14 May 2019




Many will know Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival as one of the cultural gems in Bristol’s annual calendar. The Festival develops local talent and programmes world renowned musicians, occupying a distinctive niche in the international Jazz scene.

After the ‘Beast from the East’ over Festival weekend in 2018, and now the relocation of the Festival during Colston Hall’s refurbishment, the team are reaching out to supporters and the wider city with a Fundsurfer campaign to ensure Bristol Jazz Fest continues in 2020 and beyond.

We spoke to some of the team behind the festival to get the inside perspective on the work that goes on behind the scenes…


How would you describe the festival to a complete novice?

Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival takes place in mid March and packs a massive amount of jazz, blues, funk and soul into an exhilarating weekend of music. Until this year, it predominantly took place in Colston Hall, taking over all its spaces to create a brilliant atmosphere that appealed to thousands of people, many of whom probably don’t even think of themselves as jazz fans.

The programme works on a range of levels; there are the ticked events including big, international and UK stars, the legendary Big Swing night, new projects and commissions, exciting contemporary jazz and the unmissable ‘Free Stage’ which is packed from noon ’til night with superb musicians from Bristol and the wider area.

Who are the team behind the festival?

The Festival was founded by guitarist Denny Ilett and festival producer Colin Gorrie. They brought together a team of specialist freelancers from Bristol and its environs, some of whom are still working for the Festival seven years later. The Festival is a charity and has a voluntary board of Trustees.  And of course there are all our amazing volunteers that help out over the weekend.

Tell us a bit more about the schools activity.

Over the years the Jazz Festival has run a variety of schools workshops which teachers and pupils have loved. Sadly there is less and less music in schools today, and what does happen is reliant on individual teachers who have the passion and skills. We feel it’s really important to bring professional artists into schools to inspire the next generation of jazz – and other – musicians.

What were the biggest challenges delivering the festival this year?

Naturally the fact that Colston Hall is closed for refurbishment is an enormous challenge. The Festival was started in Colston Hall and we have developed both a programming structure that fits within its spaces, and a great relationship with the team there. 

Our other challenge was financial – hence the crowd funder. We receive no local authority funding and receive a lower level Arts Council grant. This means that in the main, we have to cover our (lean) staffing costs and festival costs – artists’ fees, venue hire, production and marketing costs – from our ticket sales.

How do you feel about the future of the festival?

The Festival has become a key event in Bristol. For the thousands of musicians who have played at it, it is a vital platform for their music. There has always been a fantastic crowd at the Festival and so much support from all our peers around the city. It is clear the demand and passion for it are there. 

Whether you’re a ticket buyer, musician, workshop participant or free-stage fan, the Festival is reaching out to all those who have enjoyed the event in its many forms to donate anything you can. Plus there are some unique offers to get your hands on as a thank you.

You can find the #SaveBristolJazzFest crowdfunding platform by clicking here.


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