Sligo International Jazz Summer School and Festival 2007

Sligo International Jazz Summer School and Festival 2007

Sligo, Co. Sligo


The show is sold out. The standby line is ready and waiting. In the end, we all get inside, filling out every available space in The Black Box Theatre. I haven't experienced such pre-show public fervor in a long time. But then again, I haven't been surrounded by such enthusiasts, such true devotees to jazz music, as this audience is. Pack a theatre with jazz aficionados, and this is the vibe you get.

The night's show features the Stewart-Gibellini Guitar Quartet, with Rufus Reid and guest singer Norma Winstone. It is a night of twin guitars. Louis Stewart is a Waterford-born guitarist who began performing on the Dublin jazz scene in the ‘60s. He's played around the world since, and he still performs regularly in Dublin. Sandro Gibellini is an Italian guitarist who's played exclusively jazz for almost thirty years.

The first song, entitled Chimera, is pure, shimmering guitars. Gorgeous and soft and tender. Myles Drennan, the young drummer, does a lot of brushwork. Rufus Reid is luminous on bass. He began his career in Chicago and continued in New York City - he is a fabulous bassist.

They do As Time Goes By, with a languid guitar intro. That conjures sandy beaches and Brazil and all things paradise. And the sounds takes me there. The ending is accomplished by Rufus Reid's bow touching his bass, blending into guitars sounds, disappearing into nothingness, leaving me breathless.

Then Norma Winstone, a London-born vocalist, gets on stage. She has a knockout range and uses her vocal virtuosity like an instrument. Peacocks is a blue song about love and despondency. After bringing the room down, she picks us right back up, singing You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To. I really enjoy hearing her feminine element added to the ensemble, one that I can identify with.

They do Birk Walks in G Minor by Dizzy Gillespie with a surprise for us -- Paul Wertico on drums. Wetico is an incredible drummer to watch; his face writhes with feeling as he plays, and the sounds coming out are pure emotion, truly out of sight.

Earlier the same day I attended a seminar, by jazz historian and Charlie Parker biographer Brian Priestley, entitled "Back to the Future." Priestley took us on an audio time warp -

a listening journey back through the decades of jazz styles; we traced the evolution of sound. It was a total nerd-out session and totally great.

After that, I sat in on a workshop about jazz Trios. Hosted by Rufus Reid on bass, Chris Wiesendanger on piano, and Steve "Dakiz" Davis on drums, this workshop was a serious education in playing. I learned more about playing jazz by listening to Rufus Reid talk than I have in all my years of school band and private lessons. He spoke the real stuff. He is a great player and teacher who spent his life playing with all the greats, and he's picked up a lot along the way. He spoke simply and profoundly about playing, reiterating the basic tenants of jazz musicianship - feel the pulse, play the song, and make music that feels good.

When the show is over, I cross the bridge over the Garavogue River and go to the Harp Tavern. The Jam session is just getting started, a bunch of young, enthusiastic musicians warming up the bandstand. Boy, some of those horn players can blow. I play saxophone, so I notice these things. These teenagers are soloing their hearts out.

I wonder about this, how kids with so few life experiences can play with such soul and feeling - have they experienced falling in love? Have they experienced loss and loneliness? Then I realize that I must be turning into an old lady to have these thoughts - look at young Jimi Hendrix, for example. Whatever the story, they kids are going for it. The preteen drummer is great.

The room is packed with locals, summer school students readying their chops for the bandstand, and world-class musicians who teach at the festival. It's a good time, full of conversations about jazz and cold pints - a place for the true enthusiasts, whether you've brought your horn or not.

I highly recommend this festival and would love to go back for the summer school myself. It is a place to learn a thing or two from the living legends.

How to get there

By car:

From Galway, take the N17 up to Sligo.

From Dublin, take the N4 to Sligo.

By bus:

See website for all current travel details and restrictions.


This festival is based around a weeklong jazz summer school, hosted by professional jazz musicians from all over the world. The summer school participants play in a SJP Big Bash concert at week's end. The festival features evening concerts, jam sessions, and seminars.

Ticket Prices

Check websites


Tuesday August 7th, 2007 - Sunday August 12th, 2007


Web: and


Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007



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