The Cheltenham Jazz Festival has, since its inception in 1996, become established as one of Europe’s leading jazz events. For a week at the end of April and beginning of May each year the delightful spa town becomes the place to go to listen to the very best of all types of jazz music. Attracting top quality artists from all over the world, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival truly deserves the title of ‘international’ and it annually presents challenging and interesting line-ups. 2009, for example, saw not only legendary American percussionist Jack Dejohnette but also South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and artists as diverse as Imelda May, Mica Paris and Nigel Kennedy from closer to home.
Events range from traditional concerts to late night jam sessions and dinner/jazz evenings. With a wide variety of venues – such as St Andrew’s Church and the Hotel du Vin as well as night clubs, theatres and campuses – the week is packed full of activities. There are also many events specifically aimed at families or children as well as the focal point of the festival, the Jazz Marquee, situated in Imperial Gardens right in the heart of the historic town.
In addition to the fifty or so main events, the festival also has a thriving and extensive ‘Fringe’ Festival, in the artists, many of whom are locally based, perform totally free of charge on the streets or in smaller venues – most of them pubs or restaurants! Jazz education being considered an important aspect of the proceedings, there are a number of events that feature the participation of local schools and colleges. Close links between the Cheltenham International Jazz Festival and the BBC mean that several concerts are either recorded or broadcast live on Radios 2 and 3 each year.
There is universal recognition that the Cheltenham Festival now offers a complete package for jazz lovers of all ages and backgrounds. As well as the best of modern jazz, the eclectic line-up can always offer swing, ‘trad’, funk, gospel, RnB, blues, salsa – even perhaps rockabilly and beatbox sets.
The Jazz Festival is one of four similar events organised each year by Cheltenham Festivals – the others being Science, Music and Literature – and so the town itself is now perfectly geared to being a fitting host for such happenings. There is also an annual Folk Festival, although this has a different organisational structure. Having long been appreciated as, perhaps, a base for touring the nearby Cotswolds or an interesting traditional Regency spa town to wander amiably around for a day, Cheltenham now has a complete range of accommodation for visitors to choose from. There is everything from sumptuous boutique hotels such as The Hotel on the Park and the Hotel du Vin to established chains such as Holiday Inn Express, two Premier Inns and a Travelodge. There is a wide range of bed and breakfast accommodation and a very large number of self-catering possibilities in and around the area. The Briarfields Touring Park, with an adjacent Motel, is just a short drive from the town – and an even shorter walk to the nearest pub.
Cheltenham is situated near junctions 10, 11 and 11A of England’s M5 motorway and, therefore, easily accessible by car. Cheltenham Spa railway station is well provided for by services direct from London’s Paddington Station as well as regular connections with Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Plymouth and Swindon. There are even direct services from Edinburgh and Glasgow. The town is additionally an important part of the National Express long distance coach network.
The Cheltenham International Jazz Festival usually takes place in late April and early May. Details first appear on their official website.