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The 2017 Wellington Jazz Festival: 7 - 11 June

By Martyn 19 Apr 2017

Shelagh1 HR
Shelagh Magadza

It's back. From 7 - 11 June, The Wellington Jazz Festival returns to the capital for several nights of mid-winter fun. With 250 musicians playing at 150 shows spread across 45 venues, 2017 looks to be the festival's biggest year yet. "Last year was pretty amazing," reflects Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza. "It was one of our best yet, and unexpectedly so. The momentum sustained itself over that week. The quality of the gigs that are happening all around the bars is upping every festival. I think the challenge for us is to maintain that excitement, harness it, and keep doing something a little bit different." 

This year, the festival is hosting an impressive array of local and international talents at venues as large as The Opera House and as small and off the beaten track as Taranaki Street's low-profile Pyramid Club. Local musicians will be performing renditions of classic jazz albums at craft beer bar The Rogue & Vagabond, The St Peters on Willis church will host a series of free concerts, and on Saturday the 10th of June, Lower Cuba street will host a jazz-themed night market.

In celebration of all of this, we sat down with Shelagh and asked her to give us a few hot tips for the festival.

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Bill Frisell, Wednesday 7 June - 8pm, Opera House

Arguably the most innovative and influential jazz guitarist of the last twenty five years, Seattle's Bill Frisell is a crucial figure within the contemporary Americana scene, and has collaborated with the likes of Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Bono and Marianne Faithfull. Attendees can expect a decadently dark evening of dreamy cinema and TV soundtrack music reimaginings from his 2017 Grammy Award-nominated album When You Wish Upon a Star.

Shelagh Says: "I’m a big Bill fan from a long time ago. I came to him from hearing him on other people’s records in the pop realm. I used to go down the liner notes on albums to work out who played what. I discovered him as an artist that way. He’s one of those go to musicians when you put together a crème de la crème to celebrate something. You just know that the musicianship will be incredible."


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Dianne Reeves, Friday 9 June - 8pm, Opera House

Soulful and sultry, Detroit's Dianne Reeves is one of the most celebrated jazz vocalists of our era. A storyteller with a huge voice and presence, her jazz-rooted songs draw on R&B, pop, folk and rock, recasting all their influences into something all her own, as her lush, crystal-clear tone and heartfelt delivery keeps audiences on the edge of their seats (or more often, up dancing in the aisles). Having wowed over past Jazz Festival audiences with her Nina Simone tribute show, this time she'll joined on stage by Peter Martin (piano), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Reginald Veal (double bass) and Terreon Gully (drums), for a charismatic performance sure to remind us why she's a five-time Grammy Award-winner.

Shelagh Says: "Dianne Reeves is a no-brainer. She unashamedly loves a great song and is a great voice. That’s what it’s really about. She’s one of those musicians where I think the live experience far outstrips anything you will hear recorded."

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Seoul Jazz: The Jac & Black String, Saturday 10 June - 4pm, Opera House

When The Jac & Black String hit the stage together, we're going to witness the sounds of jazz in South Korea and New Zealand colliding, and it sounds like it's going to be pretty special. Acclaimed by European and UK music media, Black String have been making waves outside of South Korea for some time now, with their electric and unique take on Jazz. In New Zealand, eight-piece The Jac, a group made up of members of New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The Troubles and the Richter City Rebels, have been drawing attention towards their loose-limbed work as well.

Shelagh Says: "I’m really intrigued by this one. I saw Black String when went to South Korea on a Creative New Zealand sponsored exchange trip. That interaction opened the door for a collaboration. I didn’t have anyone in mind at first. When we talked, we hit on The Jac, because they’re such a great Wellington ensemble, and they have a real flexibility. The Jac went to South Korea last year, met with Black String and they composed a work. Black String have their own unconstrained jazz aesthetic. It’s very sharp and very interesting." 

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The Comet Is Coming, Saturday 10 June - 8pm, Opera House

If you need a Saturday Night Soundtrack to an imagined apocalypse, UK jazz, Afro-beat and electronica fusionists The Comet Is Coming are going to be exactly your kind of crazy. With members King Shabaka (Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down), Danalogue and Betamax serving as your cosmic guides, expect a journey traveled in the traditions of Sun Ra, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, one so funky it took them to the Mercury Prize shortlist last year, and saw them described by The Guardian as "the in sound from far out." Their improvised futuristic jazz-funk energy promises a lot.

Shelagh Says: "My programming assistant Eva Prowse came in one day and said, 'I’ve been listening to these guys!' She thought they were worth a go. We had a big smile on our face as we were listening to it. They’re nuts. They do this whole psychedelic thing, and there is also this London dub thing that comes through as well. It’s a mad mix. I reckon they will be a huge hit."


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Harold López-Nussa, Sunday 11 June - 7pm, Opera House

In a fast-paced festival closer, the globe-trotting Cuban smooth guy Harold López-Nussa will bring some tropical heat to the capital. With a prodigy-level background in classical piano, and time spent as a soloist with the Cuba National Symphony Orchestra, López-Nussa was one of those jazz latecomers who actually arrived right on time, and actually, doesn't even need a rear-view mirror to cruise safely. Since then he’s since collaborated with musical legends Chucho Valdés and the Buena Vista Social Club, and been picked up by New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London and the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival. Expect hip-hugging rhythms and sunset melodies perfectly suited to swaying the night away.

Shelagh Says: "A friend of mine went to his show at the Tokyo Jazz Festival last year and was blown away. The place went crazy and she came out a convert. His record went into the top ten in Japan that week. He was just a phenomena live. With the whole Cuban influence, you can’t go wrong really. I think he will be one to watch."  

The 2017 Wellington Jazz Festival runs from the 7th to 11th of June, with 250 musicians performing at 150 shows held across 45 venues. For more information and ticket bookings, visit their website here.

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