A Review of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

  • Words: Tina Edwards

‘Uplifting’, ‘barn-storming and ‘thrilling’ are a few of the words chosen by the programmers to describe the line-up of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues festival this year. Credit where it’s due – their thesaurus rummaging wasn’t in vein.

The 10 day event kicked off on July 17th, housed by traditional venues like the 1900 capacity Festival Theatre, through to the Victorian-inspired splendor of the cosy Spiegeltent in St Andrews Square.

Australian four piece ‘The Vampires’ pleased those looking for a high-spirited start to the festival at the Jazz Bar, an intimate basement venue famous with locals for its late night jam sessions. If you were tempted to take the family to the festival at the weekend, you needn’t have felt guilty about partying at The Jazz Bar with Edinburgh’s twenty-somethings – the Frank Sinatra centenary concert hosted by the BBC Big Band would have kept your granny in a state of nostalgic glee. It was certainly suited to those with a taste for the old times, but if conventional musicianship is what you were looking for, it was a solid evening’s entertainment.

Mardi Gras at Grassmarket presented festivalgoers with four stages. Whilst there was a fun carnival-like atmosphere in the air, this wasn’t quite the place to find your progressive jazz fix. Families and tourists stumbling across the stages however would have been left charmed by the contagious melodies and street fair vibe.

For revelers looking for an act that balanced enthusiasm and swagger, American five piece Davina and the Vagabonds delivered a kitsch set with sass on what was their second year at Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. A heartfelt rendition of Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ allowed Davina Sowers’ vocals to soar and ignite a goose-pimpled reaction from the audience. Those familiar with standards will have enjoyed their closing track – a jubilant and up-tempo take on ‘St James Infirmary’.

Church-turned-venue Tron Kirk delivered a welcoming atmosphere for city hipsters and traditional jazz-club frequenters alike. Here, Rumbas De Bodas provided the kind of Euro-pop jazz that you might have questioned in the first few seconds before being completely and utterly enamored by it. The upbeat ska rhythms teamed with singer Matilda’s sensual vocals encouraged many to relive their ‘skanking’ days on the dance floor.

The final weekend of the festival saw beatboxer and guitarist Butterscotch delighting audiences whilst headliners Jools Holland and George Benson left a lasting impression at the Festival Theatre. Fans of more adventurous sounds were entertained at sub-festival Cross The Tracks held at Summerhall, a former brewery come animal hospital that hosted the excellently erratic Melt Yourself Down and Afro-punks United Vibrations. Attendees got to enjoy local ambient Edinburghians Hidden Orchestra do their thing here, too.

It’s simple; Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival 2015 did exactly what it set out to do, showcasing top of the class artists in fun and varied venues across a stunning city – no thesaurus needed.