Notes from Irish Jazz: Eddie Lee, Sligo Jazz Project

We're coming up to International Jazz Day this Thurday 30th April, and we're shining a light on some of the people who create the jazz scene around Ireland! Giving us an insight into jazz and improvised music in Sligo, we chatted to Eddie Lee, bassist/composer/educator and Artistic Director of Sligo Jazz Project.

Eddie has played with many of Ireland’s leading jazz musicians such as Mike Nielsen, Louis Stewart, Richie Buckley, Michael Buckley, Gay McIntyre, Phil Ware and David Lyttle and guesting with eminent European jazz artists Sandro Gibellini and Bjorn Solli. Since co-founding the Sligo based folk-world music group NoCrows in 2005, has toured Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, UK, Mallorca and Belgium with the group and played several major European festivals including Glastonbury Festival UK, Dranouter and Labadoux, Belgium. 

Q1. Aside from the current crisis, how would you describe the jazz scene in Sligo these days?

Unfortunately there is no jazz scene in Sligo outside of our festival. Apart from our local legends the Jazz Ladds who played every friday (when the pubs and hotels were open), there was only occasional jazz events in Sligo.

With our very first year on Arts Grant Funding, however we began to programme a year-round event schedule of jazz performance and education. Unfortunate timing, you might say, though we did manage to promote two international and some local artists in the period before the lockdown. We had Linley Hamilton’s international quintet with US greats Adam Nussbaum and Mark Egan in early March, the week before the lockdown. They were supported by the Kobe Trio, a fine Sligo based group along the lines of EST/Avishai Cohen.

We also co-promoted with our neighbours the Dock Arts Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon, just up the N4 from here, for the first time with a Music Network concert by Alina Bzezhinska, Tony Kofi, Joel Prime and Larry Bartley, a truly wonderful night’s music.

On a local level, I also did some hotel jazz gigs with pianist Graeme Bourke and on our last foray we were joined by some young jazz hopefuls, my daughter Mimi and pianist Nils Kavanagh who is a really bright prospect here, plus Christine Tobin joined us for a couple of songs on a visit from her new home in Co Roscommon.

It's a real shame that this crisis has hit at a time when there are so many positive things happening, aside from our year round programme, as there are several really promising young jazz musicians now in town, most still at school, some doing their leaving cert, many with whom I have performed for several years now in musical theatre orchestras, some have featured at Sligo Jazz festival in the past couple of years. I don't want to name names in case I leave any great young musicians out, and really there are quite a few now here thanks to Sligo Academy of Music and Sligo School of Contemporary Music, and of course our Sligo Jazz Project annually giving the inspiration to young musicians and old alike. The future is definitely bright and we have a lot to look forward to.

Q2. What is your favourite thing about programming jazz in Sligo?

I think I’ve said this in the last line of the previous paragraph! It is so exciting to see young musicians being inspired and motivated to become better, not just musically but as human beings too. The holistic approach we have adopted at Sligo Jazz Project since 2005 and particularly since the introduction of our Youth Academy in 2013, really is beginning, to bear fruit in terms of the young musicians who have grown within its folds. That is our raison d’être and is why I’m not stopping doing this as long as people keep coming. The addition of some funding for year round events will greatly help to promote a culture of jazz performance in Sligo in future years.

Q3. In an ideal world, what do you think would be one thing which would make a big difference to the jazz scene? 

More funding of course… if the promotion of jazz events were not dependant on the venues, most of whom are commercially restricted and therefore unwilling to fund any visiting acts or even acts with more than one or two musicians, but self-funded, we would be in a much better position to bring in visiting touring acts and also showcase our own talent.

Q4. Could you name some of your favourite artists/tracks with Sligo connections?

Sligo’s best known jazz export would have to be guitarist Mike Nielsen. Now a Wicklow resident, he has many great recordings and has performed with many international greats. His microtonal explorations are pretty groundbreaking, and he has been at the forefront of Irish cutting-edge jazz for several decades. His metric modulation work with the Guilfoyle brothers is something of legend and they still perform together on occasion.

My own band NoCrows though not a jazz group by any means features the great violinist Oleg Ponomarev, who is also a tutor each year on Sligo Jazz summer school and performs at our festival regularly. NoCrows have had some memorable casual pub sessions at Sligo jazz with visiting guests such as Paul Booth, Ghatam Giridhar Udupa, Paul Clarvis and Adam Nussbaum. Which brings me to what is most unique about Sligo Jazz Project - the collaborations that have sprung from musicians who visit for the summer school and festival, especially the tutors who come and stay for the week each July.

Thanks Eddie!

Have a listen in to some great music from Sligo, including Mike Nielsen, Sligo Jazz Project (with international guest stars), and Eddie's band NoCrows

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