Sunshine in the summertime and music coming from the heart – this is in a nutshell what the audience at the International Jazz Festival in Bansko this year was lucky to enjoy.
Fans of jazz could see world-renowned US vocalist Jackie Ryan who arrived straight from San Francisco, followed by reminiscences of the glamorous music of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with Britain’s top swing and jive band The Jive Aces, for the first time in Bulgaria, and also a return to the blues rhythms of the 1970s and the best summer hit of all time with Ray Dorset and Mungo Jerry Blues Band, back to Bulgaria after 33 years.
After an almost 24-hour exhausting flight from the US West Coast, Jackie Ryan and the Larry Vuckovich Trio closed the opening night of the Bansko Jazz festival on August 8 with a magnificent gig. Jackie Ryan is a singer with a remarkable vocal range of three-and-a-half octaves who has performed in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada and the US, and this has been her first time in Bulgaria. Her CD, You And The Night And The Music, released in the autumn of 2007, was number one US-wide on JazzWeek's industry standard chart and stayed there for 34 weeks.
Yet what matters most for her is that music should come from the heart:
“I love life and I love meeting people from different cultures because I think you learn so much more about yourself. And there is so much that we have in common, just as people. So the key is the heart! No matter what kind of music you might be playing, whether it might be blues, or Latin, or swing, or ballad, anything, it has to be coming from the right place. It has to be honest, it has to be something that I feel, so if I feel it, then I can give to the audiences. I feel that we are just vessels for whatever you may want to call it – God or music. It comes through you and connects with the audience. No matter where you are in the world, everyone has that", Jackie Ryan said in Bansko.
And now onto the music from the 1930s through the 1970s with the British presence at Bansko Jazz Festival:
Brought together by their love for the music of the 1930s and 1940s and the era of swing, a period characterized by the bright colors of clothes, glamorous hairstyles and a general optimistic attitude to life, the musicians from the Jive Aces decided to set up their own band and spread the message of positivity and warmth to larger audiences. As they told reporters before their gig in Bansko, what the world needs is a bit more sunshine and love. And this has been the inspiration to their recent hit Bring Me Sunshine that has circulated the globe in weeks and made it to the top of the charts. Over the first week only, the video to the song was seen by more than 1 million viewers on Youtube.
Warm, life-affirming songs of Bobby Darin, Louis Prima, Sammy Davis Jr and superb originals make up most the repertoire of the Jive Aces with, Recipe for Rhythm, their latest album recorded in California, even including Louis Prima’s daughter on it. The band has been on the stage for 15 years, with the same line-up we saw in Bansko and with lead vocalist Ian Clarkson.
Ian plays a signature yellow ukulele – an instrument similar to a small four-string guitar from the Hawaii whose name loosely translates as a hopping flea. Bring Me Sunshine has gripped audiences worldwide, and even Prince Charles, coming across the band at a music event in England, asked them to play a tune for him and was deeply touched by the warm rhythms and humane message of the song. And they played a capella for reporters at Bansko, to the accompaniment of only the yellow ukulele.
As Ian told reporters: “The song changed not only our lives but the lives of millions of people around the world. It turned into a message of the good that people in this century need.”
Yellow suits, white shirts, black bow-ties, and of course, not forgetting the glamorous shoes – this is how they appear in the award-winning video to their hit and also how they appeared on the open-air stage in Bansko, sparing only the jackets because of the hot summer weather.
“The success of the video and swing music at large is mainly due to the fact that people need more things that would make them happy”, the musicians told reporters.
More from lead vocalist Ian Clarkson:
“In England, there used to be more jazz and swing on television, but now it’s just X-factor shows and pop music. With the Internet, people look for what they like, so it’s like a new freedom. In England and America, even the fashion has gone vintage and retro, now when people see how we are dressed, we get lots of compliments whereas before people just wondered why we do this. There was a big festival in London and it was all music and fashion from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It was very big and very successful. In some ways, a lot of the music and the fashion is controlled. A lot of the pop music is not bad but not made to last very long. Young people now are beginning to look for more interesting influences.”
And what better proof for that than the presence at their concert in Bansko of the young boys and girls from two Sofia-based swing dance clubs, who embarked on the 3-hour drive from the Bulgarian capital solely for the purpose of being there, adding much to the forgotten flavor of the 1930s, 40s and 50s with their bowler hats, black trousers, white shirts, and suspenders. And of course, the lively moves of jive, charleston, and swing – joyous and vivacious dances that reinforce strongly the message of the music.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated gig at this year’s Bansko Jazz Festival was that of British Mungo Jerry Blues Band with lead vocalist Ray Dorset.
What are the two most important facts about Mungo Jerry Blues Band that every Bulgarian should know?
A legend in the 1970s, Ray Dorset was the person who wrote In The Summertime, a hit that topped the charts in 26 countries worldwide and sold ten million copies. Mungo Jerry was the first Western rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain back in 1978. They appeared at the Golden Orpheus Festival in Bulgaria, an international pop song contest hugely popular in Bulgaria and across the Socialist bloc between 1965 till 1999 and held at the Sunny Beach resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Their gig at the Golden Orpheus was shown on TV across the entire Eastern Block.
What are Ray Dorset's recollections from his first time in Bulgaria back in 1978?
“I was asked to do something for TV. And they wanted me to play the part of a pirate. But I had to speak in Bulgaria and I simply couldn’t pronounce the words. But they gave me a lot of money and I couldn’t take it outside the country, so I was very busy running around the shops, buying presents. I bought so many presents for my mother, my children, and I had a really nice time", he recalls. "It’s interesting to know that so many people are still interested to know what’s going on after all these years. In the Summer Time was created 41 years ago and it’s a song that’s known all over the world. People don’t know Mungo Jerry but they know the song. I’ve written three number one UK hits. Although I consider myself to be basically a blues artist, I like many genres of music. I still play a wide variety of music.”
Ever since 1970, when he released probably the most successful summer anthem of all time, Ray Dorset has been doing the very thing that brings him joy: writing and performing music. Full of flamboyance, joy of life and an unlimited zest, this is the true Ray Dorset and this is exactly what his fans at Bansko experienced – a two-hour show of great music and unrelenting energy. Drummer Heini Altbart, one of the best in the world in Ray Dorset's opinion, gave a 15-minute solo on the drums, mesmerizing the audience with his improvisation and skill.
A truly unforgettable concert for the huge crowd which gathered at the central square in Bansko.
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