Whoever thought jazz was something paunchy, middle-aged men did with a pint of real ale in hand in pub back rooms, has clearly had their eyes and ears closed for the past 20 years.
And for a masterclass in how to put together a 21st-century jazz festival that appeals to the beard strokers as well as the young and chic – that mixes glamour, cool and the serious side of the music too – the Cheltenham Jazz Festival (tomorrow to Monday, May 7) is the one to look at. And to go to.
Some of the giants of modern jazz – Bill Frisell, Marcus Miller, John Taylor – stand beside up and coming young players from Britain – Kit Downes, Chris Mapp. There to add the cool are Zelada and Miss 600, there to add the rockabilly edge is Imelda May, there to add the Latin heat is Roberto Fonseca, and there to add the glamour are the bejeweled and be-ball gowned Paloma Faith and the Puppini Sisters.
Festival guest director Jamie Cullum will be there, too, making a guest appearance with the most fabulous new singer to hit the scene: Gregory Porter.
And for saxophone lovers everywhere, there is one of the most striking and influential stylists on the scene today: Chris Potter.
Furthermore, in place of the dusty pub back rooms, there is a fresh tented settlement in the elegant Montpelier Gardens – Jazz In The Gardens, they call it – that surrounds the venues with bars, chill-out lounges and even a small cinema.
Much as I love the jazz this country’s musicians produce, a big festival presents the rare chance to see some of the greats from further afield.
So let’s hear it for the Americans.
Take a quick listen to jazz radio – Jazz FM, for example – and you will know that jazz fusion never died, it just became something people listened to in their homes or cars rather than at gigs.
So it’s a real treat to have bass maestro Marcus Miller here. Not only was Marcus the brains behind the ‘80s albums of Miles Davis, he also produced and arranged for Luther Vandross and other R ‘n‘ B legends. His performances have the energy and feel of a rock gig, and he appears in Cheltenham’s Big Top on Saturday at 5.45pm.
Speaking of Miles, if there is one musician who has, over his career, matched the trumpeter for ever-evolving exploration and creativity, it is surely the guitarist Bill Frisell.
Sure, he might not have Miles’s flamboyance – Bill has never, to my knowledge, driven a yellow Ferrari – but in terms of stature and influence upon the music, Frisell is, for my money, today’s Miles.
Last time he was in Cheltenham it was with a large band playing music from his History, Mystery album; this time he fronts his Beautiful Dreamers trio with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. They play the Big Top on Sunday, also starting at 5.45pm.
Another exceptional trio from across the Atlantic is Fieldwork, which brings together three astounding composers and players from the New York scene. Vijay Iyer is on piano, Steve Lehman is on alto saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. This is a fascinating band – certainly Sorey is a player once seen and heard, never forgotten.
They play the Parabola Arts Centre, one of the few non-tented venues, on Saturday at 8.15pm.
And let’s hear it for the Norwegians, too, who have really become a strong part of this festival over the past few years. In 2012 it’s the turn of the Helge Lien Trio and saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg, among others. The Trondheim Jazz Exchange, which partners students from Trondheim and Birmingham jazz conservatoires, is also back.
Of the British contingent, new work that most interests me is likely to come from pianists John Taylor, who will be leading an octet playing a special BBC Radio 3 commission to mark Taylor’s 70th birthday, and Liam Noble, who has grown his trio to a quintet with the addition of trumpeter Chris Batchelor and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings.
Taylor is at 1.15pm on Sunday; Noble at 5.45pm on Saturday.
There is a fine late-night meeting of exploring minds when pianist Kit Downes and drummer Seb Rochford play together at 10.15pm on Saturday, and blues/jazz/funk guitarist Matt Schofield brings his organ trio to the festival at 7pm on Thursday. Birmingham resident bassist Chris Mapp leads a band at Hotel du Vin at lunchtime on Sunday.
And then there’s the glamour.
Paloma Faith brings her pop/jazz crossover to round off the festival at 8.30pm on Bank Holiday Monday with the Guy Barker orchestra giving her the sumptuous backing she deserves.
Not only with she be singing material from her new album, she will be also paying homage to her heroes, one of whom she has invited to appear at Cheltenham.
Candi Staton, who mixes gospel with soul and has been doing so ever since the disco boom of the 1970s, is on at 7.30pm on Saturday.
Other singers of note include Jacqui Dankworth (Daffodil tomorrow evening), Melody Gardot (Big Top on Thursday night) Zara McFarlane (Daffodil on Friday evening) and Helde Marie Kjersem (Jazz Arena on Monday afternoon).
And that’s before we’ve got to bands like Lighthouse (the trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland, Asaf Sirkis), drummer Jeff Williams’ US group, and the Anglo-French band Tweedle Dee.
There is a lot more going on than this, including late night jam sessions in Hotel du Vin and an extensive Fringe programme on the free stages and about town. So, for a full programme go to www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz or call the box office on 0844 880 8094.
And I’ll be adding Pick Of The Day posts here from tomorrow and on to the end. Happy days!