John started the New stream strand in 2007
Dr John Quail is known in some circles as a housing specialist with a PhD in the History of Management, author of a book about the 1880-1930 history of British anarchists – but he’s had even more hats in Marsden.
“When we moved here, at the start of the festival, there were a lot of empty shops. There are none now. The place is now a destination.”
Involved in the festival since 1994 thanks to a fortuitous meeting with the Mikron team in the Railway pub, he was originally recruited to cook pizzas…the catering volunteers being an important source of income in the early days – and supported the festival through its evolution from a loose volunteer committee to the present more formal structure.
“The jazz festival has given me the opportunity to meet my heroes – like the sax player Ellery Eskelin, and trombone ace Dennis Rollins .”
Inspired by the vibrancy of the Leeds scene, John started the New Stream strand in 2007. The first New Stream gig was a showcase for the Leeds Improvised Music Association. In 2008 the New Stream moved to the Legion, which allowed it to grow to four gigs and has remained so thereafter.
“There’s so much modern jazz that is routine, formulaic. That is why I am passionate about the New Stream. It brings individual voices, somebody who is speaking personally, as opposed to reading from a book.”
In 2008, John took over from Mike as Chair and discovered just how much work was involved in running a festival! John had two spells as chair after Barney Stevenson, his successor, changed roles from chair to festival organiser. John stepped down from the chair for the second time in 2016. He handed the chair over to Chas Ball and continues to be involved as an active trustee, to programme the New Stream and to develop commissions with artists, starting with Leeds-based drummer Tommy Evans in 2010 – who went on to win a BASCA award. The Jazz Festival team continue to commission works. The 2017 commission is Alexander Bone and Toby Comeau, mixing avant jazz and dance beats.
“The festival has retained its sense of place and being a part of the community. People who were involved as children started to have their own children and they became involved, playing locally. Now there is a sense that the festival is a part of the village fabric.”
In all these years of Marsden Jazz Festival, he’s had his fair share of stand-out moments – such as the 1945 anniversary swing event in 2005 that was priced at 3 shillings – the cost of a dance in the war – for anyone over 70. There was also the 2014 commission by Simon Fell, ‘The Ragging of Time’, which resulted in a sold-out gig, a Radio 3 broadcast, a CD, and one more way to put Marsden on the map. It also resulted in a London premiere at King’s Place in 2018. They take a while to catch up down there…
“I am proud to have brought the New Stream into collective consciousness. When Simon Fell was so well received I couldn’t stop grinning. New Stream is not narrowly experimental, it’s just new!”
Reflecting on the direction the festival has taken, John is proud that the Festival offers a platform to young players, with musicians like Tom Challenger now making a name for themselves on the national scene.
“There is a sense that you can do it, amongst these young performers. It is a great introduction to growing up.”
What do other people have to say about John?
“Without his tireless support there would have been no way I could have written a big piece of music for MJF and I have no doubt that his enthusiasm has profoundly helped and inspired many other artists like myself.”
“John’s promotion and staging of Billy Jenkins Big Fight Night in 1999 was an unforgettable spectacle for those of us who were privileged enough to be able to be there. The gig proved to be hugely successful and, though not for the feint hearted or trad jazz lovers, it in many ways became the forerunner of his now hugely successful New Stream gigs programmed at the Legion.”
“Possibly the most striking feature of the Marsden Jazz Festival is its breadth: of musical participants, of venues and themes and musical/artistic policy. John Quail is, for many musicians, the symbol of the breadth of vision which makes this festival successful.”
Simon H. Fell