Grooving in Glynde – Ciro Romano talks about five years of Love Supreme Jazz Festival

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Ciro-Portrait-1-2The Love Supreme jazz festival enters its fifth year as a unique, fixed point in the UK jazz calendar. Reviving the lost tradition of green-field jazz gatherings, it again brings together the cutting-edge names of the moment with more mainstream jazz, soul and funk acts, in the unbeatable downland setting of Glynde Place, East Sussex. As the festival's director Ciro Romano (pictured) tells Jazzwise, though, Love Supreme's first year was almost its last.

"We lost a lot of money the first year – I mean a lot!" he laughs ruefully. "It was definitely touch and go." The day was saved by Nile Rodgers' Chic, booked before a career revival capped by his televised Glastonbury triumph the week before Love Supreme. This "massive stroke of luck" accounted for 25 per cent of that year's 10,500 attendance. "It gave everyone hope for the festival. Usually, the plug would have been pulled, with the numbers that we lost."

Romano's original vision was inspired by attending Rotterdam's massive, indoor North Sea Jazz festival in 2011, with its mix of top names from jazz and its more commercial borders. He wanted to adapt this to a "classic British camping festival", allowing a "communal" experience. "Everyone said jazz people don't camp, it's not a big enough market. And on paper, it didn’t make sense. There aren’t any jazz acts playing the O2.”

Whether by luck or intuition, though, Love Supreme was perfectly placed to plug into vibrant new jazz movements, which have surged overground since its start. “The most interesting acts are playing out and engaging more, they look different,” Romano says. “A lot of the smarter acts embrace the new, and different textures from other genres, with jazz as the core. What's happened since we started in 2013, and I like to think we're partly responsible, is that the amount of interesting jazz- and jazz-inspired acts playing 1,000-2,000-capacity venues has increased hugely. GoGo Penguin, Sons of Kemet and Shabaka Hutchings' stuff generally and Kamasi Washington have expanded the audience a lot. When we booked Snarky Puppy in 2013, they were playing to 200-300 in London, now it's 5,000-6,000 at Brixton Academy. There's no way that would have happened five years ago."

This year's Saturday headliners, The Jacksons, though, like past names such as Grace Jones, draw complaints that Love Supreme simply isn't jazz enough. "Our booking criteria has never changed," Romano argues. "A main stage with more mainstream soul and funk to bring in the casual, local audience, a big top with more classic jazz for the core audience, and the Arena for edgier, developing stuff, to bring in a younger audience for whom jazz is a vibrant thing. From the beginning, we've tried to bring together different tribes. We spend a lot of time on the interlinking of it all."

Attendance will be around 28,000 in 2017, more than doubling its near disastrous debut. Such setbacks, like the last-minute switch from its intended location on the beautiful but wind-blasted downland peak of Devil's Dyke, are in the past. Six fields are earmarked for further expansion. The odds Love Supreme has beaten are even shown by its name, which so perfectly evokes its ethos.

"Not everyone thought that at the time!" Romano laughs. "We live in this world where everyone knows who John Coltrane is. Actually, most people don't, and they certainly don't know the spiritual element of that particular record [A Love Supreme]. The more sniffy jazz fans are aghast at our use of it. The only worse thing would have been the Kind of Blue festival!" Such barracking came from both sides. "I was under huge pressure to take out the words 'jazz festival' after the first year. And I had to keep saying, 'We're nothing, if we're not that.'"

– Nick Hasted

– Photo of Ciro Romano by Johann Perry

The Love Supreme Jazz Festival takes place from 30 June to 2 July - for line-up, info and tickets visit www.lovesupremefestival.com