Anthony Strong, above, who performed on the opening night of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival

The city of Derry jazz and big band festival is up and running with some 30,000 festival-goers expected over the bank holiday weekend. Singer/pianist Anthony Strong was one of the headliners of the first night of this year’s festival with a late-night appearance at the new Spiegeltent venue on Guildhall Square. Performing with his band, the sound spearheaded by the classic blended Blue Note style of saxophonist Brandon Allen, fresh from an appearance at Ronnie Scott’s Late Late Show the night before, and trumpeter Graeme Flowers, with Empirical bassist Tom Farmer and ex-Gregory Porter drummer Dave Ohm completing Strong’s band.

The festival runs until late on Monday evening with more than 60 venues across the city hosting live music involved this year. One of the new features for this weekend is a 1920s-style Speakeasy Bar situated inside the Playhouse theatre that opens its doors for the first time tonight.
A poster outside the Rocking Chair venue where Derry jazz icon Gay McIntyre plays on Saturday
Sharp-suited, with a superb modern mainstream swinging piano style rendered as an updated version of Nat King Cole’s classic approach (via Wynton Kelly and Oscar Peterson) complementing Strong’s mellifluous vocals the singer is part of the new wave of jazz crooners, who include fresh new talent Mancunian Alexander Stewart, Halifax’s AJ Brown, and London-based Theo Jackson, to make their mark on the jazz scene in the last few years.
Playing material mainly drawn from his album Stepping Out highlights of last night’s show included a sensitive treatment of Kurt Weill’s ‘My Ship’, ‘When I Fall in Love’, a song more or less synonymous with Nat Cole, and a soulful take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ with the band responding well. The concert also included substantial room for the trio of Strong, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Dave Ohm to express themselves as a unit, a band within a band, and the singer also performed a solo piano section, while Allen unleashed a number of solos that recalled the Ellingtonian Gonsalves sound rarely experienced live these days delivered with such sheer verve.
Victoria Geelan at Bennigan's jazz club
Other opening night action included an intimate set at Derry’s new jazz club Bennigan’s where Omagh jazz singer Victoria Geelan performed a nuanced take on the Nina Simone songbook. Geelan’s debut album Unfit the Picture was released earlier this year. Highlights of the second set included a fine take on ‘Four Women’, Geelan wringing every last drop of emotion out of the song with a highly individual approach.

Stephen Graham

The festival continues today with highlights including John and Fiona Trotter in the Tower Hotel this afternoon at 3pm; and Dana Masters and the Masters of Jazz at the Playhouse theatre tonight at 8pm