All that jazz makes welcome return to Swanage’s Sandpit Field

The sounds of jazz swung back into Swanage as the annual summer festival of mellow melodies made a triumphant return to Sandpit Field after a five year absence.

The marquee on the field was one of four major stages for Swanage Jazz Festival 2023, along with The Mowlem, the Conservative Club and The Centre, although there was also a jazz parade along Shore Road, a gospel service at Swanage Methodist Church, performances at The Grand Hotel and the Swanage Bandstand, as well as an evening of big band swing at the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club.


A marquee on Sandpit Field was buzzing for the return of jazz

Building on festival’s artistic reputation

The ambitious line-up, from Friday 7th July to Sunday 9th July 2023, set the festival back on the road to recreating the glory days of the 2000s and the committee is already planning new events for 2024 to cement this year’s success.

Chair of Swanage Jazz Festival, Paul Kelly said:

“We feel that the main thing is to keep the festival developing, keep it growing and to bring in a slightly larger audience, we were up on last year and very close to our target of 800 tickets sold.

“We also want to build on the artistic reputation of the festival, so what was very encouraging for us this year was the Sunday night headliner in The Centre, a wonderful band led by Chris Hodgkins with a salute to the legend of jazz, Humphrey Lyttelton.”


Jazz stalwart Chris Hodgkins led a homage to Humphrey Lyttelton

An honour to welcome a stalwart of jazz

Paul added:

“Chris Hodgkins also happens to coordinate the Parliamentary jazz awards and so it was an honour to have someone eminent who is really well connected in jazz circles to come along to experience the festival.

“You never know, there might be something nice that comes out of that for the future – not that I’m counting on it, but we are building a reputation up amongst the public and professionals as a really good event that people want to come to.

“Something that we will work on for 2024 is a traders’ area on Sandpit Field – having gone back there for the first time in five years, we want to have food stalls offering things you wouldn’t find in town, but we just didn’t have the capacity to do it this year.”


The Moonlight Swing Band played a dinner dance date at the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club


Tony Kofi’s Inside Straight played at The Mowlem

An evening of jazz, dinner and dance

The Homage to Humph was one of many highlights of the weekend of top quality music.

The first night of the festival kicked off with the Damien Cook Quintet, the Philip Clout Quartet and Tony Kofi’s Inside Straight at The Mowlem, the Alan Barnes Quartet, Fletch’s Brew and the James Taylor Quartet on Sandpit Field and Rainey’s Ragtime Band at the Conservative Club.

In an experimental move, a separately ticketed event featuring the Moonlight Swing Big Band took place at the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club for an evening of jazz, dinner and dancing.


Alyn Shipton’s New Orleans Jazz Friends brought a Gospel service to Swanage Methodist Church


The Clare Martin Quartet was a popular draw at Sandpit Field

A ragtime prom and a gospel church service

Paul Kelly said:

“I think the innovation worked out well – it was a nice idea to do an event out there at the golf club, where the views are to die for and the weather was good as well so they would have had a glorious sunset to go with the amazing music.

“It was well attended and drew a different audience, which can only be good for the festival.

“The reintroduction of a marquee on Sandpit Field also worked really well, quite apart from the music, people loved being sat on the grass in the sunshine overlooking the sea.”

Saturday 8th July began with a promenade performance along Shore Road by James Emmett’s Ragtime Revellers, while Sunday 9th July saw a gospel service at Swanage Methodist Church led by Alyn Shipton’s New Orleans Jazz Friends.

Over the weekend, another three dozen performances took place around Swanage, taking in genres from blue note to boogie woogie and from ragtime to hip harp, all included in the price of a stroller ticket.

Most of the venues were close to full and both artists and audiences alike have been quick to praise the jazz festival.


The Damien Cook Quintet opened the festival at The Mowlem on Friday afternoon


Zara McFarlane’s tribute to Sarah Vaughn closed the festival at Sandpit Field on Sunday evening

“A feeling that the festival was fantastic”

Paul Kelly added:

“So many people have said they were stunned they were by the quality of the bands and the diversity of the programme, while the artists have told us that the venues were wonderful and how much they enjoyed performing at the festival.

“The way we ran the programme was so that if people didn’t like what was on in one place there was always a good alternative playing a different style of jazz at one of the other venues, and that worked really well.

“It is much too early to comment on the financial side, but overall the feeling is that the festival was fantastic, getting back to where it was in the 2000s.

“Artists and audiences have already committed to coming back again next year – make a date for the weekend of the 12th to the 14th July 2024!”


The Trackside Co-optimists were one of the local groups bringing jazz sounds to the streets of Swanage

The Jazz Knots at the Grand
Liz Craig

Up and coming Swanage talent The Jazz Knots played at The Grand Hotel and The Red Lion pub and will also be performing at Swanage Carnival on Monday 31st July and Friday 4th August 2023 at Sandpit Field

Further information

Listen to Rainey’s Ragtime Band at Swanage Jazz Festival

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