Mike Hart – the man who jazzed up city’s festival scene

Mike Hart shows off his MBE
Mike Hart shows off his MBE
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Tributes have been paid to the founder of one of Edinburgh’s best-known cultural celebrations after he passed away in his sleep at the age of 84.

Mike Hart started the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival in just one venue in 1979 after drawing inspiration from a visit to the Sacramento Jazz Festival in California.

A banjo player, gig organiser and jazz enthusiast, he was convinced that there was an audience in Edinburgh for a stand-alone event attracting the biggest names in the business.

Hart, an antiques dealer by day, would go on to run the festival for more than 25 years and saw it become the biggest jazz event, with huge free events in the Grassmarket and Princes Street Gardens.

After stepping down as artistic director, Hart remained heavily involved, serving on its board and performing with his own bands.

Hart, who was awarded the MBE in 1995, died after a four-year battle with throat cancer months after its 40th anniversary edition.

Stéphane Grappelli, Dick Hyman, BB King, Acker Bilk, Dionne Warwick, Humphrey Littleton, Georgie Fame and Elkie Brooks were among those to appear over the years.

Roger Spence, the current co-producer of the festival, said: “He was at the heart of the Edinburgh traditional jazz scene from the 1950s up until a few years ago, as a musician, bandleader and organiser.

“He was a man of great energy, charisma and commitment. He changed the landscape of the Edinburgh jazz scene, creating the first international jazz festival in Scotland and sustained it through the force of his own personality and hard work for many years, through thick and thin.

“He created a special spirit for the festival which followed his own passion for the music. Jazz was always a joy for him.”

Festival chairman Jason Rust said: “We have Mike to thank for what has evolved over the decades into one of Europe’s top jazz festivals. He brought a massive wealth of music knowledge and wit to all his contributions to the festival.”

Former Lord Provost Eric Milligan added: “The jazz festival has successfully carved out its own identity over the year, a bit like the Tattoo has, while other events have been dwarfed by the Fringe. The city owes an enormous debt to Mike Hart for all he has done.”

Thanks to Hart, the Capital’s – and Scotland’s – first jazz festival was born when he brought together a number of local bands plus a couple of well-respected soloists from England and staged a mini event in a ballroom

As it developed into a full-blown affair of international renown, Hart added younger players who were part of the mainstream revival.

Hart’s funeral will be held on December 28 at Warriston Crematorium and afterwards at The Counting House, West Nicholson Street, for a buffet lunch and a musical tribute.