Preview: London Jazz Festival 2012

The 20th London Jazz Festival, created and produced by international live music producers Serious, kicks off on 9 November for ten days of pure jazz heaven.

Featuring home-grown and international performers from across the generations, and with over 250 events at a multitude of venues across the capital, there should be something to suit everyone’s pocket and taste. With such a range of concerts on offer it can be hazardous to single any out, but those that celebrate the human voice look particularly impressive. The Barbican provides the jewel in the crown of this strand on the festival’s opening night. Under the direction of Guy Barker, Jazz Voice: Celebrating a Century of Song brings together a range of jazz, rock and soul vocal stars to perform groundbreaking songs from the past hundred years, all with grand orchestral scores. Five nights later, Tina May, Brigitte Beraha and Emily Dankworth appear at Soho’s Spicejazz for a songfest that few others should be able to rival.

Monday 12 November could be a night to remember at the Southbank Centre as it features Herbie Hancock in the Royal Festival Hall, and guitarist Bill Frisell next door in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This will be Hancock’s first ever solo concert in London, and he will be employing acoustic piano and electronic innovations to perform many of his best-loved pieces alongside music especially devised for this event. Frisell, who has worked with everyone from John Zorn to Elvis Costello, will be playing his evening-long suite of original music, with film and staging by Bill Morrison accompanying the live performance.

Quite rightly, Ronnie Scott’s is very much at the centre of affairs, and alongside a series of late night jazz jams, beginning at either 11pm or 1am, there are gigs from Terence Blanchard, Patti Austen, Natalie Williams and her band Soul Family, the Ravi Coltrane New Quartet, the Jazz Passengers, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chris Dave and the Drumhedz. The good news is that many of these are on for more than one night, so you are less likely to be caught out by prior engagements.

A lot of the smaller venues also offer great value for money, not least The Green Man on Euston Road, whose four tremendous concerts are 10 a time and include a two-night tribute to the 1962 Sonny Rollins album, The Bridge. The man himself is at the Barbican on 16 November, and there are numerous free lunchtime and early evening sets in the foyers of the Barbican, Southbank Centre and various other venues.

But if there can be one top tip amidst such a veritable line-up it has to be reserved for the peerless Esperanza Spalding, performing at the Royal Festival Hall on 15 November. Now a regular at the festival, this year she is playing from her new album Radio Music Society, released last March. Merging r’n’b, pop and nu-soul, and featuring new songs alongside fascinating covers of classics such as Stevie Wonder‘s I Can’t Help It, this will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the 2012 festival. It packed out Camden’s KOKO this May, and now looks set to do the same with this much larger venue.

The 2012 London Jazz Festival takes place from 9 November to 18 November 2012 at venues across London. Tickets and further information are available from

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