Thousands expected in town again for eighth staging of what has become one of Ireland's top jazz events Another great line-up for annual Bray Jazz Festival
It is now more than seven years since the Millennium came and went in a blaze of pyrotechnics and festival celebrations.
However, few of the many events and activities which were launched at that time have grown and developed as successfully as a weekend festival event which will take place in Bray in little more than a week's time.
Now in it's eighth year, Bray Jazz Festival has established itself as the premier cultural festival weekend in the county, and has firmly stated its claim to being one of the leading jazz and world music events on the cultural calendar within the greater Dublin area catchment.
Described by The Irish Times as 'the connoisseur's jazz festival', the event attracts a steady stream of jazz enthusiasts from across the country and from further afield each year, and has won a place in the hearts of music lovers from across County Wicklow for its presentation of a diverse and ecclectic mix of contemporary jazz, world music and blues.
Next weekend's eighth Bray Jazz Festival will be no exception - with more than 32 concerts and recitals, and some real heavyweight performers from the world of jazz, set to perform in the town over the three nights of the May Bank Holiday weekend.
Established by local man George Jacob, who had been working at the time as a journalist with this newspaper, Bray Jazz Festival was one of only a handful of events in County Wicklow to receive funding support from the National Millennium Committee.
'I remember sitting at home one evening around a year earlier and I saw Minister Seamus Brennan on television announcing that the government was setting aside £30 million for Millennium Year celebrations and was looking for proposals and ideas from around the country,' says George.
'I put together a proposal for a jazz festival in Bray not because of any great love that I had for jazz, but rather because I felt that there was no such event taking place in the greater Dublin area at that time and because I just believed that it could work'.
George says that he lobbied local politicians and local TDs to support the proposal and received an extremely positive response, and eventually secured £25,000 in seed funding from the National Millennium Committee towards the cost of developing the inaugural event.
'Once I had secured the backing of the Millennium Fund I was able to go to corporate backers and encourage them to get behind the event, while to their credit Bray Town Council and Wicklow County Council, and local businesses such as Lennox Estates and the Duggan family got squarely behind the festival and are with us to this day'.
The list of supporters that Bray Jazz Festival has attracted is impressive - it is both a reflection of the status of the event, and the steady progression and growth of the festival over the past eight years.
'From the outset we were determined that we should try to develop an annual festival, and committed ourselves to delivering a top quality event which could hold its head up high in cultural terms with some of the very best jazz and music festivals in Europe', he says.
'We retained the services of a professional programmer from day one and as a result have been able to negotiate unbelievable deals to attact some real jazz heavyweights to play at the festival,' adds George.
This is no mean feat when you consider that the largest venue available to the event is the 240 seat Mermaid Arts Centre, while concert recitals are also held each year in the historic oak lined council chambers at Bray Town Hall which accommodates just 70 people.
If an illustration is needed of the growing status of Bray Jazz Festival on the Irish cultural calendar it could be seen when the Arts Council of Ireland elevated the event from their list of 'Small Festivals', and positioned Bray Jazz alongside some of the country's best known arts events, amongst its revenue clients, this year. With that came a grant increase from ?10,000 two years ago to an award of ?35,000 to support the 2007 event.
Diageo Ireland have also been a long-standing supporter, while RTE Lyric FM came onboard for the first time this year too and will be recording and broadcasting all three of this year's festival headline shows from Mermaid Arts Centre.
American trumpeter Dave Douglas, who was last year nominated for a Grammy Award for his work is the big name attraction in 2007, while other heavyweight visitors to the festival include the award-winning French composer and clarinetist Louis Sclavis, the legendary Danish jazz collective New Jungle Orchestra, the world's leading gipsy jazz guitarist Angelo Debarre and his group from France, and the Indian guitar virtuoso Debashish Bhattacharya.
The festival's late night jazz club at The Heather House Hotel will stage a first ever performance in Bray by Dublin's high octane North Strand Klezmer Band, and an appearance by a group at the cutting edge of contemporary electronica ZoiD.
Elsewhere, the festival will feature more than 15 free shows at hotels, pubs and other licenced premises around the town as part of the annual Budweiser sponsored jazz trail programme.
Groups on this bill will include several of Wicklow's best know jazz and blues acts including Bree Harris, Dermot Byrne and Arklow's East Coast Jazz Band, while others appearing will include Blue Jar from Belfast, and Poles Apart, who come all the way from Warsaw.
'We are extremely encouraged with how the festival has grown and developed over the years. Our sponsors and other supporters have been vital to this - but at the end of the day it is the support of jazz lovers, and of the people of Bray and Wicklow who have come to concerts year after year, that has made Bray Jazz Festival the success that it has become,' George Jacob concludes.
For full details of this year's Bray Jazz Festival visit www.brayjazz.com or contact the Mermaid box office at (01) 2724030.