Ahead of the Festival, Artistic Director Denny Ilett explains what inspired him to arrange this iconic musician’s final studio album Electric Ladyland for a 16-piece ensemble, especially for the 2018 festival.
The guitar feedback that opens Foxy Lady, the first track on Jimi’s first album, is a sound that changed my life. From then on I knew I wanted to play the guitar and, to this day, Jimi remains a huge source of inspiration. Having grown up in a jazz household, my other passion was the sound of the big bands. Fast forward 35 years and I find myself with a golden opportunity to combine the two. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Electric Ladyland, Hendrix’s third and, as it turned out, final studio album. Its seamless combination of blues, rock, funk, jazz and pop make it his most experimental and personal work. The challenge of transcribing and arranging this album for a 16-piece big band is one that I take on with relish; particularly as the band itself features many of the UK’s most celebrated and daring improvisors. The great Gil Evans, who produced many masterworks with Miles Davis, was due to collaborate with Jimi; a project sadly never realised due to Hendrix’s untimely and tragic death in September 1970. Evans did, however, produce an album of Jimi’s compositions in 1974 using a stellar big band and it is this record that provides some of the orchestral inspiration for the Electric Lady Big Band. Shortly before his death, Jimi said in an interview that he was becoming frustrated at the classic trio line up of guitar, bass and drums and expressed a desire to form “a big band that I can write and conduct for.” We have no idea whether he would approve of our interpretation of his music but we can certainly guarantee that we will play it with the utmost love and respect for one of the 20th century’s most iconic and important musical forces.