40 Years of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Edinburgh Jazz Festival my covers collageScotland’s first jazz festival was born out of an experiment, 40 years ago, when local antiques-dealer and banjo-player Mike Hart brought together a number of local bands plus a couple of well-respected soloists from England and staged a mini festival in a ballroom in the capital.

Its success, plus a visit to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, inspired him to seek sponsorship for the first Edinburgh International Jazz Festival which took place in 1979, and featured a variety of semi-professional bands from here and abroad.

But it was in 1980 that the EIJF began to operate a policy which helped define it: it began to hire individual jazz stars, many of them veterans of the great American bands of the 1930s onwards, who had been sidemen in their youth but were now happy to be more in the spotlight.

Into the mix, Mike Hart added younger players who were part of the mainstream revival. All these musicians would stay for several days, if not a whole festival, at a time and would be mixed and matched in different line-ups, often featuring Scottish talent in the rhythm sections.

The jazz festival continued in this manner until the mid-1990s, by which point the blues festival had been added, the dates no longer fell within the main Edinburgh festival period, and the pub trail had come to an end.

In 1997, the festival was produced, for the first time, with Assembly Direct (now Jazz Scotland), ushering in a new era in which even more sub-genres of jazz were represented at the festival, and new collaborations and projects were championed, but always with a basic respect for classic and trad jazz and the keepers of the jazz flame ..

The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival (July 13-22) celebrates its 40th anniversary with a gala concert on the opening night and various other events – visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com for details. 

In the run-up, I’ll be publishing a series sharing memories of the jazz festival from across its 40-year history, and from the perspectives of punters and performers alike. If you would like to share your stories and photos, please email me on girlfriday71@yahoo.com

 

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