The programme in the Parabola Arts Centre (PAC) at Cheltenham Jazz Festial has always presented an exciting cameo picture of the contemporary jazz scene with a carefully curated programme of acts. This year Alexandria Carr, with advice from her predecessor, Tony Dudley-Evans, has chosen to focus on the vibrant British scene with a programme that brings together established artists and young up-and-coming groups.

Leading the way are two concerts featuring major artists: pianist Kit Downes has been playing with vocalist Norma Winstone, and they have recorded an album for the prestigious ECM label. We have been trying to book Norma for a number of years now, but several factors have prevented this. It's amazing to have one of the great British artists as part of the PAC programme, especially in this new project with Kit Downes. Kit is, of course, a regular at the Festival and it's good to have him back.

The second of these two leading concerts features another very special partnership, this one between British saxophonist Trish Clowes and the great American trumpet player Dave Douglas. Trish has recorded for Dave’s Greenleaf label with her My Iris band, and they played together last year in London when Dave joined Trish and My Iris for a gig at the 606 Club.  They were keen to continue the collaboration, and they will be working together to share compositions.

The UK jazz scene is very strong at the moment, it was great to see Ezra Collective win the Mercury Music Prize in 2023; Ezra played a wonderful concert at the 2023 Festival. They are, however, just one of many bands creating new forms of the music and attracting large young audiences. Saxophonist/composer Cassie Kinoshi is a particular talent, working with her Seed group and with Piera Onacko and Nathan England-Jones in the un.procedure group. We have commissioned Cassie, Piera and Nathan to create a new work for an expanded version of the un.procedure trio with a string quartet and woodwind. This is the Tony Dudley-Evans Commission supported by Longrow Capital.

Composer Sam Eastmond has been working with the iconic American composer John Zorn and his concert last year with his Spike Orchestra playing Sam’s arrangements of Zorn’s Bagatelles was my gig of the year, and an obvious choice for the PAC programme.

Another candidate for the gig of the year in 2023 was David Ola and the Lucumí Project. This celebrates the Caribbean tradition of steel pans, but transfers it to a jazz context.  Three steel pan players are joined by kit drums, electric bass, trumpet and saxophone. They create a wonderful and unique sound with great improvisations on the steel pans.

DREAMSCAPES, led by guitarist Julien Durand and featuring the vocalist Lucy-Anne Daniels, is another new exciting group; Charlotte Keeffe explores every aspect of the sound of the trumpet ably supported by her Right Here, Right Now group which also features Moss Freed on guitar; pianist Nikki Yeoh returns to the Festival with a special project with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO). Youth is very much to the fore in the very popular annual project with jazz students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire collaborating with students from the conservatoires in Siena and Hamburg. Finally, Sultan Stevenson leads a fine piano trio in a style that reminds us of the great trios led by McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.

As always, the PAC programme is a mini-Festival within the Festival that has a very distinctive character and works really well in the stunning Parabola Arts Centre.