19 May 2020
Influential advocate for jazz John Cumming dies

John Cumming, one of the most prominent figures on the international jazz scene as festival organiser, tour manager and agent, died on Sunday, May 17.

From Edinburgh, where he studied at Edinburgh University, became involved in theatre production and supported Hearts (he was very proud to be the namesake of a Hearts player who won every domestic honour with the club in the 1950s and 1960s), John worked in theatre before and after founding the Bracknell Jazz Festival at Southhill Park Arts Centre in 1975.

Having built Bracknell into a major platform for international acts, as well as championing homegrown talents, he became the programmer for Camden Jazz Week and worked as a tour manager for the Contemporary Music Network, along the way forming lasting professional relationships with musicians including Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, and George Russell, whose Anglo-American Living Time Orchestra he created.

With the late John Ellson he went on to form Serious Productions, working closely with Andy Sheppard, Orphy Robinson and John Surman, and with promoter David Jones on board they created EFG London Jazz Festival in 1992.

John’s contacts book was full of musicians, international promoters and festival directors and he created innumerable special projects and tours that touched the lives of audiences across the UK and Europe.  

His contribution to the UK jazz scene was recognised by Services to Jazz awards at both the BBC Jazz Awards and the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, and in 2014 he was appointed OBE for Services to Jazz. He is survived by his wife, Ginnie, and daughter, Kate.

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