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Review: Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival, Cathedral Hotel

The organisation Lichfield Arts has staged impressive jazz and blues festivals for many years - and this weekend the festival is back with a swing, opening with a concert that was both soulful and, joy of joys, sold out.

Sax star Julian Smith at the Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival. Photo: John Watson.
Sax star Julian Smith at the Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival. Photo: John Watson.

Soprano saxophonist Julian Smith delighted the crowd with a selection of smooth, funky jazz pieces on Thursday June 9, featuring compositions by artists including Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Sting.

Smith, who is a former Britain’s Got Talent finalist (beaten by singer Susan Boyle), appeared with the dynamic trio of guitarist Tom Morgan, featuring keyboard player Martin Rowberry and drummer Bradley White.

Remarkably, Rowberry played all the bass lines as well as the chord structures and solos on his keyboard, an extraordinary feat of concentration.

Enjoyable as the trio was, Smith was not brought on to solo with them until just before the interval, a little disappointing for an audience expecting a whole evening of soulful sax. However, his energy and skill at engaging the crowd made it a very special performance.

A highlight was a duet on the Sting song Fragile, with guitarist Morgan creating a beautiful sheen of sound before the saxophonist swept in with the main theme.

On Friday, artists in the festival include the six-piece Thomas Atlas Band with a night of blues.

On Saturday, sessions feature the Staffordshire Jazz East Big Band, and Lichfield trumpeter Nick Dewhurst’s Quartet with special guest saxophonist Tommaso Starace.

A Jazz and Blues Service will be held at Wade Street Church on Sunday morning, followed by a lunchtime session with Lichfield band New Vintage at McKenzie’s Restaurant, before the festival swings back to the Cathedral Hotel on Sunday afternoon. There the excellent Walsall Jazz Orchestra wraps up the festival with a session of contemporary and classic big band arrangements.

Review by John Watson

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