Swanage Jazz Festival started in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister, East and West Germany became reunified, Operation Desert Storm liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. It was also the year that Tim Berners-Lee created the first web server, without which you would not be reading this now. The Grand National was won by Mr Frisk and Manchester United won the FA cup beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in a replay.
More importantly, the first Swanage Jazz Festival featured ten bands with The Humphrey Lyttelton Band headlining featuring a ‘stripling’ Alan Barnes. Other bands on that bill were the Dave Brennan Jubilee Jazz Band, The Dick Morrissey Quartet and The Deluxe Blues Band. The programme nearly doubled in 1991 and kept growing thereafter.
There is scarcely a British Jazz musician of note that has not played at Swanage. We can’t possibly list all of them here. But if you are curious you can find every band booked, listed by year, and more about its illustrious history on the old festival website.
By 2010, its 20th anniversary, the Festival had grown to 51 artists. It’s delightful marquee-focussed programme on Sandpit Field was dealt a bad blow in 2012 when the South West was swept by gales and torrential rain. But with the help of voluntary donations, the Festival recovered. It kept going until 2017 when Old Father Time caught up with the organising committee and they decided they could continue no longer.
A white knight in the shape of leading British jazz guitarist Nigel Price emerged and threw himself full-tilt into keeping the Festival going. Nigel’s 2018 Festival not only kept the Festival alive but extended the programme and also added some new touches like Big Tops rather than Marquees. But the pressures of being one of Britain’s top jazz guitarists and trying to maintain a Jazz Festival three up conflicts and Nigel decided that one was enough.
At this point the Council stepped in and called a series of meetings to see if a new group could be found to keep this much-loved Festival alive and fortunately nine people stepped forward to take it into its fourth decade.
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