Express & Star

Review: Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival

Most jazz festivals run for three or four days, but the 2023 Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival ran for a whole week, with a host of concerts in a variety of venues.

Guitarist Tom Morgan in action at the BitterSuite

And there was great variety - from vibrant salsa, to funky small groups, a traditional band playing the style of early jazz, swing groups, a solo guitar recital, and young big bands blasting out the exciting styles of today.

The festival opened on Sunday, June 4, with bands in blazing sunshine on an outdoor stage at the BitterSuite, and there were outstanding performances from American-born bassist Tom Hill’s Trio, and the trio of young guitarist Tom Morgan.

Hill’s set included a stunning version of Blue Rondo A La Turk, arranged by the legendary pianist Dave Brubeck from the original Mozart piano work. Pianist Al Gurr and drummer Carl Hemingsley locked in with Hill’s bass lines to make this a really spectacular performance.

Guitarist Morgan is fast maturing as an eloquent player in the soulful style, and his set was enhanced by soulful singing from guest Louis Connor.

Trumpeter Nick Dewhurst with his wife, saxophonist Beth Fisher-Dewhurst, at the Cathedral Hotel

The festival is organised by Lichfield Arts, with trumpeter Nick Dewhurst a key member of the team. Nick’s own entertaining band delighted the crowd at the Cathedral Hotel on Friday with two contrasting sets of hard-driving funky jazz, mixed with pop hits such as Dua Lipa’s song Kiss.

Dewhurst also appeared briefly two nights earlier as a guest soloist with saxophonist Chris Bowden’s excellent quartet at the same venue, and between them they created a marvellous version of the tune Oleo, a twisting bebop theme written by Sonny Rollins. Bowden was also outstanding in a captivating performance of pianist Chick Corea’s demanding tune Humpty Dumpty.

Guitarist and bass guitarist Fred T Baker has been a frequent and very welcome artist at the Lichfield festival, and he gave a superb solo performance at the hotel - mainly his original compositions, plus some spectacular Bach on the fretless bass. He dedicated his driving piece Billy Bigknuckle to the memory of festival founder and Lichfield Arts chairman Brian Pretty, who died earlier this year.

The Lichfield Jazz Big Band in the distinguished setting of the city’s Guildhall

The festival wrapped up on Sunday (JUNE 11) with groups including the musically sensitive but very exciting young trio of drummer Aidan Amann, the swing of guitarist Remi Harris and his trio, and the splendidly vibrant Lichfield Jazz Big Band.

Amann’s trio, with bassist James Owston and pianist Nick Manz demonstrated outstanding interplay in pieces including his own beautiful ballad Perception. This was deeply satisfying music indeed.

Trumpeter Nick Dewhurst once again stepped into the spotlight as musical director and trumpet soloist with the big band, with fiery pieces including his own Suspect In You, and Trains by the US band Steps Ahead.

Review and photos by John Watson