The city of Derry, Northern Ireland, is home to the sweet sounds of jazz over the coming days. Recently we spoke with Derry Jazz Festival Coordinator Andrea Campbell about what audiences can expect.

When and why did you first become involved with the festival?
The event is so popular and has been going from strength to strength each year, so when I was asked to work on the City of Derry Jazz Festival nine years ago, I jumped at the chance. I’ve watched it grow and evolve over the years and I’m proud to have been involved in its development to become the biggest Jazz Festival in Ireland.

What are your current roles & responsibilities there?
I basically coordinate the entire Jazz Festival program, so when one Jazz Festival is over, it’s right back to planning for the next year. But I work with a dedicated team within Council who help promote and market the event and then deliver it on the ground. In my role I help to source headline artists, new performers, put venues in contact with artists, programme the Jazz Hubs, draw up contracts for artists, work with music agents and promoters and organise the travel for the many artists who travel from around the world to take part. In the final build-up to the event, I also do a lot of press promotion and it’s a brilliant showcase for the city in terms of hospitality and tourism.

What are the challenges of the position?
Obviously one of the main challenges is the sheer extent of the program and the number of performers who take part. We work closely with local venues in securing acts, but with gigs staged in over 60 venues and over 300 musical performances during the course of the festival, it’s quite an undertaking to make sure everyone gets here when they should and appears on stage when they’re supposed to. Many of the acts move from venue to venue over the course of the weekend, so it can be a very busy schedule and a bit of a logistical challenge. There is always the odd hiccup – but I think at this stage we nearly have it down to a fine art and we work well with the local venues to ensure the program is right for everyone.

What are the rewards?
When the weekend gets underway, and we visit the venues to make sure everything is running smoothly it’s quite overwhelming to see how much people love the festival. We are in a bit of a bubble organizing the event but when it all kicks off there are literally people of all ages dancing in the streets, and it’s such a buzz watching them out enjoying themselves. The fact that most of the performances are free and that people have access to live music experiences and workshops throughout the weekend, is also so rewarding. It’s a great opportunity for people to see a quality performance at very little cost, and the dedicated festival goers go out night after night to see their favourite acts. The festival also offers an outreach programme, and there’s a real commitment to providing opportunities for younger performers to take part, and for local schools to get involved. The Live Music Now Schools Education Programme engages over 2,000 local children in a series of workshops running up to the festival where they have the chance to meet some of the stars and experience live jazz taster sessions right in their own school halls. This ensures the legacy of the festival for future generations, and gives children the chance to get involved, learn more about a new genre of music and maybe even discover a new talent.

What is the festival’s core mandate?
I suppose it works on a number of levels. We want to create opportunities for local businesses and help support the local economy. For a small city, Derry really punches above its weight when it comes to events. We have established ourselves as the Number 1 Halloween destination in the world, and we host the biennial Foyle Maritime Festival, which will take place at the end of June. So, every few months we’re bringing people into the City and District for a new experience. The Jazz Festival is also a fantastic cultural showcase, so it provides a platform for our local artists to connect with new audiences and celebrate the wonderful music legacy that is synonymous with Derry and Strabane.

Who attends and what can they expect this year?
The event really appeals to all kinds of music lovers, and we always have an eclectic mix of homegrown and international talent, performing everything from bluegrass, swing, rock and of course our trademark jazz. Over 80,000 music fans are expected to descend upon the city for this year’s festival, and many of them are returning Jazz Festival visitors who book the hotels from one year to the next. We are still in the planning stages of this year’s festival and finalising program details, but I can guarantee that this year the schedule will be as jam packed as ever!

 Why is it an important event for the community?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s hugely important for the local economy, particularly the tourism and hospitality sector. It basically kicks off the summer season and gets people out and about in the city centre. With so many al fresco performances, and music in hotels and restaurants, not just the bars, it means people of all ages can enjoy the entertainment. We have a huge local following and people plan their nights out weeks in advance.  Our Second Line Parade which is one of the highlights of the festival has a great outreach into all local communities to encourage musicians of all ages to take part in the parade, giving them the opportunity to perform with international artists.

Derry and jazz seem like an odd fit, and yet it works well…explain?
Here in Derry music and performance are just in our blood, and I think a lot of that comes from the Derry Feis where most of us had a first taste of the stage as children. Jazz may be a bit more niche, but we are so lucky to have a strong network of local jazz legends who have been the backbone of the festival since its inception 23 years ago. From the wonderful Gay McIntyre and his son Paul to George Hasson and Jim McDermott, over the years they have been passionate about making the festival a success, and they have helped shape it into the festival it is today. That legacy is now being taken on by a younger generation of talent, who are keeping that passion alive.

What are the plans for the festival for the years to come?
I would love to see the festival continue to develop, and for local venues to take more ownership of the event. I hope that the focus on younger talent will continue to grow. While we’ve been lucky enough over the years to host some fantastic stars at the festival, I get most excited to see the new emerging acts signing up. I think if we continue to inspire young people with exciting and authentic music experiences, then the Jazz Festival will still have an important place in promoting local culture and supporting the local music scene.