Express & Star

Review: Outstanding talent brought jazz and blues festival's most ambitious programme yet to life

The 2024 Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival presented its most ambitious programme for many years, with a huge variety of music ranging from contemporary jazz to big band swing, funk, jive and salsa.

Trombone star Dennis Rollins at the Lichfield festival

It came to a climax at the Guildhall on Sunday with a spectacular programme featuring two outstanding big bands - the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra and the Walsall Jazz Orchestra - plus blues from the Emma Jonson Band and small group jazz from the Svarc/Hanley/Longhawn Trio.

Earlier in the festival, trombone star Dennis Rollins was special guest with the band of Lichfield trumpeter and guitarist Nick Dewhurst at the Cathedral Hotel, with outstanding tunes including Nick’s new composition Sunset With Santana and Rollins' own funky tune Shake It Down. The trombonist has worked with pop artists including Blur and Jamiroquai as well as his own bands, and his creative skills are always matched by a sense of joy in music making.

Trombone star Dennis Rollins at the Lichfield festival

He was brilliantly backed by Nick’s band, featuring pianist-singer Tom Lindsay, bass guitarist Paul Robinson and drummer Carl Hemingsley.

The festival had opened at the Cathedral Hotel with the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra, directed by John Ruddick, in works ranging from the classic swing of Duke Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone to adventurous works by contemporary composers.

The Walsall Jazz Orchestra, which opened the final day of the festival at the Guildhall, is one of the finest bands of its kind, and with pianist Tim Amann as musical director they have gone from strength to strength.

This was evident from the opening number, Charles Mingus’s blues Nostalgia In Times Square, and US band the Yellowjackets’ funky number Nimbus.

There were some exquisitely melodic pieces too: Amann’s composition Solstice and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s Gentle Piece - and there were exciting solos from saxophonists Chris Proctor, Anne Tinsley and Sam Rogers, trombonist Helen Miller, and guitarist Rick Sandford.

The performance by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra - directed by Ed Puddick - featured guest artists Paul Dunmall on tenor saxophone and Steve Ajao on guitar and vocals in an imaginative repertoire of blues themes.

Finally, a marvellously eclectic mix of driving blues, soul, R&B and more from the band of the dynamic singer-pianist Emma Jonson closed out the festival, with trumpeter Dewhurst joining her on stage for an entertaining version of Ray Charles’ Hit The Road Jack.

Review and photos by John Watson