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Southport Jazz Festival

Highlight of the Southport International Jazz festival was the appearances of Italian pianist Riccardo Zegna, who had Jazzers fumbling for superlatives after four exquisite performances.

Pick of the bunch was a Saturday afternoon session featuring Riccardo and bassist Steve Berry. The pair only met shortly before the gig and, as Berry told the audience, "Riccardo knows as much English as I know Italian - not a lot".

Between each strong, the duo played a hilarious lost-in-translation guessing game as they tried to decide which song they should attempt next.

But what they lacked in linguistics, they made up for in raw musical communication - speaking to one another through music, finding a line of melody and gradually and building to a mesmerising climax.

Riccardo, who has done notable work with Buddy Tate and Lee Konitz, has a playing style which owes a debt to Thelonious Monk, and so it is no surprise that Monk features heavily in his repertoire, the most satisfying piece being a lushly-romantic version of Ruby, My Dear.

There was also time for Coltrane, Garner and Ellington, with a free-reign version of Bye Bye Blackbird hitting the back of the net despite a bass solo that went on so long that Riccardo could have nipped to the bar for a cup of coffee.

The crowd was sparser than this gig deserved, probably because there were several competing attractions with free admission elsewhere (although this was a steal at £6). But for those who weren't there, The Southport Melodic Jazz Club, who sponsored the gig, are hoping to release a CD of what the club's MC for the evening described as the best concert in the club's 10 year history.

Elsewhere in the beach resort-town festival, there were good notices for rising singing star Clare Teal and a memorably cool night of French-style guitar from John Etheridge. Gary Potter and Harry Connolly packed out The Victoria Pub with strong performances, while the pick of the bandstand jazz on offer was vocalist Sophie Garner.

The festival, a great deal of which is free, was not perhaps as impressive as previous years, with a little too much soul music beginning to creep in and not nearly enough straight-ahead jazz.

And quite why Alexander O'Neill had top billing is anyone's guess.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Southport International Jazz Festival
  • Concert Date: 6/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Italian pianist Zegna wows seaside jazz fans
  • Venue: Southport, North West England
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