Well, Brecon Jazz, the music, the festivities, the excitement of a key event and preparations, is just a few weeks away now. There’s been a wider involvement of people from the town in putting this year together – now we need everyone and your friends, relatives, neighbours, to all come along and support it! That means buying some tickets as well as browsing the stalls and catching the free sounds on the block. And there’ll be dancing…

To get the weekend started, Brecon Jazz Club is putting on two concerts at the Castle Hotel on Friday evening (August 12). Firstly is Welshman Geoff Eales, a jazz pianist of international reputation, who has returned to Wales to play a special ‘Trio’ event at Brecon Jazz starting at 6.15pm in the Castle Ballroom. Joining Geoff will be one of the best double bass players on the local jazz scene, Erika Lyons, and rising star Romarna Campbell, a young talent from the Birmingham Jazz Conservatoire and what we hope will be just one of a new generation of female strikers!

For those planning to attend the Castle Jazz events on Friday evening – and there are more things on throughout the town – there is a big band event on in the ballroom. It starts with a hot buffet meal in the Crug Room from 8pm and then the band strikes up shortly after. The Teddy Smith Big Band have been playing to very appreciative audiences for some years since Teddy, a ‘first class’ trumpeter, graduated from Royal Welsh College in Cardiff, and formed the band. The Brecon Jazz lineup will include some very special names from the top shelf of Wales’ jazz, including Gethin Liddington (trumpet/flugelhorn), Elaina Hoss (vocals) and Dominic Norcross (saxes).

But I mentioned dancing! The ballroom floor will be open with a section for dancing. But first, we’ll have some moves to watch from a wonderful group of people we’ve been following this year, who go by the name of ‘Hoppin’ Mad’ – yes, they love to hop, and jump and jive and swing. The real stuff – what younger people call ‘vintage’. They’ll be joining us for the evening - and as a special offer, we’ve arranged for Ann and Graeme, founders of Hoppin’ Mad, to give some ‘jive tips’ in the interval, for the rest of us to ‘step up’ to the floor. Now isn’t that something to look forward to (even as a spectator), and what great value the evening is!

We couldn’t do it without a great deal of cooperation and the support of some good friends – Paula Gardiner of Royal Welsh College Music & Drama Jazz Performance course, Hoppin’ Mad dancers, all of the performers, Rob Jones at the Castle Hotel and his great, enthusiastic team, the ‘B&R’, Brecon and Radnor Express, which has partnered with the Jazz Club all year to bring news and information about live jazz to keep the flame going. And of course, you, our readers and festival audience.

Our strategic partners for funding and facilitating the Jazz Club programme for this Brecon Jazz weekend have been Arts Council Wales and Powys County Council, small grants programmes, and Brecon Town Council for facilities and support. Artistically, we have linked up with North Wales Jazz. The jazz weekend will also feature three of our themes – musical and artistic collaborations (bringing jazz performers together from Wales and UK with international performers, creating some new and innovative lineups), the role of women in jazz, and music for wellbeing.

Women in Jazz is the title of an exhibition we are running at the Brecon Guildhall throughout the weekend, and opening on Friday at 2.15pm with the ‘women in jazz’ trio. It is in association with Brecon Town Council, who will be hosting a special Reception there, and our jazz partners at the Swansea jazz archive, Jazz Heritage Wales. Jen Wilson, one of the founders and inspiration for the archive, will be on keyboards for the launch, leading the Women in Jazz Trio, which will feature vocalists Margot Morgan and Elissa Evans, as well as some special guests such as Deborah Glenister on tenor sax. It is fascinating to note that Jen and her researchers have documented the way in which Wales was at the forefront of innovation in incorporating jazz music into its cultural and entertainment mix. Find out more at the exhibition….This is a free event from 2.15-3.30 pm on Friday, August 12, open to all.

On Saturday, leading ‘woman in jazz’ with Welsh links, Tina May will sing the music of ‘Brazil’ with the Latin sounds of her seven-piece jazz ensemble – musicians from the Americas, Wales and UK. Unmissable. We’ve also timed our major concerts to minimise clashes and overlaps with other major featured events. If you prefer a daytime concert, take in the sweet sounds of amazing new vocalist Megan Thomas reprising standards associated with ‘those special places,’ and with a ‘dream’ lineup of two virtuoso guitars (Trefor Owen, Andy Hulme) with topline double bass – Brecon’s Ruth Bowen. With the trio playing ‘hits’ by Stevie Wonder, Henri Mancini and Burt Bacharach, this will really give you a great ‘Brecon Jazz Weekend’ experience.

A look at the programme on www.breconjazz.com will show that musical collaborations run right through the thinking about the lineups and concerts – Brownfield Byrne Quintet, led by award-winning younger musicians from mid/north Wales and borders, meet up with London-based saxophonist Trish Clowes to play high energy swing and bebop in what promises to be a standout performance. Later on Sunday evening, we’ve planned some real chillout jazz with Irish jazz duo (piano/vocals) Maria Walsh and Carole Nelson, who will be thrilling MUSE-goers in a really groovy jazz set to wind down the weekend with Welsh jazz violinist Heulwen Thomas and Brecon’s own Ian Cooper on double bass at a very affordable price.

And then there’s wonderkid of the double bass Ashley-john Long, here on vibes, playing cool sounds with a few friends to accompany our jazzy Sunday, again at the Muse, where the collaboration will be with film and lunch! Ashley-john Long and Friends – Live Jazz, Film, & Buffet.

One special element of the programme is the workshops theme. We wanted to focus on the notion of Wellbeing – how festivals and music in particular can have a positive benefit for how we feel, both physically and psychologically. We’ve teamed up with bassist Erika Lyons who is also a qualified Music Therapist, and together we have put together a series of workshops as part of our ‘Alive and Well’ feature.

Music and Wellbeing for everyone - Friday 12 noon Guildhall. In this workshop we will use instruments (supplied) and/or the voice to explore how to deepen and help communication, awareness of others and a sense of self.

Family Music-making for all - Saturday 10.15 am Muse (Free)

In this workshop we will use our innate musicality to play with ways we can support our children develop self-confidence and nurture this precious relationship whilst having fun.

Jazz and Guided Imagery - Sunday, 11 am, Guildhall

In this workshop we will use personal visualisations inspired by a carefully chosen sequence of recorded jazz to explore our inner world and wisdom and how they may relate to the "big picture" of life.

Mindfulness and Music – Sunday, 1pm, Guildhall

In this workshop we will start with a short mindfulness practice and then explore how the intentional use sound can help us become more aware and to communicate more clearly.

We hope that readers and festival goers will appreciate and enjoy this ‘wellbeing’ theme and our workshops. They’re designed for busy lives and people who want to explore a bit beyond the everyday, but as fun, enjoyment, togetherness and music. Please book all workshop places (even the free event) for a different approach to the ‘Brecon jazz weekend experience’.

The Jazz Weekend also has events on at Theatr Brycheiniog and the Cathedral too – including (at Theatr) headliner Dennis Rollins the British jazz trombonist, together with female lineup Nerija, play on Saturday evening from 9.30 pm, timed to follow on from the Guildhall Tina May concert.

More information about the workshops, concerts, exhibition and other events is at www.breconjazz.com