CLAIRE MARTIN sees it as her “mission” to introduce a wide demographic to jazz music and especially young people. The singer, who was awarded on OBE in 2011 for her services to the genre, says that outside of London the audience for jazz doubles in age.

“That’s nothing disrespectful to older people but sometimes at gigs it’s like looking out to a sea of my parents. After 30 years as a professional musician, it’s become my quest to try and change that. It didn’t used to be that way. I used to just enjoy playing gigs and drinking too much beer. Now I’ve gone more serious.”

Martin runs the South Coast Jazz Festival with saxophonist and composer Julian Nicholas. Its third edition is its busiest yet, with a range of events taking place in Brighton and Shoreham. The Verdict in Brighton hosts up-and-coming Sussex jazz acts – via a few student showcases and educational events – while Shoreham’s Ropetackle boasts more distinguished performers like pianist Zoe Rahman and the Jim Mullen Organ Trio.

“We’re bringing musicians to Sussex that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see unless you pay double for it in London,” says Martin. With larger jazz festivals like Love Supreme peddling a line-up of acts who straddle the genres of pop, soul and blues as well as traditional jazz, was it Martin’s intention to return to a more authentic form in her event?

“We have tried to cross a few genres but it isn’t as soulful as Love Supreme. This year they’ve got George Benson and Herbie Hancock – I mean, we can’t compete with that. First and foremost we are a jazz festival but we are trying to tick a lot of boxes.”

Martin grew up with Ella Fitzgerald as her main inspiration and says that the “post-bop” era of jazz in the 1960s is her bread and butter. While the likes of Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong will be familiar names to anybody with even a vague awareness of the genre, though, Martin says it can be difficult to debunk the reputation of jazz as “overly intellectual”.

“When you say jazz to people, they either think you’re talking about old traditional stuff which people watch in a muddy field or incredibly complicated contemporary stuff with loads of squeaks and bonks.

“Some people think it’s highbrow or difficult to understand without being a jazz musician. Some parts of it are, but they’re not necessarily parts I would like or listen to either. Some of it is really accessible – everyone likes Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald and that’s where I’m coming from as an artist.”

When asked if it can be difficult to win over those who are reluctant to engage with jazz, Martin says she prefers the world “challenging”. Again she stresses the importance of reaching, or trying to reach, a broad demographic.

“The trouble is that most people aren’t exposed to it. Without being patronising, you’ve got to educate people into coming to see it. Unless you seek out this music you might now know about it. There are specialist radio stations but there is nothing on television about it. It’s got that underdog feeling about it, which is a shame.

“I must say, though, that one of my favourite things is when people tell me they’ve never been to a jazz gig before but that they really enjoyed the show.”

One of the key aims of The South Coast Jazz Festival, therefore, is inclusivity. To that end, there is a jam session on January 22 that anyone is welcome to attend.

“I mean, obviously not anyone as in my mum but anyone who can play a bit,” adds Martin. “Anywhere I can, I’m trying to turn more people on to jazz.”

South Coast Jazz Festival 2017, Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, and The Verdict, Brighton, January 16 - 29, For more information on concerts, dates, and prices visit: