One event towers above all others in March. Following a one year hiatus Gateshead Jazz (formerly Gateshead International Jazz Festival) returns to Sage Gateshead over three days (Fri 20-Sun22). Jamie Cullum's opening concert sold out some time ago and by the time you've attended the weekend's closing concert featuring the Binker Golding Quartet an awful lot of jazz will be ringing in the ears. From SEED Ensemble to GoGo Penguin, a late night Judi Jackson show to Theo Croker, Yazz Ahmed, Jasper Høiby's Planet B and Nikki Iles' new star-studded Jazz Orchestra there should be something for everyone although, it should be said, Gateshead Jazz sports a very distinctive contemporary badge.
Five or more top class pianists can be heard across the north east of England during the month; Dean Stockdale plays a duo gig with Edinburgh-based vocalist Louise Dodds at Newcastle's Jazz Cafe (Wed 4, lunchtime), Sam Leak brings his trio to the Globe, Newcastle (Sat 7), King's Hall, Newcastle University presents two free admission concerts - first John Law (Thurs 12, lunchtime) with his quartet followed seven days later by Pat Thomas playing what is certain to be an explosive solo improv set - and Andrea Vicari can look forward to a bumper pay day with a gig at Durham's Gala Theatre (lunchtime) and an evening engagement at Opus 4 Jazz Club in Darlington (both Fri 20).
Elsewhere six big bands catch the eye/ear. The BBC Big Band at the Gala Theatre, Durham (Wed 4) will, no doubt, boast its usual quota of household names, the Customs House Big Band returns to Dorman's, Middlesbrough (Mar 12, free admission) and an intriguing gig at Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle (Fri 13) features a one-off appearance by NYC-based trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Danny Jonokuchi working with the mighty Strictly Smokin' Big Band. It has the makings of an 'I was there' occasion. Jason Holcomb's new outfit - Newcastle University Jazz - plays a second public gig at Newcastle's Jazz Co-op (Mar 15) and the Darlington Big Band will be on home turf at the Forum Music Centre (Mar 17). Finally, Nikki Iles' recently formed large ensemble makes a swift return to the region following an appearance at Gateshead Jazz with a headline spot at Middlesbrough Town Hall's monthly Sunday Jazz showcase on Mar 29. An enticing triple bill includes the Nishla Smith Quintet and the Tees Valley Youth Jazz Collective.
Recommended one-off gigs include the Tenement Jazz Band (Mar 8, afternoon) at Prohibition Bar, Newcastle, Joe Williamson's Animal Society (Mar 8) at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle and, all the way from France, Mama Shakers play an end-of-the-month gig at Darlington New Orleans Jazz Club (Mar 28). So many gigs, so little time! Isn't it wonderful?!