister Sledge and Candi Staton in the mix, but also young guns Ezra Collective and legendary sax man Charles Lloyd and a new, exclusive “supergroup” as Nubya Garcia pairs with Shabaka Hutchings’ Sons of Kemet. That’ll be some face-off.


Charles Lloyd plays the Love Supreme Festival on Saturday July 2

With award-winning alto sax man Rudresh Mahanthappa, rising Scottish stars pianist Fergus McCreadie and singer Georgia Cecile, US guitarist Julian Lage and Mancunian trumpeter Matthew Halsall on the bill, jazz fans can’t complain about being short changed.



I will make sure I catch Nala Sinephro, a young Caribbean-Belgian artist based here who produces a pulsing, hypnotic ambient jazz, as heard on her album Space 1.8. That album is a sonic sibling to the Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders record Promises, and Gilles Peterson has nabbed the great elder statesmen of spiritual jazz – and latterly the dance floor – for his We Out Here Festival which takes place in Cambridgeshire from Thursday August 25 to Sunday August 28, which may seem some time away, but as always, it’s selling fast.


Nat Birchall plays the We Out Here Festival in August

Pharoah isn’t the only great sax player on stage that weekend – Nat Birchall and Muriel Grossmann, who have both figured in these pages, are confirmed, plus there are unclassifiable talents such as Emma-Jean Thackray and Rebecca Vasmant on display.


Muriel Grossman plays the We Out Here Festival. Photo: Laura González Guerra 

There’s also a huge raft of DJs, including Gilles himself, of course, plus Goldie, Patrick Forge and Mr Scruff. There’s going to be a nationwide shortage of DJs that weekend, they’ll all be in Abbots Ripton.

My tip? Don’t miss percussionist Kahil El’Zabar‘s outfit, which again operates within Pharoah’s orbit but with even more rhythmic grooves and high-flying trumpet fireworks from the great Corey Wilkes. His alternatingly soothing and bracing album A Time for Healing is one of my records of the past 12 months.

Details and full line-up:

Finally, for those who don’t do festivals, Kahil also plays two shows at Ronnie Scott‘s on Friday May 6 (

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