Tucked away in the small valleys of the Gers in south west France is the classic bastide town of Marciac. It’s not huge, it has a population of around 1300, a central village square with the town hall as its main feature and the four sides of the square are lined with shops and cafés.
But one thing makes Marciac unique amongst the many bastide towns of France and that is Jazz.
The Jazz Festival of Marciac
Back in 1978 a small group of friends led by school teacher Jean-Louis Guilhaumon started a small jazz festival. Nearly 40 years later, it has become one of the most important jazz festivals in the world.
Over 250,000 people visit the Marciac Jazz Festival over its fifteen days. 65,000 attend concerts in the Chapiteau (a huge marquee) erected on the town’s rugby pitch. It’s here that not just some, but nearly all of the biggest names in Jazz have played over those 40 years.
Now I have to confess that though I am not a jazz fan I am a huge fan of music. However, two days in Marciac converted me.
The highlight of the 2016 festival for many people was a performance by the legendary Ahmad Jamal. At 86 years old he came out of retirement to play his only concert in the world that year in a little bastide town in Gascony, when I asked him why he said “when Jean -Louis asks, you say yes, he is a very special man.”
One time school teacher Jean-Louis Guilhaumon is now mayor of Marciac and President of the Marciac Jazz festival. He is also Vice-President of the regional council of the Midi-Pyrenees.
He is immensely proud that the college he taught at now has Jazz on the curriculum. 20 pupils from the area have gone on to be professional musicians and the town has a permanent concert venue, the very modern 500 seat L’Astrada , which hosts music, theatre and dance throughout the year.
Music is everywhere when the festival is on. Every bar, street corner and alleyway has musicians playing, the square is one free festival, vibrant, exciting and great for the trip jazz fan or not. Over the year’s luminaries such as Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Ray Charles have played Marciac.
But Marciac is not just a town for the jazz festival. It’s worth visiting anytime of the year with a great street market and warm evenings from Spring to Autumn, perfect for late night dining and talking under the stars. The Jazz Museum Les Territoires du Jazz makes for a great visit as do the local Armagnac vineyards and those of Plaimont wine growers where you can sponsor a vine named after a jazz musician.
Marciac turned out to be a bit of a surprise, a very pleasant surprise.
Read about the artists of Marciac Jazz Festival – bringing joie de vivre to the town and its visitors!
Find more fabulous things to do in France at: uk.france.fr