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Women come out swinging at Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

As Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival 2017 kicks off in venues around the city centre, we take a look at some of the women who will be getting the audiences swinging this year.

Ella Fitzgerald is known as the First Lady of Song, and for good reason. As one of the most famous jazz vocalists of all time, her talent, style, and general joie de vivre has inspired a whole new generation of women to write music, sing and embrace a little swing. Seonaid Aitken is one of those women. On Saturday 15 July, she’ll be channelling her inner Ella as part of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. In celebration of The Queen of Jazz’s centenary year, Aitken will be bringing Lady Ella’s songs to life at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

Seonaid Aitken

Fife-born Aitken is much more than just an Ella fan, though. She’s one of many women in modern jazz who are blazing along the trail that Fitzgerald carved out just under a century ago. An accomplished singer, violinist, pianist, composer and arranger, Aitken has played with the Scottish Opera orchestra, the gypsy swing outfit Rose Room and the Tim Kliphuis Sextet. Her orchestral work has been featured in the BBC/Richard Curtis film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, and she is the Honorary President of the Glenrothes Amateur Musical Association.

She has also toured the world with dancing fiddle show Barrage, performed for Disney in Japan, and is currently the host of the BBC radio show, Jazz Nights at the Quay.

As Ella would say - S’ Wonderful!

In fact, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is full of inspiring women who are currently making a lot of noise in the music world. Even pop super-legend Prince was a fan of Kandace Springs - the cover star of this year’s programme - whose musical style ranges from jazz to soul and pop.

Kandace Springs

The Nashville-based artist has toured all over the globe supporting the legendary Gregory Porter, and has recently released her own album, Soul Eyes, on the world-famous Blue Note label. She’s also a TV regular, and has performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live. While her influences include legends such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, her style is firmly rooted in the present.

As Springs says: “I would like to be known as one of the younger people that are keeping jazz and soul alive and vibrant... I love the realness.”

Springs will be playing two shows at this year’s festival: at the West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent on Saturday 15 July and the George Square Spiegeltent on Sunday 16 July.

And it’s not just solo artists that make up the female-forward bill. Groove-heavy Ibibio Sound Machine are headed up by Eno Williams, who has a voice (and style) to rival Grace Jones.

Ibibio Sound Machine

The group have already taken the festival circuit by storm, with appearances at Wilderness and Glastonbury, and next on their list is the West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent on Friday 14 July. Williams originates from Nigeria, and grew up with gospel music. On her songwriting style, she says she “thought it would be original to infuse the faith aspect, the message of hope, with uplifting music that makes people smile.”

Strong women can be found throughout this year’s programme. Some events pay tribute to the pioneers of the past, such as Aitken’s ode to Ella, or Davina and the Vagabonds, who regularly covers work by legends such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Other more modern artists, such as Williams and Springs, are inspiring a whole new generation of women to get involved with jazz.

Davina and the Vagabonds

One thing’s clear, though: the women in 2017’s programme would have done the First Lady of Song proud.

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival runs from Friday 14 - Sunday 23 July 2017 in several city centre venues. It is supported by National Lottery Funding through our Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 13 Jul 2017