City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival

Watch video highlights of this year's festival and read two reviews of Andreas Varady and the Festival Finale  

As 13 year-old Slovakian jazz guitar prodigy Andreas Varady returned for a second stint at the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, an audience spanning generations crammed into a packed Playhouse Theatre. No mean feat, considering the pull of the sweltering Sunday weather outside.

Strolling on stage in his Converse, a bashful introduction of ‘I’m Andreas Varady’ sets the tone and is the perfect foil for the superb set that follows.

Accompanied by the supporting trio of his father, Bandi Varady on rhythm guitar, local drumming talent David Lyttle and legendary American bassist, Michael Janisch, Varady neverthless commands the stage for the hour long set, refreshingly unpretentious and seemingly oblivious to his own talent.

From the opening chord the audience is spellbound - stunned silence broken only by rapturous applause. The set comprises of tracks from his debut album, Questions, released in 2010. Varady cites his influences as Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and George Benson.

Two things are clear from the outset. This precocious teenager has passion and jazz is in his blood. And, unlike the clichéd stories of so many ‘wonderkids’ these days, it’s refreshing to know there is not a pushy parent in sight. In between songs, the boyish Lyttle reveals that dad Bandi has to ‘force him to stop playing'.

As he sails through jazz standards like 'Donna Lee', Varady's rich finger plucking keeps the audience enthralled. A laidback and mellow take on 'Giant Steps' is fuelled by Lyttle playing the drums expertly by hand, rather than with sticks. The reggae funk infused 'True Stories', one of Lyttle’s offerings on the album, brings a welcome change of pace, which the young Slovakian handles with ease.

There are also two different but equally delightful guest performances. Firstly the audience are treated to a blistering performance from renowned saxophonist, Paul Booth. Next comes fellow 13 year-old Slovakian percussion power house, David Hodek. Introduced by David Lyttle as a ‘ridiculous talent’, it is no understatement.

As the session comes to an end, the audience are certainly not left disappointed by a cheeky rendition of the Spiderman cartoon theme. Much has been made of Andreas Varady and he definitely doesn’t disappoint in a live context. One can only wonder what he’ll be like in another 13 years' time.

Sarah Logue

Do you know your boogies from your blues, your rag time from your swing time? Even if the answer is no, it doesn't matter. The City of Derry Jazz Festival, now in its tenth year, has a programme designed to appeal to both jazz aficionados and those who just kinda liked The Jazz Singer.

There are national and international acts, those whose names you should know and talented johnny-come-latelys, and most of them are free. The Festival Farewell party is one of the few gigs with an entrance fee, but they don't have any trouble shifting tickets. It is one heck of a party.

Oo-Bop-Sh’Bam from Southend - in their fourth year at the festival - kick off the show. The audience jive in their seats as well as on the dance floor. Few toes are untapped, even before the sax-player jumps onto the bar for a rousing solo. Dapper local BBC Radio Ulster presenter, Mark Patterson - the master of ceremonies - even takes a few ladies on a turn of the dance floor.

Next up, Londonders the Jives Aces have the crowd between the tables with their singular brand of 'jump jive' (swing meets rock and roll). It isn't easy keeping up with the experienced jazz dancers, but it's worth it to feel transported back to 1930's New Orleans.

13 year-old Cody Lee's performance is particularly impressive. Inspired by blues and boogie player, John Carter, Lee demonstrates his acrobatic musical skills on the piano. He also engages in a duet with Jive Aces piano man, Vince Hurley. The teenager's skill and physical energy are reminiscent of a young Jerry Lee Lewis. 

After several hours of swinging and jiving, I limp home to put ice on my feet. It was worth it though, and they'll be better in time for 2012.

Sarah McFeely

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