Jazz from Germany – Current Trends

Networks of Sensory Experience – An Interview with Bert Noglik

Berliner Festspiele / Patrick HinleyBert Noglik, music journalist and the new head of the Berlin Jazz Festival, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Patrick HinleyIn 1964 the journalist Joachim-Ernst Berendt launched the Berlin Jazz Festival. Since then, the festival has developed into a musical forum that maintains a balance between innovation and tradition. This year the veteran jazz journalist Bert Noglik has replaced the trombonist Nils Landgren as the artistic director of the Berlin Jazz Festival. An interview on opportunities, dreams and jazz in Germany.

How do you run an up-to-date festival in 2012?

A good festival of this sort should bring on stage a cross-section of what is now essential in jazz. It should definitely be shaped by the personality of the curator, but not exclusively in the image of his taste. I’d certainly like my signature to be recognizable in the festival, but in dialectical interplay with questions such as “What is worth preserving in jazz?” and “Where are the new approaches”. A mix, but not an arbitrary one.

How have the expectations of the audience changed?

International jazz stars like Archie Shepp are an important part of the Berlin Jazz Festival, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Jan KrickeCertain festivals have definite target groups. The audience at Moers or Saalfelden, for example, is different from that of the Berlin Jazz Festival. The people here are very open-minded; it’s an intellectual audience open to various kinds of jazz. They come here not only to hear innovations and new trends, but also to experience once a year something interesting that this music has to offer.

Demanding own ideas

How do you set your own emphases?

Jutta Hipp (1925-2003), piano player and tragic figure of German jazz history, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Jazz PodiumFirst of all, with a three-point programSongs for Kommeno, Remembering Jutta Hipp and Wanted! Hanns Eisler –, all of which will have here their international or German premiere. Then I’d particularly like to integrate freely improvised music into the festival. We can look back on the long history of the Total Music Meetings, which in its early years was conceived of as genuine counter-festival to the Jazz Festival and petered out four years ago. I thought it would send the right message to include in our festival what was previously meant to be its antipodal opposition. Other aspects that can be connected are jazz and the other arts – film, literature and dance, especially tap dance.

How does this diversity consort with the current tendency of the art sections of German newspapers to bury jazz again?

The drummer Günter 'Baby' Sommer from Dresden is one of the most merited artists of Germany's jazz world, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Tobias SommerI think we should talk more about the strengths and weaknesses of jazz using concrete examples. What’s happening at the Jazz festival documents the exact opposite of the contention that jazz has lost its social relevance. In Songs for Kommeno, for example, a German drummer delves into the horrors of World War II. Remembering Jutta Hipp takes up an extraordinarily creative and, at the same time, tragic figure of German jazz history, while Wanted! Hanns Eisler is an examination not only of an important composer but also of the ideological battles of the twentieth century. These are three projects with immediate social connotations. But social relevance arises not only by treating political and social themes. L’art pour l’art can also have social relevance. It all depends on how important the music is in a particular context.

To what extent is the Berlin Jazz Festival capable of expansion or in need of renovation?

The jazz trio Das Kapital and the film team Manic Cinema are exploring together the work of composer Hanns Eisler, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Bruce MilpiedThe Berlin Jazz Festival is one of the really important European festivals, with a historically evolved significance. Under my direction, it also quite deliberately presents German musicians. We have a feature devoted to the trombonist Nils Wogram, who in the spirit of a retrospective will appear with four ensembles. One of the most important German female musicians, the pianist Julia Hülsmann, will also be on stage, as will a few others such as the saxophonist Silke Eberhard. And of course Rolf Kühn, one of the really great names of German jazz. Because I wanted to have in the program not only young musicians but also a father figure like him, a European figure. In need of renovation? I knew from the start that I couldn’t radically change the Jazz festival, not least because I cherish it in its present form. I’m trying to undertake musically important changes only in small steps.

Networking programmings are promising

What personal dreams do have in relation to the Jazz Festival?

I’d like to go even further with projects that were developed especially for the festival. But this is a question of funding; at present I have more ideas than possibilities of realizing them. Yet all in all I’m very happy with the creative leeway the festival gives me.

Many musicians don’t like it at all when the festival director puts them into new combinations…

The poster of Berlin Jazz Festival 2012, photo by Berliner FestspieleIt’s absolutely essential to talk personally with the musicians. I headed the Leipzig Festival for 16 years and then the Sounds No Walls festival in Berlin for three. During this time I made many contacts with musicians, and I’m constantly making more. So if projects are developed, then jointly. It’s quite obvious that an existing group has considerable advantages over a project. On the other hand, music develops precisely through new impulses. For a festival such as ours it’s very important to go beyond existing constellations and bring something new on stage.

In the days of Joachim-Ernst Berendt, that was the original idea of the festival…

The trombone player Nils Wogram is one of the most versatile jazz musician in Germany and presents an overview of his work at the Berlin Jazz Festival 2012, photo by Berliner Festspiele / Antje BerghäuserExactly – in world music, for example. In retrospect, you have to admit that it wasn’t always successful, but it was important that it was tried in such a framework. Some of what will take place this year is also specially designed – for instance, the concerts at the Academy of Arts. But I don’t want it to seem over-designed; I want it to open into a sensuous experience. For all the planning that’s necessary to organize a festival, you also need a good dose of intuition. Sometimes you find yourself amazed at the cross-connections.

So no longer one theme, but rather a network?

I believe a network works better than a monolithic agenda. Recently I had a long talk with Heiner Goebbels about the Ruhr Triennale and he also thought you can hardly treat individual themes and networks enable many more links and much more openness.

Bert Noglik, born 1958 in Leipzig, studied cultural studies, received his doctorate in urban environmental design and began working as a freelance journalist in 1977. In many articles he rendered outstanding services particularly to the German-Polish jazz world and since the 1980s has become an internationally sought-after jazz expert. From 1991 to 2007 Noglik was head of the Leipzig Jazz Festival, and then for three years of the inter-cultural music festival Sounds No Walls in Berlin. He is still active as a jazz editor for the Central German Broadcasting Corporation (mdr).
Ralf Dombrowski
works as a music journalist for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bayerischer Rundfunk and many music magazines.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
October 2012

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