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How is Cheltenham Jazz Festival created? – Interview with Emily Jones, Head of Programming

Artists come from far and wide to perform at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, crossing oceans and continents for a chance to play on a Cheltenham stage. But with over 65 paid acts and 100 free performances across the six days, it takes an awful lot of planning and organisation. Emily Jones is the queen of organisation and has pulled off an incredible lineup this year.

“As the Head of Programming, I spend a lot of time going out and seeing shows and searching whom I might like to have at the Festival. I also have conversations with Ian George who is the director of the festivals and oversees the content. I also take recommendations from Jamie Cullum who’s our artistic curator and we also work with out program advisor Tony Dudley-Evans.”

She spends most of her year arranging acts and contacting agents, making sure those special six days of the year are as good as they can be. Although it’s not always that straight forward. “There are so many factors that can affect when an artist chooses to go on tour and do album releases and then sometimes albums get pushed back so it’s an ever shifting kind of pallet.” says Emily. “It’s my job to juggle all that and fit this jigsaw puzzle together basically like so we think ‘we have this artist here so let’s have this artist in this venue, ah but he’s not coming anymore’.


During her spare time Emily likes to DJ. She headlined the Free Stage on Saturday night.

Putting on shows at the same time that are too similar is known as ‘clashing’. Emily tells me this is one of the things to avoid in her job as it can lead to a frustrated audience. “We had a really great band for the Jazz Arena and I had a slot to put them in and they were available and it looked like it was actually going to work. I suddenly realised that it would clash with a gig in the town hall that was actually very similar,” Emily explains. “When a festival gets to this scale there are shows that clash. You have to try and make them different enough, even though a lot of it is still jazz. It was a really tough decision but we had to pass on it as customers would have been annoyed that they were being forced between the two things… It’s really important we put the customers first”

With over 27,000 tickets being sold each year to the shows, Emily has the mighty job of deciding who to give a platform to in order to keep all the attendees of the Festival happy. “There are a couple subsets of our audience. We definitely have the loyal jazz fans, particularly those who will come and see shows in the parabola and have it as a fixture in their diaries… We have another set of fans that are slightly more local, they come for the headline shows the bigger names. Then we have those that just come for a day out, enjoy a day in the gardens and they might dip in to a few things so we’re trying to provide something for them as well which is more accessible”


“We’ve had lots of comments this year saying our lineup is particularly strong and actually JazzWise magazine said we’ve got one of the best lineups in Europe this year. We have lots of lovely comments from those who come regularly just saying there is so much this year so much so they can’t decide.”

To read our full coverage of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival head to this link to find the PDF of our magazine.

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