Expect over 60 free gigs, performances citywide and a new festival hub in St Ann’s Square

Manchester’s longest running music festival returns this bank holiday weekend with more than 60 free gigs, music in more venues across the city than ever before and a new festival hub in St Ann’s Square.  

From 23-27 May, the length of St Ann’s Square to New Cathedral Street will play host to free gigs across three stages - St Ann’s, mjf introduces and Acoustic - and there’ll also be a range of culinary treats curated in partnership with Manchester Food and Drink Festival. Bars include Harvey Nichols, Meantime Brewery and JJ Whitley; who’ll be serving up its range of specialist gins.  

17 07 24 Manchester Jazz Festival 2
There’ll be over 60 free gigs at mjf 2019

Highlights of mjf 2019’s music line-up include the Celebrating Europe strand, which defies the Brexit debacle to champion rich musical talent across the channel; the addition of new festival venues The Whiskey Jar, YES, The Royal Exchange Studio, The Bread Shed, Deaf Institute and The International Anthony Burgess Foundation; and the premiere of three new commissions. 

mjf artistic director Steve Mead said: “This year’s new and improved mjf has taken months of planning and programming – and we can’t believe it’s finally here! There’s a lot to listen out for this year and the festival experience will take you on a non-stop rollercoaster ride of discovery around the city, creating your own sonic adventure of unmissable and memorable moments. 

Mjf Agbeko
Agbeko playing at last year’s Salon Perdu

“Amidst all the changes, our commitment to commissioning northern and European artists is stronger than ever. I count amongst my personal highlights our three new works: Maja Bugge’s multi-media Northern, Nani Noam Vazana and Abel Selaocoe’s moving Both Sides of Africa and Andy Scott’s Mancunity – a spectacular opening fanfare for the festival, our new location and Manchester and its people. 

“Join us for some extraordinary music-making this summer and see for yourself what makes us one of Europe’s most adventurous jazz festivals.”

mjf 2019 highlights

Andy Scott: Mancunity - Thursday 23 May, St Ann’s Square

The festival opens with this pioneering new commission, which sees British Composer Award winner Andy Scott leading a collection of regional musicians in a piece which reflects the beating heart of Manchester, its people and their resilience.

Big Band Super Tramp - Friday 24 May, RNCM

A truly memorable night in the company of the great John Helliwell, his distinctive saxophone playing, a stunning big band and the unforgettable music of this legendary supergroup as you’ve never heard it before.

Bethlehem Casuals - Saturday 25 May, The Bread Shed

Featuring seven ‘self-styled groove gremlins from the back end of Manchester,’ this DIY music ensemble has imitable style drenched with freeness and flexibility, both energetically and musically. mjf challenges you to watch them without lifting your feet or the corners of your mouth.

Werkha + Roller Trio - Sunday 26 May, The Bread Shed

Celebrating the bank holiday, this Sunday night party will be hosted by BBC Radio 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie. After the success of their debut EP Cube & Puzzle, Werkha’s infectious fusion of Afrobeat, bass, house, jazz, funk and soul has caused an underground sensation throughout the whole of Europe. They’ll be joined by the Mercury-nominated Roller Trio, as they debut their third album.

Alice Zawadzki + Rob Luft - Monday 27 May, The Whiskey Jar

Enjoy one hour of whiskey tasting, presented by Bruichladdich and The Whiskey Jar, and one hour of music from an unmissable duet - vocalist, violinist, songwriter and composer Alice Zawadzki and award-winning guitarist Rob Luft - who’ll celebrate the golden age of Mediterranean song. Alice’s Anglo-Polish heritage and early exposure to New Orleans jazz and gospel give her performances a worldly quality, while Rob is one of the most sought-after musicians around.

Sarah Tandy Quintet + Skeltr - Monday 27 May, YES

Sarah Tandy has swiftly risen to become one of the most in-demand players of her generation; with stints on keys for Jazz Jamaica, Nu Civilsation Orchestra, Camilla George and Nubya Garcia. In this mjf 2019 finale show, she plays music from her new album Infection In The Sentence with her all-star band. Opening the evening, Skeltr’s soaring sax lines, pulsating drum patterns and intuitive samples make for an unstoppable rollercoaster of soulful and expansive tunes, fuelled by passion and buzzing with energy.

Tickets for all mjf 2019 events are now on sale at manchesterjazz.com. Discounts include £5 tickets for under 25-year-olds (selected gigs for a limited time only) to celebrate the first term-time mjf in over 20 years, and 24% off full price tickets booked on Friday 24 May to mark mjf's 24th year (use code 'JAZZ24', available online or box office, exclusions apply)

Main image: Steven Sibbald

One festival not enough? You’ll find over 29 more in our May-August guide