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Learning the hard way as jazz festival swung into life

Being an obedient and rule-respecting parent, I always waited until after the end of the school term to head off on holiday, although the window for sunshine for someone whose work demands attendance in Edinburgh from before the start of August is clearly limited.

The result of this was that for too many years I was away during the Glasgow Jazz Festival, an event which I was involved with the conception of and which may have played a part in my landing a job at The Herald. The event's first brochure opened with an introduction by the paper's then editor, Arnold Kemp, and finished with an article by myself. By the time the first festival came round I was on the paper's staff.

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It was not until a few years later that school holidays became a consideration and it is therefore even longer ago than that -- around 20 years or so I suppose - since I took a holiday specifically to attend events at the jazz festival without having to worry about going to work inbetween them. But that is what I did this year.

Back then I took the time off because the festival was short-handed and needed someone to manage the festival club, located that year in the Vic Cafe at Glasgow School of Art and home to one or two gigs a night.

I volunteered for the task on the basis of having had some hands-on experience promoting small jazz concerts through the year in the city and, boy, was it one steep learning curve.

From buying the candles for the tables to opening the doors to watching over front-of-house to making sure all the right equipment was in the venue and the musicians were present and happy, it gave me an insight into and appreciation of the work involved in making gigs happen that my previous experience had barely scratched.

It was a relief to get back to the notebook and computer screen after that holiday, although I did come away with a great, if slightly salacious, backstage story about a Herald writer and a very well known American jazz musician. Sadly it had best wait until they are both dead to appear in print.

This year the festival club was in what is now called a "pop-up" venue, downstairs in the basement of Merchant Square. Named the Rio Club, it was run by Mark Robb, one of the partners in the Rio Cafe in the city's West End, and a man of vast experience in creating and running hip nightlife venues in Glasgow.

Always immaculately attired, Robb was a picture of cool throughout the five days, dropping a little bit of emcee and DJ action into his portfolio of activity - and I recognised absolutely none of my earlier experience.

The Rio Club was without doubt a major part of the success of this year's festival, its specially-created ambience sitting alongside the permanence of newish Glasgow club venues Wild Cabaret, further down Candleriggs, and Swing in Hope Street where other gigs took place.

Crucially it was also on the same block as the Old Fruitmarket, which was discovered by the festival and is still home to its bigger shows, and had some of the rough and ready appeal of that venue in its earliest days.

On Sunday, the last day, I was in the Old Fruitmarket to hear virtuosic Brazilian Hamilton de Holanda when saxophonist Laura Macdonald was upstairs in the City Halls Recital Room premiering the music she has written to a Commonwealth Games Culture 2014 commission for a sextet of musicians from Africa, India, Australia and Scotland.

Fortunately it was being repeated on Monday at the Tolbooth in Stirling, where she has a long association teaching young people the elements of jazz, and where we had the bonus of hearing eight of them join the professional musicians for one of the new pieces.

It might have been the holidays, but Macdonald, Claude Deppa (trumpet), Utsav Lal (piano), Prince Bulo (bass), Chris Greive (trombone), and Tom Bancroft (drums) made sure it was a school night for their young proteges, and the youngsters gave their top performances in return. Maybe we should withhold that news from Mr Gove though - it might just confuse him.

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