HEADLINE performers Nicola Farnon, Jo Harrop and Alan Barnes attracted large audiences to this year's Ushaw Jazz Festival. The former Catholic seminary familiar to some as Ushaw College is rebranding itself as a venue for art, culture and history to be known simply as Ushaw.

The three day event began on Friday evening with a performance by the Tyneside based Early Bird Big Band comprising talented teenage musicians drawn from across the north east region followed by the first of the main attractions, vocalist and double bass player Nicola Farnon. For this festival date Ms Farnon engaged the services of pianist and festival director Paul Edis to work alongside her and drummer Phil Johnson playing a selection of numbers from the Great American Songbook.

The Graeme Wilson Quartet opened Saturday's programme. The Edinburgh based saxophonist assembled an all-star line-up to play his intricate, quirky compositions and a standing-room-only crowd will no doubt be eager to acquire a copy of Wilson's forthcoming new CD. The regional jazz scene boasts many fine young musicians and two of them - guitarist Francis Tulip from County Durham and Tyneside drummer Matthew MacKellar - formed a one-off quartet for the occasion. The conservatoire students received an enthusiastic response prompting more than one seasoned musician to express nothing but admiration for their performance.

Two of the seasoned musicians fulsome in their praise of the younger generation were at Ushaw to play a concert of their own as a guitar duo. Giles Strong and Roly Veitch held the audience spellbound as they gave a masterclass in the art of jazz guitar.

London based vocalist Jo Harrop returned to her native County Durham to sing songs associated with Peggy Lee. Harrop's A-list band featuring alto saxophonist Tony Kofi ensured her homecoming concert was nothing short of triumphant. Harrop's new album Songs for the Late Hours should be considered an essential purchase.

Sunday's schedule began in St Cuthbert's Chapel with Paul Edis at the pipe organ playing a set of improvisations accompanied by saxophonist Graeme Wilson followed by Edis' folk-jazz Ushaw Ensemble revisiting a 2016 commission in a performance of his acclaimed St Cuthbert's Suite celebrating the life story of Cuthbert.

Sunday afternoon's programme featured a half hour set by the accomplished teenage trio In Other Words and a one hour concert by Baba. Performing all-original material, Baba's saxophonist Thomas Dixon explained the non-appearance of the quartet's co-leader Inês Gonçalves was due to a series of cancelled flights from Portugal. Deputising at short notice pianist Ben Lawrence performed with great credit.

The third annual Ushaw Jazz Festival closed with a return appearance by the ever-popular Alan Barnes as the guest of the Strictly Smokin' Big Band. The concert finale featured Barnes in a baritone saxophone duel with County Durham's Sue Ferris. Barnes, a world class performer, held his own with Ferris, but only just!

Russell Corbett