The first manchester jazz festival took place in 1996. With some financial help from Manchester City Council, a brewery, the Musicians Union and the music department of what was then the North West Arts Board, we put together a programme of nine bands, a DJ, off-stage activities and some enthusiastic beer sampling.
What we hadn’t planned for was having to pull the entire event, when the 1996 bomb went off and the city centre had to be evacuated. Undeterred, we re-staged the event for August with the same line-up. Flushed with the success of the event, we realised that there was a need for the festival to become a regular occurrence.
By 2000, we were commissioning our first major work for the festival: New Futures by Richard Iles. Our goal had been to provide a platform for our composers and players to realise ambitious projects, and help raise their profile in doing so. We’ve continued to develop this and now have a bespoke strand, mjf originals, which commissions new work for the festival each year.
To mark The Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, we ran an international exchange programme as part of the programme of cultural events in the run-up to the games. This sparked our ongoing mjf international strand, which today presents debut performances from many international artists each year.
With 2005 marking our tenth festival, we raised funds to commission four very special pieces of work from regional composers to première at the festival. They achieved national profile and drew sell-out crowds. We were also overjoyed that BBC Radio 3 chose to broadcast their flagship contemporary jazz programme Jazz on 3 live from the launch night. We presented a sleepless 9 days of non-stop jazz: widely recognised as our biggest and best festival up until that point.
By 2013, we were the longest-running music festival in Manchester, we’d commissioned 15 major new works and were attracting over 50,000 people passing through the festival site in Albert Square each year.
2014 saw us welcome on board three major new sponsors for mjf originals, mjf introduces and the Festival Pavilion site in Albert Square. We hosted the inaugural Jazz Promotion Network conference and Jazz North’s northern line showcase.
As we turned the corner into our 20th festival year, 2015, we marked that milestone with a host of special anniversary projects which celebrated the achievements we’ve made together with our artists, audiences, volunteers, staff and trustees, mjf friends and sponsors.
In 2016 we were the proud recipients of the Europe Jazz Network’s Award for Adventurous Programming – the first UK recipient of this prestigious accolade.
In 2017, our collaborations continue: with HOME, Jazz on Film highlights an other aspect of jazz and its interaction with the cinema; our partnership with Jazz North continues with the free day-long northern line showcase – 11 gigs in 11 hours, and we continue to celebrate our status as a Talent Development Partner with the PRS for Music Foundation. Other collaborations throughout the programme provide mjf audiences with intriguing events that they simply can’t get anywhere else. We’re especially excited about our new flagship venue in Albert Square – a spectacular 1920’s spiegeltent.
Once more, we’re looking forward to welcoming our regular audiences and new visitors to enjoy 10 wonderful, surprising days of live music.
Amidst these challenges and achievements, new ideas keep coming in, exciting young players emerge and musicians continue to view mjf as a chance to create something special. We’ll carry on doing what we hope we do best: pass it on!
Steve Mead, Artistic Director, manchester jazz festival