Friday, May 21, 2010

Miri International Jazz Festival - Simply blown away

The Miri International Jazz Festival, celebrating its fifth anniversary, was an experience to remember.

THE legend waited in the wings as his band introduced themselves on stage.

Sitting patiently in a wheelchair looking seemingly old and frail, it was almost a stretch to believe that the 75-year-old James Cotton could muster up enough strength to even walk on stage, let alone perform. After all, this was a man who could barely speak during the morning’s press conference.

Then again, they don’t call him the Superharp for nothing. Once his band – The James Cotton Blues Band – were done introducing themselves, Cotton rose from his wheelchair, raised his harmonica to his lips, and the most gorgeous, joyful sounds began to flow from it. For close to an hour, he beguiled us by coaxing the most wonderful sounds and music from that tiny mouth harp.

By the time he was done, James Cotton Superharp – blues harmonica legend, Grammy-award winner, Blues Hall of Famer – had turned the Miri International Jazz Festival (MIJF) from a solidly entertaining jazz festival into a mind-blowing celebration of the blues.

Yes, you got that right, a blues band rocking the stage at the Miri Jazz Festival. But before the jazz purist in you starts crying foul, consider this: Cotton himself admitted that although he was a blues man through and through, jazz itself originated from the blues. So if you look at it that way, the festival was actually going back to the roots of jazz, which means he really wasn’t that out of place after all.

After all, how does one define what jazz is? The great Louis Armstrong once reportedly said: “If you have to ask, you will never know.”

If you were at the festival at the Parkcity Everly Hotel grounds last Friday and Saturday, you wouldn’t have needed to ask at all. Unlike last year’s festival, which many complained sounded more like a world music festival than a jazz festival, this year, the organisers took pains to select a line-up that was more standard jazz fare, albeit with a slightly eclectic edge to it.

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