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City of Derry Jazz Festival – 17 years on and getting bigger and better

27 March 2018

With just weeks to Derry’s favourite Bank Holiday weekend celebration – the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival and Derry City and Strabane District Council is feeling nostalgic by taking a look back over the past 17 years and what prompted Derry to develop and grow this hugely popular and award winning festival. We look at how the festival has developed down through the years and how the people of the city and wider region have opened their hearts to jazz music and really made the festival a superbly unique celebration of everything that is good about Derry.

It was back in 2001 that the first ever City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival took place in the city. Gerry McColgan, was the Community Services Programme Organiser, with the former Derry City Council at that time. He saw a gap in the market for a music festival to fit within the Council’s existing events diary and he travelled alongside his work colleague, Johnny Murray who managed the Rialto Theatre, to attend the Cork Jazz Festival to see how that worked as a model with the aim of developing a bespoke Jazz Festival for Derry.

They felt that the city was well placed to host such an event considering the city’s musical reputation and its unique musical history and heritage, as well as the wealth of local Jazz talent on its doorsteps.

A key influencer at that time was Jack McGournan from the Cork Jazz Festival who actively encouraged Derry to take the step to develop its own festival. He shared his experience and contacts from organising the Cork festival and gave Gerry and Johnny the invaluable advice and confidence needed to proceed with developing the concept.

Once Council agreed to proceed with the planning stages of the Derry Jazz Festival, the first bank holiday in May was identified as the most appropriate date for the event as a Bank Holiday on both sides of the border that would allow the Council to maximise the potential for more visitors to attend.

In the early stages the Council worked very closely with local jazz artists and venues to agree a programme. The idea of having a free Jazz trail within the festival was particularly appealing to venues and the close proximity of venues within the City Centre made this very accessible.

The first City of Derry Jazz Festival in 2001 saw 6,000 people attend over a five-day event. Venues were enthusiastic from the very beginning and showed a real willingness to make the festival work. 

A key factor in the success of the festival has been the decision to have quality artists and music from the start and those high standards have been retained throughout the 17 years.

With the assistance of a number of teams within Council, various sponsors, venue owners and musicians who have supported the festival since inception, the event has grown from strength to strength and now proudly attracts 60,000 people over the five days. This is an incredible achievement and something we are very proud of. Our reputation as a top host for jazz music is renowned and the number of artists and followers coming back year after year is testament to that.

Most importantly it is the people of this city and further afield that have made the Jazz Festival the success that it is. They have really embraced the festival, they have taken jazz into their hearts and made it their own. However, without their support and enthusiasm the festival would not be where it is today. Here is to 2018 and another year of success to everyone involved.

Details of this year’s festival programme will be unveiled in the next number of weeks when the full programme will be launched on 20 March. In the meantime you can visit our website at www.cityofderryjazzfestival.com or follow us on Facebook – www.facebook.com/DerryJazzFestival  and Twitter @DerryJazzFest for regular updates.