Following on from the success of its inaugural event in 2022, Brick Lane Jazz Festival is bringing its breathtaking bill of emerging jazz stars, scene trailblazers, and phenomenal DJs back to the heart of East London this Spring, taking place over three days across six venues at the iconic Truman Brewery between the 14th and 16th April 2023.
Ally got the chance to talk with Juliet Kennedy - Founder & Director of the festival, alongside being the Creative Director of The Truman Brewery - about what the festival has to offer, both in terms of entertainment, but as well as what the festival has to offer the artists who attend and the community in which it takes place.
What inspired you to create the festival in the first place?
"Definitely the community. I've been programming music for about seven years across different venues and different genres and it's actually only fairly recently that I really plugged into the jazz scene. It's when I opened Ninety One Living Room, and I met this whole new community - I suppose it's just by proxy of being a certain level of virtuoso musician, there are only so many of you in London, so they all know each other and play in each other's bands. And I hadn't experienced that before with the other music scenes that I've been involved in".
"I was so drawn to the jazz community and the music blew my mind, they really inspired me. And I just suddenly looked around me and thought, 'We've got six music venues here, what are we doing? We're sitting on a festival site, it's like nowhere else in London. I don't think there's anywhere else in London where there are six music venues within a minute’s walk of each other."
Tell us a little about the music communities you worked with before working at The Truman Brewery.
"I was a musician before (once a musician, always a musician), but I was much less skilled than the jazz artists I work with today. I played keys and backing vocals in indie/electro bands, and I had my own little thing going, but it never really went anywhere. So, that was my main vocation - being in bands - when I was much younger. I also dabbled with academia for a while, and then I used to work for festivals, on the production side and artist liaison stuff; just any kind of way I could, to be around live music and the festival scene."
"Then I came to Truman's and opened Juju's Bar & Stage, and we had an opening show with The Turbans, which was fantastic - it all kind of spiralled from there really, my main musical programming career has been at Truman's."
Have you felt liberated in this role and been able to reach your ambitions?
"One hundred per cent! This is an amazing place to work, without sounding too gushy - our bosses are really wonderful. They've given me absolute creative freedom to run with my ideas, and they support them. I'm basically like an entrepreneur with a benevolent benefactor [laughs] - I mean, I’m not, I'm an employee, but that's how the relationship feels. They've given me trust and total creative freedom here. And it goes both ways, I put everything into the process to deliver the best events possible.”
What do you feel that Brick Lane Jazz Fest has to offer that other festivals don't?
"Well, first of all the fact that we are a jazz festival, primarily. It's jazz and related genres, but everything feeds back to the core of jazz. Also, the fact that it's not a green field festival where let's be honest, the sound is compromised. Our musicians perform in fully-fledged music venues, all of them set up with amazing Funktion-One and Klipsch Heresy sound systems. The sound quality here is incredible. And then the location. It’s the whole package really, you've got a niche, underground jazz-focussed festival with all the creature comforts and sound quality of fully equipped music venues, with indoor and outdoor spaces to choose from - and then you can get the last train home at the end of the night, it's pretty amazing."
What learnings do you feel that you have taken from last year which are being plugged into this year's festival?
"How long have you got? [Laughs] Last year, I ran this festival on an absolute shoestring, because I had no idea if it would work. I was like, 'What the hell am I doing? Who am I to run a festival, I've never done anything like this...'"
So now we know, okay, it works. Let's do it again, more professional, bigger and better. We learned that people want a day pass. Last year we individually ticketed all the shows but we also had a couple of hundred day and weekend passes on sale and they just went. So, this year we’re giving everyone the chance to do some gig-hopping because that's fun, isn't it?"
What impact do you feel the festival has made so far, and what impact do you hope you can make going forward?
"I like to think it has put this music out there to a wider audience, and that would also be an end-impact goal. The musicians that we're working with are so talented and so skilled too; the amount of training and practice that goes into reaching that level. It feels like a travesty that these people aren't the mainstream superstars of popular culture. So, putting the artists on a platform where more people can discover as many of them as possible makes me feel good. That’s an impact that I hope we’ve had and will continue to have. "
"Also, putting Brick Lane back on the map as a music destination because we've got amazing things happening here. We’ve got Rough Trade, Ninety One Living Room, WERKHAUS, Juju’s, 93 Feet East… There’s so much going on here, we are bringing a lot of amazing music to this area, again and again, week after week."
"But, I like to think the biggest impact has been for the artists, that's what makes it worthwhile. You know, I really like to think that in the future, we can continue to grow this festival so that it becomes a platform that can really elevate their careers. I hope we can continue to build our relationship with Tomorrow's Warriors in this respect. I love the idea of bringing this younger contingent of emerging artists who are at that pivotal launch-time in their careers. I hope that we can make a difference for them - I'd like that to be the lasting impact of Brick Lane Jazz Festival."
This year's Brick Lane Jazz Festival sees it partnering with Tomorrow’s Warriors, the famed charity which aims to inspire, foster and grow a vibrant community of young artists, audiences and leaders who together will transform the lives of future generations by increasing opportunity, diversity and excellence in and through jazz. The festival has pledged that 10% of the festival's profits will be donated to the charity's Artist Development Programme. The charity, which has helped kickstart the career of many contemporary jazz heroes, was co-founded and is led by Janine Irons MBE and Gary Crosby OBE.
Why did you want to tie in Tomorrow's Warriors this time round?
"We wanted a charity partner so that the project had some meaning beyond just selling tickets. And well, they're a very inspiring platform. You only need to look at their roster to see how good they are and what they do, which is essentially incubating talent through their myriad training and support programs. They have a focus on supporting talent from diverse communities, people who financially couldn't necessarily afford that kind of musical training. I just really rate them and I think most people do in this jazz world that we're in. I mean, Janine [Irons MBE] and Gary [Crosby OBE] are just amazing people, why wouldn’t I want to bring them into my wider circle?"
Tell us about Brick Lane Jazz Festival 2023 - What can we expect? Who are you excited about in particular, if you're allowed to say?
"Let's say this festival is like last year's event on steroids. We've got the confidence now, we're in our stride. We’ve booked loads more artists, we've got two new venues at the main site - 93 Feet East and the Brick Lane Tap Room, where Tomorrow's Warriors will be based over the weekend. And we’ve got Jazz re:freshed taking over Ninety One Living Room for the weekend too - so some pretty cool partners are involved this year".
“In terms of who I'm looking forward to there's just too many to list, I’ve been trying to figure out how to be omnipresent! However, Sunday [16th April], for me, is probably the most special day if I had to choose. Brick Lane is already amazing on Sundays - it's bustling with markets, there are indoor foodie markets, vintage clothes markets, there's the flower market up the road. And we've got a live orchestra playing in the midst of it all - the Nu Civilization Orchestra, made up of Tomorrow's Warriors professional alumni, who will be playing the grand finale at Juju's Bar, which will be spectacular. We've also got Reuben James, Colectiva, Kay Young and Camilla George on Sunday, among countless others. I think that’s going to be a really special closure".
“In addition to all the live acts, we've got a couple of DJ-led venues that are kept free entry to the wider public all weekend and we’ve got some great DJs in this year too!"
Looking beyond 2023, how would you like to see the festival develop in the years to come?
"I would like to keep curating the best lineups so as to grow in recognition and for that to filter back down directly to the artists. In fact, I would love the idea of it creating some kind of foundation to support artist development, or record production or whatever we can facilitate here at Truman's with the resources that we've got… It would be great to be in a place where the artists are reaping the rewards as much as we are."
Brick Lane Jazz Festival takes place between the 14th and 16th of April 2023, with tickets and more information available here.
You can donate money to and find out more about Tomorrow's Warriors here.
Make sure to keep your eyes out for our festival preview.
Make sure to keep up-to-date with Brick Lane Jazz Festival's socials and website below: