Tag Archives: Jazz

End of Year Soul, Funk & Jazz Party: The Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2016

So, here’s a first: before this winter I’d never been to a festival which stretches across two different years. The long-established Smooth Jazz Festival in the Bavarian tow of Augsburg, Germany, ran from 29 December 2016 until 1 January 2017 and I had discovered it only recently as I was heading back to my hometown for the Christmas holidays. It was also a first as I’d never been to a smooth jazz event before. It turns out, just like in the Americana and folk music scene, which I usually write about, there are excellent performers and dedicated followers in this genre, too, and I met lots of super friendly folks.


The first gig I attended was held at the impressive Kurhaus Parkheater in the suburb of Göggingen. Originally built in 1886, it almost completely burned down in 1972 and was largely forgotten until it was restored to its former glory and reopened in 1996. Hailing from Fresno, California, and trained at the renowned Berklee College of Music, saxophonist Jeanette Harris treated us to favourites from her two recent albums ‘Chocolate Vibez’ and ‘Summer Rain’, among other compositions. I have to admit that purely instrumental music is normally not so much my thing, but listening to any musician who is a master of their chosen instrument is always a treat and this set as well as the acoustics in the venue were pitch-perfect. I would have loved to stay for the next act, UK smooth jazz veterans Shakatak, which I later heard did a great show, but I was feeling really under the weather with a bad cold and annoyingly had to call it a night at that point. Oh, well.

Sadly, the cold also made me miss Brian Bromberg, Oli Silk and JJ Sansaverino the following night, but I was all the more excited for the concert at the Dorint Hotel on New Year’s Day. Another first, as I’d never been at a festival on the first day of a new year. The lunchtime concert opened with US jazz, soul and R&B singer Lindsey Webster supported by her husband Keith Slattery on keys and joined by the excellent smooth jazz ‘house band’ with Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar and Marius Goldhammer on bass (Lutz Deterra, on keyboard, completed the band for the second part of the afternoon). Lindsey has a lovely, natural way of performing and gave it her all (including her hit single ‘Fool Me Once’ and a beautiful cover of the Prince song ‘Call My Name’), which was greatly appreciated by the festival audience, who loved every minute of it, myself included.


The final act of the festival, after a short coffee break, was also yet another highlight: saxophonist extraordinaire Elan Trotman, born and raised in sunny Barbados and another Berklee graduate, whose first-rate performance was as infectious as music can possibly get. He took his saxophone off the stage several times during his set and played right in the middle of the assembled audience, which quickly broke the ice. From the Caribbean flavoured ‘Tradewinds’ to a lovely rendition of Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’, it was definitely time for a dance together with a room full of jazz fans who’d already partied their socks off at the New Year’s celebration the night before. I certainly didn’t expect a fully seated daytime festival gig to be this lively and felt really uplifted for the rest of the day!

Apart from the outstanding quality of performers, Smooth Jazz organisers Christian Bößner and Sandra Hoffman also did an excellent job in terms of the organisation and friendliness of the event. I chatted with attendees from as far as Mallorca, the US as well as other German cities most of whom were regulars at the festival. If smooth jazz is your kind of thing or if you’re keen to give it a try, make sure you check out their yearly festival roster, they also run popular smooth jazz festivals in Mallorca (May) and the Algarve (September). I certainly had a great time at the 17th Smooth Jazz Festival.


In case the above has whetted your appetite and you’re visiting Augsburg with its 2000 years of history for the first time, here are a few travel tips. Don’t miss the Fuggerei (supposedly the oldest social housing estate in the world, but instead of stark architecture, it’s rather quaint), the Goldener Saal in the City Hall, the Perlach tower (which you can climb for panoramic views), the Cathedral, the many fountains and a stroll in the old town. For those with a sweet tooth, Café Dichtl and Café Eber are good bakeries to try, so is Bäckerei Wolf (a few outlets around the city centre). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many veggie-friendly options around town, including the just opened Mom’s Table on the city’s main thoroughfare Maximilianstraße. Not too far from there is also where the famous Augsburger Puppenkiste puppet theatre and museum (shows used to be on national tv, so it’s known all over the country) has its home. While Augsburg may appear conservative at first glance (and it is in many ways), we also have a very exciting cultural and social project, the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where you can stay in unique rooms designed by artists. It’s a friendly, mostly volunteer-run hotel, a gathering place for creatives and a welcoming home for asylum seekers from all over the world.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with concert tickets for the 2016 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All Photography used in this blog post by Christan Nordström (with the exception of the Christkindlesmarkt picture, taken by Life is a Festival).


World Wide Wales: Brecon Jazz Festival 2015

When I attend folk and Americana music festivals I usually have a good idea which artists I want to see. With jazz festivals it is a completely different story for me. This was only my third time volunteering with a jazz festival, ever. The first time was the excellent Nelson Jazz Festival in 2007 (before this blog was born) during a trip to New Zealand and then the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2011. Having not been to Wales for way too long, I decided it was time to give my third jazz festival a try and Brecon Jazz (7-9 August 2015) had a diverse line-up as well as a beautiful location to boot.

I arrived at Brecon from Hay on Wye where I had spent a blissful three days camping in an apple orchard with a flock of beautiful chickens plus Guinness the dog for company. While there, I attended two excellent music sessions, one the weekly open mic at the Globe and the other an acoustic session at the Baskerville Court Hotel, where the atmosphere was so friendly that I spontaneously wrote and read a poem on the night with a fellow traveller (scary but fun). With its many bookshops and cafes, friendly locals and numerous dogs of all shapes and sizes, Hay was difficult to say goodbye to, but Brecon Jazz Festival was promising a weekend filled with even more live music.

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I was lucky again with the campsite I had picked for Brecon, an idyllic riverside location and more chickens, who came around in the mornings to inspect their breakfast options. It was interesting that the friendly Brecon Jazz volunteer crew was made up of quite a few people who, like me, were based in other places, mostly in Wales. As venue stewards we mainly helped out running the indoor concerts throughout the weekend. This way I ended up experiencing a number of different jazz styles, such as:

World Wide Wales: Wales Meets Brazil – a vibrant collaboration between Welsh artist in residence Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and Brazilian-born London-based Adriano Adewale on percussion (including a breathtaking tambourine solo).

GoGo Penguin – This was the concert I probably enjoyed most as this Manchester three-piece really had a very addictive distinctive sound fusing traditional jazz with classical music and electronica.

Adriano Adewale: Catapluf’s Musical Journey – A show primarily aimed at children, but what a great excuse for all the adults in the audience to have a bit of fun with sound too.

Jazz Service at Brecon Cathedral – What a beautiful historic building to spend the morning listening to various jazz fest and other local artists perform specially selected pieces and singing along to jazz hymns such as „When the Saints Go Marching in“.

Deirdre Cartwright Band & Friends – This fascinating tribute to American Jazz guitar greats Emily Remler and Wes Montgomery was part of the Jazz Guitar Day at the Guildhall and also featured guest guitarists Will Barnes and Tom Ollendorf.

Julia Biel – The Sunday night concert by innovative London-based jazz vocalist Julia Biel at Brecon Cathedral was the perfect way to wind down and get together with the other stewards after a music and fun filled weekend.

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Apart from the events in the main jazz festival programme I also caught quite a few smaller Brecon Fringe Festival sessions, including a bluegrass band and an Americana singer songwriter, which was a nice change and a great way of discovering some local musicians plus some lovely smaller venues, such as the cosy The Hours Cafe and Bookshop, the Castle Hotel terrace with mountain views, the quirky The Muse arts venue as well as Ardent Gallery.

All in all, I had a wonderfully relaxing time both in Hay and in Brecon, two perfect destinations for a few days, especially if you are a book or music lover or both.

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