FORTY years ago Ayresome Park hosted the Newport Jazz Festival. An amazing line-up of jazz greats appeared at the then home of Middlesbrough Football Club; Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, the Modern Jazz Quartet and many others. Last weekend the recently renovated Town Hall staged the first Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender.

The Town Hall festival on Albert Road acknowledged that historic occasion in 1978 with a display of memorabilia including a poster advertising the event together with press cuttings from the time. Band leader Chris Barber and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra provided living links with Newport ’78 and the present day. Barber, now a sprightly 88 years old, recalled being part of the events all those years ago and the full house on Saturday evening enjoyed listening to the trombonist’s ten piece band playing a programme of classic New Orleans’ jazz and numbers by Duke Ellington.

Today’s jazz scene was represented by regional, national and international names. Manchester’s acclaimed Beats & Pieces Big Band opened the festival with a bang. Ben Cottrell’s young, dynamic outfit set the standard with a typically powerful show. The title of one of the band’s many familiar compositions - Banger – encapsulated what this band is all about. NYJO, the nation’s youth big band, is proof, if any were needed, that jazz, and music education generally, is vital to developing tomorrow’s performers and it was heartening to hear the recently reformed Tees Valley Youth Jazz Ensemble perform with distinction alongside members of NYJO.

Singer Hailey Tuck, from Austin, Texas opened Sunday afternoon’s programme in typically engaging fashion. The Kinks were as much a part of Tuck’s set list as jazz standards and none the worse for it. Teesside’s Noel Dennis explored the work of American trumpeter Tom Harrell with lyrics written by Tyneside’s Zoë Gilby.

The Ushaw Ensemble reprised Paul Edis’ commissioned work commemorating the life and times of St Cuthbert. The inclusion of Northumbrian piper Andy May added an extra dimension to the ensemble fusing sounds ancient and modern to create a vibrant, extended contemporary jazz composition. The Printmakers closed a long afternoon in the Crypt with the group, led by pianist Nikki Iles, giving a masterclass. Norma Winstone was in fine voice despite having fulfilled a late night engagement the previous evening in Germany – the everyday life of a jazz musician!

The finale to the first Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender featured the renowned NYC based Mingus Big Band. If Newport ‘78 was memorable - and it was - then Mingus 2018 is likely to go down in folklore. The band’s performance was nothing short of sensational. Band leader Boris Kozlov led an all-star outfit to play the music of the late, great bassist Charles Mingus. One after another musicians stepped up to the plate to lay down knock out solos. The ensemble playing was exceptional and the Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender closed on the highest of highs.

Russell Corbett