Fest Jazz in Brittany returns in July

A jazz festival not like the others”!

Why is that ? Well, first of all the setting: a small, sleepy French village in the middle of nowhere: Châteauneuf-du-Faou. Nestling on the banks of the beautiful River Aulne in deep, rural Brittany, it’s miles from anywhere and it’s “old-fashioned”; it’s like walking into 1956 . One bus a day, no rail station, no traffic lights and no taxis… just tractors ! Yet every year 5 000 people come to the explosion of music and dance that is Fest Jazz.

The principles and values of this traditional jazz & swing festival have stood fast since it started in 2005, nearly 20 years ago:

  • Young people ! Encourage young musicians, young spectators, young volunteers and, especially, young organisers.
  • A cool and relaxed atmosphere. The spectators aren’t “trapped” in concert halls, they stroll from stage to stage as they wish. The slogan of the festival is “More Woodstock than Conservatoire”.
  • We go out of our way to employ female groups, artistes, technicians and organisers.
  • We involve the whole village, so it has become a community event. We need 200 volunteers during the weekend and never have any trouble finding them.
  • We choose bands that are going to relate to the audience, not just play for themselves.

Young People

Where we have been successful is in getting young people involved in organising Fest Jazz. That has transformed everything, and I strongly recommend this policy to other festivals and clubs. The paid, fulltime organiser of Fest Jazz is Constance Eve who is 33, and she has young internes in their 20’s working with her.

The young Fest Jazz team

The money for Constance’s salary comes from the profits of the festival and some government grants. We also use young people for the graphics and the communication, to organise the bars, present the bands on the stages and to arrange the timetable for the volunteers. As well as bringing new ideas and communications techniques, young people like this also bring their friends, with the result that the average age of the audiences has become much less “wrinkly” than in most traditional jazz festivals.

The Bands

It’s not wall-to-wall “classic” jazz. There is some folk, world-music, boogie woogie and blues in the mix. There is also a strong international element which is important for an isolated village like Châteauneuf. This year we have 10 different nationalities represented.

Châteauneuf-du-Faou, site of Fest Jazz

Above all, we really try to put the emphasis on young bands, and in Europe there are plenty of young groups of excellent quality. In past years, we have welcomed the Syncopated Society Orchestra from Berlin, The Ragtime Nightmare (also from Berlin), the Hot Teapots from Italy, the Tenement Jazz Band from Scotland, the very popular Mama Shakers from France. The quality of these young European bands and musicians really is jaw-dropping and enormously encouraging for the future of the music.

We have also had huge pleasure in hosting great bands from the USA. Tuba Skinny were with us in 2014 and 2022 and the hugely popular Shake’Em Up Jazz Band were here in 2018. Frog & Henry are regular visitors too.

And, above all, we have frequently welcomed Gunhild Carling and her remarkable family. Sensational! There is a two-way love affair between the village and the Carlings.

Impromptu session

Of course, THE God of teaching young people jazz is the amazing Joan Chamorro from the Saint Andreu Jazz Band in Barcelona. Certainly, one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. We had the enormous pleasure and privilege of welcoming Joan, his young stars like Andrea Motis, Eva Fernandez and Rita Payes to Fest Jazz in 2013, 2014 and 2016, before they became established world stars. The concerts by them and the 30-piece big band were among the best moments in my musical life.

Fest Jazz 2024 (25th – 28th July)

This year we are looking forward to the Blue Mocking Birds and Leonie Evans (from Belgium), the outstanding Boogie Woogie star from Switzerland, Ladyva, and our young local hero, trumpeter Malo Mazurié (the “Breton Bix”). Malo started at Fest Jazz when he was 13 in 2005 and has played at every festival since. He is now an established star in the jazz world… and his roots are very much in traditional jazz.

Young dancers at Fest Jazz

The future ?

It looks fairly secure. The finances are always terrifying but each year we get through. One big problem for us in a rural area is that there are very few businesses to help us, only cows and sheep who don’t make very good sponsors ! But we are convinced that with our emphasis on young people we will survive. And it’s a philosophy that other traditional jazz festivals could perhaps follow…….

Music in the street
Trevor Stent
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