All That Jazz

The Ballydehob Jazz Festival gets better every year! There was a marvellous program this year – eclectic and varied, and our little village was buzzing with locals and out-of-towners.

The great thing about a festival like this is that there’s something for everyone. The Big Acts take place in the “Festival Hall” (AKA Community Hall) where there’s big band sounds and dancing till the wee hours. There are workshops for kids (this year’s line-up featured archery tag and circus skills) and a Sunday Market with a continuous bandstand of acts.

The East Coast Jazz Band are effortlessly cool

But a lot of the action takes place in the intimate venues. The pubs and restaurants all host entertainers so you can have lunch and dinner accompanied by soulful crooners, or crowd into one of the pubs to listen to a piano duo or a swing band or a funk quartet. There’s a good mix of West Cork and come-from-away groups and every venue is packed to the scuppers.

Above: Stephanie Nilles and Thomas Deakin were one of THE acts of the Festival. Their sound (and her lyrics!) left us gasping. Below: The Eileen and Marilyn Experience, perennial favourites in West Cork, and Grace Notes, a new vocal performance group under the direction of Caz Jeffreys 

This year there was a first – a Jazz Mass. Actually it was a Church of Ireland Service, with gospel provided by the choir I (try to) sing with, Acapella Bella. Something tells me this could well become an annual event.

But the highlight of the festival for everyone is the New Orleans-style Jazz Funeral. Ballydehob is a hotbed of creativity at the best of times and the idea of a Jazz Funeral has galvanised the community. This is only the third year we’ve done it and it’s been improved and expanded every year.

Last year the giant puppet, Katrina, made her first appearance, and this time she was joined by a mate. Billed as Mexican Day of the Dead meets Bealtaine, the parade wound its way up the village, stopping along the way so the puppets could wow us with a dance. It was a marvellous spectacle.

Almost, you could forget you were watching dolls and feel the emotion flowing between them and they put their arms around each other and kept time to the music.

A stilt walker, a giant centipede, a pair of gangsters on a penny farthing, and a whole army of children in costume completed the parade of mourners. The weather held off (the Gods of Bealtaine must have been appeased) and the streets were thronged with cheerful festival-goers, all swearing to be back again next year and this time to bring all their friends.

Tara Brandel performed her dance Car at the end of the parade. Finola cosies up to a gangster

The tagline for the Festival is…drum roll, please…THE BOUTIQUE FESTIVAL IN THE BACK OF BEYOND PACKING A BOMBASTIC ARTISTIC PUNCH. Take a look at the program and see for yourself – great descriptor, or what!

The Big Sing

Caz addresses

Doesn’t a Big Sing sound like the greatest thing ever?

And that’s what it is – a group singing experience that will leave you feeling lifted, restored, and – well, just plain happy. The Big Sing is the brainchild of Caz Jeffreys, the director of the choir I belong to, AcapellaBella. Caz is amazing – she has perfect pitch, she teaches us our parts without any requirement to read music (or even be a good singer), she can give us our notes on the fly if we’re wobbling, she plays several instruments and has great rhythm.

Sopranos

She also has a philosophy about singing and community – one that emphasises inclusivity and the joy of participating in a choir. As they say in West Cork – ah sure, you know yourself, like, you can’t come away in a bad mood from an evening’s singing. Caz directs several choirs around West Cork and last year she got the idea to bring them together for a community event she called The Big Sing. It took place in Bantry as part of the Feel Good Festival. You’ll get a good idea of how that went and see an interview with Caz by watching this videoThis one, the second Big Sing, was yesterday in Clonakilty – indoors because it was too wet for the scheduled town square – and it helped to wrap up Wellness Week.

Everybody’s getting in the spirit of the Big Sing

We started with a choreographed dance from West Cork Inclusive Dance. I’ve mentioned this group before, when I wrote about the moving and excellent performance of Bridge in Ballydehob. The WCID group includes both able-bodied dancers and those with intellectual or physical disabilities.

The dance begins

The dance started in a circle, with the dancers stirred to life by a breeze – breeze music was supplied by The Happiness EnsembleOne by one they came alive until the whole circle started to move in unison. Uniting in a tight group, except for three dancers, they moved forward into the audience, as if intent on a single purpose.

Dance movement forward

The three dancers left behind sought them out.

Three dancers

Finally the whole group came together, first low on the ground and then rising up to their final triumphant stance. It was beautiful and we hooted and hollered and applauded while the dancers hugged and high-fived.

Hands raised

For the Big Sing that followed, several of Caz’s choirs had come from various communities – Ballydehob, Kinsale and Ballincollig, as well as the choirs from Dunmanway and Castletownbere with their leader, Jane Goss (another of the Big Sing project facilitators). But it wasn’t just the choirs – the dancers joined in and the audience too, and lots of people from the local community groups that Caz worked with to support their involvement in the project. It was uplifting and energising to be in such a large group with everyone singing their heart out and Caz up front encouraging us all and giving us our cues and keeping us on key and on the beat. The music for the Big Sing was provided by a drumming group from the National Learning Network.

Caz and Jane

Caz gives us our cue, with Jane Goss leading the singing from the stage

She had chosen the music well – several of the songs related to all our struggles to stay cheerful in the face of both everyday trouble and the huge challenges that face the world. It was emotional  – lots of tears by the time we’d finished Stand By Me – but ultimately inspiring and cheering.

Singing!

They LOVE to sing!We LOVE singing!

Read more about Caz and her approach to music on her website – and if you live in West Cork and love to sing, consider joining one of her choirs. There’ll be another Big Sing in October, so even if you don’t have the time for a regular commitment, you could come and learn the Big Sing songs with us before the event. Just get in touch with Caz. 

After a practice, I promise you that you’ll go home in a good mood!

Young members

Just like this little dancer!