Musician hopes to relaunch Southwold Jazz Festival

A MUSIC festival that attracted major acts and helped unearth local talent could be set to return after a five-year break.

Keith May, from Reydon, is keen to relaunch the annual Southwold Jazz Festival which was once a breeding ground for aspiring performers looking to forge a career in the music industry.

Mr May, 74, co-founded the festival in 1998 and watched as it developed into a well-regarded event attended by esteemed musicians such as alto-saxophonist Peter King and Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis.

But after a decade of success, which saw the event drawing crowds of up to 3,000, Mr May called time on the festival when plans went ahead in 2007 to re-develop its venue at the Southwold Pier Ballroom.

However, plans are now in the pipeline for a new-look weekend festival which could be staged at The William Godell Sports Pavilion on Southwold Common – if there is sufficient public demand.

Mr May, a jazz guitarist with the band Rhythm 'n' Reeds, said: 'Even five years after it ended, we continue to get inquiries from many former supporters about re-starting Southwold Jazz Festival.

'The Pavilion now offers scope for a weekend festival, albeit on a smaller scale than the previous festivals.

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'We don't have sufficient planning time to run a weekend festival this year, but would look seriously at the possibility of putting on a September 2013 jazz festival if there was evidence of sufficient interest.'

Mr May first began playing jazz in Southwold when he joined The Blyth River Stompers in the 1950s. But it was not until the mid-1990s that a music event began to take shape when he recruited trumpeter John Winter to create the summer evening event, Jazz on the Green.

The event laid the foundations for a full jazz festival in Southwold, with Mr May and Mr Winter forming a steering group and securing small grants to fund it from Waveney District Council and Adnams. The first jazz festival in 1998 was designed to be a non-profit venture run by volunteers and showcasing East Anglian musicians.

Mr May said: 'Each festival had 10 acts appearing, ranging from students, such as East Norfolk Youth Jazz Orchestra, to 'long in the tooth' bands such as the Frog Island Jazz Band from Essex. The styles presented ranged from traditional jazz through the 'swing era' and blues bands to relatively modern jazz.

'Several young performers who appeared at the Southwold Jazz Festival over the years have gone on to wide recognition. Vibraphone/percussion prodigy Lewis Wright – who was 10 when he appeared with the Norwich Students Jazz Orchestra – is now a widely-respected professional musician. Framlingham singer Polly Gibbons, after appearing at the festival at 17, went on to make a great impact with appearances at Ronnie Scott's and other London clubs and in concert with Jacqui Dankworth and Tina May.'

The answer to the jazz festival's venue problem came last year when The Pavilion was given new acoustic cladding, vastly improving the sound at the venue. It led to the launch of the Southwold at The Pavilion concert in December, organised by Annette and Peter Mace, with a second concert in the pipeline for this summer.

If you are interested in helping re-launch Southwold Jazz Festival, ring 01502 724159 or email k.may@zen.co.uk

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