Norwich Jazz Party

David Wakefield If you like a party and enjoy good jazz, then there’s only one place to be. David Wakefield previews a special bank holiday event.

David Wakefield

The party's all set to rock - the second Norwich Jazz Party, that is. Once again, over the May Day bank holiday weekend, fans will flock from all over the country to the Holiday Inn at Norwich International Airport for a three-day fiesta of all that's good and enjoyable about jazz.

There to delight them will be a mouth-watering line-up of musicians from the UK, America, Europe and Australia, including some real-life legends. But this is far more than a weekend of hero worship. The organiser, Norwich record shop owner Jerry Brown, who was at the helm for last year's inaugural Norwich party, sees it as very much a social event in which musicians and audience, literally, rub shoulders - and that's very much the basis for its success.

The 2007 event was born in rather unlikely circumstances - in a Blackpool bar in the early hours. It was then that Jerry - experienced at running jazz gigs at the former Lakenham Leisure Centre - heard that the previous organisers, Tom and Chris Baron, had decided that the 2006 Blackpool event, an eagerly-awaited weekend in the Lancashire resort, was to be the last (although they did subsequently have a change of heart and organised a September party in Blackpool the following year!).

“We (Jerry, his wife Ann, and fellow promoter Brian Peerless) decided that we would have a go at doing one in Norwich,” he said. And so they did. Jerry, who has run a record shop at the jazz parties for many years, was well known to the musicians and that familiarity, plus Brian's contacts, and a good deal of arm-twisting, saw the first Norwich party get under way.

It succeeded brilliantly, with fine music, a warm and enthusiastic audience and, best of all, no heartaches for the organisers.

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“To be honest, we won't have a lot to change this year,” said Jerry, “maybe just tinkering with lighting and presentation. But we're not changing the way that the music ran. We were so impressed with the professionalism of the musicians - not once did we have to go and look for someone who was late for their set.

“A lot of them stayed in the room after playing to hear the next band, and did a lot of socialising. This rubs off on the audience and makes it all the more enjoyable.”

The musicians also enjoyed it, and many who came last year are returning - several in time for the traditional Friday evening pre-party jam session. Indeed, Britain's jazz knight, Sir John Dankworth, has asked to come back, and is staying longer this year; “although his wife [Dame Cleo Laine] has told him he has to do a gig at Cheltenham Festival on the Sunday,” joked Jerry.

John's bass-playing son, Alec, is also returning, along with fellow Brits Keith Ingham (piano), Alan Barnes (sax/clarinet), Ian Bateman (trombone), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums). Suffolk tenor saxist Karen Sharpe, now back in the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, is making her debut.

Then there's the usual flock of top American players: saxists Scott Hamilton, Scott Robinson, Ken Peplowski, guitarists Chuck Flory and Howard Alden, trumpeters Enrico Tomasso and Randy Sandke and former Count Basie drummer Butch Miles, to name but a few.

American singer Rebecca Kilgore is a great favourite at the party, as is Australian singer/bassist Nicki Parrott. Then, from Italy, comes the outstanding young pianist Rossano Sportiello - equally adept at jazz or the classics - who was a big hit last year and who alone is worth the admission money.

Much of the programme content is decided by the musicians, some of whom bring special projects: American tenor man Scott Robinson will be playing music by Thad Jones, and there will be a big band playing Benny Goodman numbers arranged by Fletcher Henderson. And, if all goes to plan, there could be a special session featuring five trombonists.

Although the party atmosphere is ever-present, the event raises money for charity via a raffle - this year's beneficiary is the East Coast Truckers organisation (which famously takes a party of disadvantaged children to Great Yarmouth each year amid a welter of hooting!). Also, several of the musicians happily give their time to organise sessions with Down's Syndrome children; last year this was at Norwich Arts Centre, but this year it is at the hotel, on Saturday, at 10.30am.

Maybe, one day, it might be possible to meld some of the Jazz Party content with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, with which it overlaps. The “crossover” possibilities are there: A late night jazz/classics concert from Rossano Sportiello at St Peter Mancroft, for example: or the wise-cracking American guitarist/singer Eddie Erickson at Norwich Playhouse?

The Norwich public might just think it a half-decent notion.

The Norwich Jazz Party is at the Holiday Inn at Norwich International Airport, Saturday to Monday, May 3-5. Tickets cost £150 for three days, or £50 for separate days. Contact: Norwich Jazz Party, 43 Whitlingham Hall, Kirby Road, Trowse, Norwich NR14 8QH; 01603 467777/620287. Fax: 01603 0305505; e-mail norwichjazzparty@btconnect.com