x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai: a city of jazz

As the Dubai Jazz Garden kicks off, and ahead of the main Jazz Festival events, we take a look at the line-up.

The singer Alison Moyet guested on Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra’s latest album, though it remains to be seen if she will take to the stage with Holland in Dubai.
The singer Alison Moyet guested on Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra’s latest album, though it remains to be seen if she will take to the stage with Holland in Dubai.

It's been quite a journey for the Dubai Jazz Festival. Since its debut in 2003, the event has brought some fine musicians to the UAE. Its original mission statement of "much more than jazz" saw festival producers at Chillout Productions establish an annual gathering that embraces blues, funk, swing, acid jazz, rock, R&B, soul, contemporary and fusion, and 8,000 fans came in its first year.

By 2007, the fifth edition of the festival was drawing more than 25,000 fans and acts ranging from Britain's Jamie Callum, the magnificent voice of Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the classic swing of Freddie Cole (brother of Nat King Cole) and his quartet. In 2009, the Jazz Garden opened, with a special themed line-up of Armenian bands alongside local acts from the Gulf and internationally renowned artists including John Legend and Incognito. In 2010 it was host to more than 40,000 music lovers at the Dubai Media City outdoor amphitheatre.

This year, alongside the Jazz Garden's programme of new British jazz and American smooth jazz stars, which begins today, the main stage events, from February 16-18, include a more eclectic, less jazz-centric selection of performances: Mica Paris, Jools Holland and Alison Moyet are coming from Britain, while the US contingent includes Macy Gray, Joshua Radin and the LA band Lifehouse.

The latter, celebrating 10 years of gigging, are an energetic rock band whose members are still in their 20s, and whose live chops have been honed by a regular itinerary of four to six shows a week, week after week, year after year. For founding member and drummer Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr: "I wouldn't have it any other way. We really enjoy being on the road, the energy it brings." The band tours its fifth album, Smoke and Mirrors, in the UK immediately after playing the jazz festival. For Lifehouse, the road, and the electrification of the audience through anthemic rootsy rock, has become a full-time preoccupation.

Joshua Radin is one of those loose-limbed, open-hearted, acoustic singer-songwriters whose route to success came not via the music charts but through television dramas. He is behind a remarkable run of soundtrack songs for hit television series such as Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters, House and One Tree Hill. Since releasing his first album, We Were Here, in the wake of a difficult romantic break-up in 2006, Radin's whispering, pull-on-the-heartstrings voice has taken him to the top of the iTunes chart, and attracted collaborations with the likes of alt-country star Ryan Adams and the veteran singer Patty Griffin, who sang with him on 2008's Simple Times, racking up more than a quarter of a million sales in America in the process. For Dubai Jazz, he will be delivering new songs from his third album The Rock and the Tide, released at the end of last year.

Jessy J (not to be confused with the British pop artist Jessie J) is a breakout star in smooth jazz, a Mexican-American beauty delivering mellow, fluid sax lines against a subtle backline of keyboards, samba beats and Latin percussion. Her debut album, Tequila Moon, drew accolades from the likes of Billboard, which awarded her best contemporary jazz song, while its follow-up, True Love, is as much about musical passion as it is affairs of the heart.

The towering figure of Macy Gray needs little introduction to audiences worldwide - an R&B star with a distinctive raspy delivery and singing style under the heady, heavy influence of cult legend Betty Davis, the wildly-afro'd singer who married Miles Davis and turned him on to Hendrix in the late 1960s and whose 1970s albums such as Nasty Gal are the sassy template for every bad girl who has dared to cross the line ever since.

Since releasing her multi-platinum debut in 1999 (On How Life Is), and the worldwide hit I Try, Gray's musical journey has embraced everything from Afrobeat with Fema Kuti on his father's Water No Get Enemy, to collaborations with the British guitar legend Jeff Beck, Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am, and fellow soul-jazz chanteuse Natalie Cole.

The British soul queen Mica Paris's musical beginnings go back a little further than Gray's - to the late 1980s, in fact, with her debut album, So Good, which featured guest spots from the British sax giant Courtney Pine. She enjoyed regular entries in the UK and American charts through the 1990s, released her first album of new material, Born Again, last year, and returns to a run of club gigs at Camden's Jazz Café - a venue she's sold out many times - immediately after the festival.

Also emerging in the 1980s, with the electro-pop of Yazoo, the all-consuming blues-drenched voice of Moyet has few equals. A string of solo hits was followed in the 1990s by a gruelling legal battle with her record label. She released nothing for eight years, until the acclaimed Hometime in 2002. An eighth solo album is in the works, and last year she toured with the "British national treasure" that is Holland. Moyet also guested on his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra's latest album, though it remains to be seen whether she'll present herself when Holland takes to the stage in Dubai. The avuncular band leader began his career with Squeeze in the post-punk late 1970s, before moving into presenting The Tube with Paula Yates in the 1980s, and then fronting what is often described as the best live music show on television, Later ... With Jools Holland.

With his 20-piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Holland has refreshed the British summer festival scene with brio and easy-going panache that goes very well with a picnic basket. The crack musicians in its ranks include the singer Ruby Turner, saxophonist Derek Nash and drummer Gibson Lavis - as well as some big-name guest artists on his latest album, Rocking Horse, including the legendary New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint and the ageless pop star Sandie Shaw, who will be accompanying Holland and co on tour this year.

Mastering the art and business of keeping a big band on the road is no easy feat in the 21st century, and for that alone Holland deserves a medal or at least some extravagant backstage rider. If you want to fill the stage with enough energy, playfulness and delight to light up the town, then he and his orchestra are the go-to guys you won't regret.