Our ‘Best Bits’ from the 7 years

Our team will be giving us their highlights from the last 7 years over the next few weeks as we run a crowdfunding campaign to secure the future of the festival. To donate click HERE or share your memories using hash tag #SaveBristolJazzFest. Thank you!

Denny Ilett – Artistic Director

Hardly a week goes by without someone mentioning the spellbinding concert John Scofield, Larry Goldings and Greg Hutchinson gave us in 2013, our first year. I certainly remember standing in the Colston Hall surrounded by every Bristol-based jazz musician; our collective jaws on the floor!

Since then, my personal highlights have revolved around the projects that Bristol International Jazz and Blues festival have staged specifically to feature as many of the aforementioned Bristol jazz musicians as possible. I think of the hugely popular Big Swing nights which serve as a reminder that, not too long ago, jazz was pop music for dancing and dating! 

The Big Swing across the years

I shall never forget the lovely concert that featured the same 17-piece orchestra backing Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley in 2016 along with the visit by trumpet legend Bobby Shew in 2017 to celebrate Dizzy Gillespie’s centenary.

Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley perform at the Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival 2016.

Then there were the two large scale orchestral concerts featuring full big band and assorted strings, keyboards and percussion that relived the wonderful jazz-flavoured TV and film themes from the 60’s and 70’s; Sounds For Spies And Private Eyes in 2017 and its follow up Cult Fiction Live! in 2018. 

Sounds for Spies

Two other events that spring to mind were special commissions and world premiere’s. Andy Sheppard’s new score for the iconic movie Metropolis was simply extraordinary as was Get The Blessing’s soundtrack to a movie made from clips of Bristol life over the past century; Bristopia which has since morphed into their latest album.

Get the Blessing present Bristopolis – 2018
Metropolis – 2017

Finally, I shall be forever grateful to Bristol Jazz and Blues festival for allowing me to stage the Electric Lady Big Band in 2018; a reworking for big band of Jimi Hendrix’s classic album Electric Ladyland which has now produced a CD and club/festival dates across the UK in 2019.


Trish Brown – Production Manager

There are so many highlights from the last 7 years! I love fierce singers and there have been so many great chances to see representatives from the current UK and the international scene at the Festival. Alice Russell and Quantic in 2017, it was the first time we used the O2 as a venue and was an amazing night, absolutely packed full of dancing party audience! Carleen Anderson’s solo show back in 2014 was just wow, she is such an incredible artist and seeing her with a stripped back group was fab! Then Lisa Simone’s lunchtime performance in 2015 was a real stunner, she not only has an amazing soulful voice but her ability to command and take the audience on a journey with her from the stage was awe-inspiring.

Lisa Simone – 2016.

Other performers such as Jacqui Dankworth, Liane Carroll and Clare Teal really swinging it adds to the breadth of jazz that the festival presents, then Snow Poet performing a Sunday brunch intimate set was spellbinding.  Finishing off with this year’s gig of the festival, Miss China Moses killing it at St George’s, a powerhouse vocalist laying dedication to one of the real pillars of jazz vocal history, Billie Holiday. 


Katya Gorrie – Assistant Producer

It is almost impossible to pick out ‘favourite‘ highlights from 7 years of amazing musical experiences…but here goes…

Katya Gorrie performing

Standing in a packed Colston Hall One enchanted by Melody Gardot’s alluring voice and energy was unforgettable…as was the hypnotic and emotional performance by Lisa Simone.

The Funk that Pee Wee and Fred Wesley gave us, made me dance with such joy and abandon. And I will never lose the feeling of jubilation witnessing Lillian Boutte’s Gospel on a Sunday morning…

Lillian Boutté (Photo by Adam Gasson)

Yet, there was a moment in the foyer on the free stage one year when local blues guitarist Innes Sibun was playing. There was a severely disabled young man in a wheelchair, at the front of the stage. Innes, in his usual fashion, walked into the audience during one of his burning solos and went straight towards the young man. Innes played the entire solo with his guitar and body pressed against the boy in the wheelchair…I held my breath, thinking it might go wrong…the boy uttered such vocal delight, I burst into tears. 

Innes Sibun performing on the free stage

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. It was incredibly powerful to witness. 


Leon Etchells – Festival Markets

One of my strongest memories of the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival was when the lead singer from Moscow Drug Club put together a Tom Waits tribute band called Swordfish Trombone, little did I know at the time that Katya also happened to be the Assistant Producer of the Festival. As she tore into Chocolate Jesus, megaphone in hard and roaring out the lyrics “I don’t go to Church on Sunday” I was hooked. 

Dr John (Photo by Adam Gasson)

I was lucky enough to see Dr John one year singing Such a Night biting every note in the song while he played the piano just like when he played in the Last Waltz. Having my brother get me tickets to Macy Gray and see her screaming on stage that “Bristol girls have the best vaginas” while the crowd roared in appreciation and then encouraging us all to sing ‘I Try’ with her.

Macy Gray – 2017

Seeing Innis Sibun ripping it on the guitar, time and time again, and playing to an audience of disbelievers at his greatness, feeling like he’s probably one of Bristol’s last true rock stars (even if he’s not from Bristol!).

And then two years ago I was fortunate enough to join them in this amazing journey, loving the production, the team, exploring the nooks and crannies of Colston Hall and understanding how much passion and work truly went into this festival. Knowing that they don’t just book gigs but collaborate and write compositions, even bringing Jimi Hendrix to life with the Electric Lady Big Band and then once the festival was finished taking this production to a sold out Ronnie Scotts. And then the jam sessions and the late night music and every respected musician I know in Bristol meeting up in Bambalan to play into the early hours. For surely that’s what this festival is all about. So I guess I don’t really have a best memory of the festival, more like a journey that keeps on providing and that I look forward to every year, wanting to know what’s next. Wanting to know if I can persuade the artistic director to write a composition of Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall but knowing even if he doesn’t then there will probably be something better to come! 

Electric Lady Big Band – 2018

May the journey of Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival continue for we are all truly blessed to have such an incredible music festival in Bristol, homegrown, original, exciting, independent and all that Jazz.


Share your memories of the Festival with us using hashtag #SaveBristolJazzFest