A Spectre is Haunting Europe – The Spectre of the Unionised Jazz Musician!
There is a prevailing feeling of dissatisfaction among Germany’s jazz musicians. It has been around for quite a few years now. There are so many excellently trained musicians, but so few adequate opportunities for them to perform. The public perception of jazz is losing ground. Clubs are “streamlining” their programs. Traditional festivals held both in the provinces and in urban centres have been either shelved completely or have had to deal with budget cuts. Are things really that bad then? No way! Arndt Weidler cannot find the slightest suggestion of resignation on the German jazz scene.
Musicians are taking action A festival made by musicians for musicians – winterjazz Köln 2012The 2012 jazz year got off to a flying start in January. Saxophonist, Angelika Niescier, organised her first Winter Jazz Festival in Cologne. Niescier herself put the program together which focused exclusively on musicians from Cologne. Probably nowhere else in Germany, apart from Berlin, is the concentration of outstanding jazz musicians as great as it is in the cathedral city. At the Stadtgarten music club with its three stages 13 bands demonstrated their jazz-playing skills a whole evening long and free of charge. There was something for everybody – from traditional lyric poetry that had been set to music to freely associative electronic experiments – and audiences rewarded the performers with full houses, great interest and thunderous applause. On 4th January 2013 there was a follow-up festival with 15 bands at three venues – all very encouraging.
An active representation of musicians’ interests – Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker reloadedIn spring 2012, after extensive build-up work and countless internal meetings, the executive of the Union deutscher Jazzmusiker (Union of German Jazz Musicians, in short UDJ) underwent some drastic rejuvenation treatment. The union that was founded in 1973 by Manfred Schoof, Wolfgang Dauner, Albert Mangelsdorff and a few others has been completely revamped by the new management team.
Foto: Dirk Matthesius The new chairperson is Berlin pianist, Julia Hülsmann; saxophonist Felix Falk is her deputy. Before, they had both played an active role at the Bundeskonferenz Jazz (German Federal Jazz Conference). After years of running on empty this lobby for the interests of jazz musicians in Germany has now gained new impetus. The demands the UDJ voices sound not only familiar, but are also long overdue – they call for binding minimum fees for professional musicians, publicly financed rehearsal rooms or the preservation and expansion of the Künstlersozialkasse (Artists’ Social Insurance Company).
Bremen provides a platform for the international jazz scene – jazzahead! 2012The 7th Bremen Jazz Expo, which first took place in 2006, drew 3,500 visitors from all over the world. The guest of honour in 2012 was Spain. By now even the most diehard sceptics must be convinced that in the world of jazz a conventional trade fair approach that focuses on the economic and artistic interests of the performers can also be successful. Over the past few years Germany has always used the Bremen Jazz Expo to presents its musicians to a specialist international audience. The German Jazz Meetings of the years 2006, 2008 and 2010 established a platform in Bremen for showcasing current trends on the German jazz scene. The follow-up event format, German Jazz Expo, is also to promote the exporting of jazz “Made in Germany” at the jazzahead! event. New cooperation partners have been found in the UDJ and the Initiative Musik (a funding agency set up by the German federal government to promote the music industry in Germany).
Foto: Rainer Pusch/jazzahead The German Jazz Journalism Prize, set up for the first time by the E.A. Langner Foundation in Hamburg, was also awarded within the framework of jazzahead! The prize is to emphasise the importance of a competent and critical analysis of jazz in the media and to honour those people who have distinguished themselves by promoting jazz in the media. The prize, endowed with 5,000 euros, went to the longstanding music editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, the journalist from Giessen, Hans-Jürgen Linke.
Darmstadt provides a platform for the German jazz scene – “Wegweiser Jazz” goes onlineThe Jazzinstitut Darmstadt (a public research archive on jazz) is well known for its print publication called Wegweiser Jazz, an index of addresses for jazz in Germany that satisfied the information needs of jazz audiences in Germany. Since the beginning of this year however this collection of addresses is now available online all over the world and free of charge. Users can maintain and update their entries themselves.
Grass roots appeal, but up to their ears in debt – clubs on an emotional roller-coaster rideJazz club Unterfahrt (photo: Unterfahrt) Performing is the daily bread that keeps a music culture vital. This applies in particular to the genre of jazz. Whereas some venues, like the Unterfahrt in Munich, won various awards like the renowned ECHO Jazz prize in the category for jazz promotion and the Music Prize of the City of Munich in recognition of its many years of grass-roots work, many concert organisers in the field of jazz still lead a hand-to-mouth existence. That is why it is all the more praiseworthy when local projects like the Jazz im Busch series, held in the Jungbusch district of Mannheim, provide ambitious musicians and their ideas with a place they can regularly perform.
The fact that the jazz venues with regularly scheduled programs require a reliable sponsoring of their shows has now also been acknowledged by the federal government’s scheme for financing music. This is why people are expecting a financially sound concept for the financing of clubs to be passed at federal level. From 2013 onwards the German Federal Government is to approve one million euros for the additional promotion of pop and jazz venues. This development has been considerably enhanced of course by the jazz scene’s constant talks with politicians and its pressuring both of them and the Initiative Musik for action.
A lively festival scene needs its beaconsThe German festival scene is a replica of the federal structure of Germany. For quite a few decades now in some cases many of the republic’s regional centres have been home to top-calibre jazz festivals that above all pride themselves in being firmly rooted in the municipal and regional context and thanks to international stars act as beacons way beyond the borders of their region. On its annual festival circuit Germany also has its flagships. They are the festivals that are of particular interest both on a domestic as well as international level, because they not only get some of the big names to appear on their stages, but also because they make a conscious effort to set trends, to promote priority themes and to reflect current developments taking place in the music. The moers festival now in its 40th year, is probably still the most experimental festival in Germany. Nowhere else does one get such an in-depth overview of the contemporary jazz scene than in Moers on the Lower Rhine.
Reiner Michalke, who has been artistic director in Moers since 2006, describes his approach as follows, “My aim when I am putting the program together is to always be on the ball with current developments on the international jazz scene. The ideal scenario is when I know what is going on at the world’s hot spots and try to take the best examples and objectively present them in our program.” He is however fully aware that this is becoming more and more difficult in these times of ever shrinking budgets. Despite the financial crises with which the festival has been plagued over and over again Michalke can look back at all this with a certain degree of conciliation as his program budget has been spared any cuts – apart from the fact that the length of the festival was reduced from four to three days.
In Berlin in 2012 Bert Noglik, publicist from Leipzig, was appointed the new artistic director of the Jazzfest Berlin.
Foto: Sergei Gavrylov Berlin, as Germany’s festival capital, is of course subjected to more rigorous scrutiny by the arts pages and jazz critics. At the opening performance Noglik succeeded in defining a strong, new approach, among other things, by paying tribute to the legendary German pianist, Jutta Hipp. According to Noglik, the aim was not to reconstruct the music, but to revitalise it. At the opening it became quite obvious that the Berlin jazz scene was once again prepared to risk musical experimentation and to include contemporary jazz from Germany and its current trends in its program. Rainer Kern managed to establish his festival, Enjoy Jazz, as the “newcomer” in this league of internationally renowned festivals. It is a mammoth event with venues in Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen and it lures the scene’s big international stars to the banks of the river Neckar and Rhine. At the same time Kern uses his ambitious supporting program to gain deeper insights into the current state of the jazz world. The “Lost in Diversity” conference enabled people in 2012 to have a say in the discourse on both the American and the European contribution to the social relevance of jazz. Quite a few of the well known participants at the festival were also integrated into the discussion.
Revival of a special format – The NEWJazz Meeting in Baden-Baden“The NEWJazz Meeting is a broadly based forum at which a musician with his ensemble can develop an artistic project over a period of a few days and then present it to the general public,” says Günther Huesmann, who has been the new head of the jazz department at Südwestrundfunk (South-West German Radio) since the summer.
Foto: Günther Huesmann/SWR Huesmann has revived a format that was used back in 1966 by his famous predecessor, Joachim Ernst Berendt. The NEWJazz Meeting is to provide jazz musicians with a creative space in which they can realise projects – projects that would never get off the ground under conventional market conditions. In 2012 Carl Ludwig Hübsch, a tuba player from Cologne, along with his octet “hübsch acht” availed himself of this opportunity.
Prizeworthy music…2012 was also a year in which many young musicians and their work excelled. The fact that the bands and their orientation are also becoming more and more international was also of interest. Germany is a country of immigration and above all its big cities have been “melting pots” for quite some time now. At the 2012 Europäischen Burghauser Nachwuchs-Jazzpreis (European Young Artists' Jazz Award Burghausen) saxophonist, Malte Schiller, born in 1982, and his eleven-strong formation B>RED BALLOON won the jury over with his arrangements that were as mature as they were clever. The German-Swiss-Danish-Luxembourgian quartet, “Schneeweiß und Rosenrot” (Snow White and Rose Red) won the "Neuen Deutschen Jazzpreis Mannheim" (New German Jazz Prize). The group, based in Berlin, did not only win 10,000 euros, but also the favour of the audience in the Feuerwache cultural centre in Mannheim.
The awards ceremony at the Bremen Jazz Prize – Masaa (photo: Gaby Ahnert) Germany is home to all kinds of different cultures which all leave their respective mark on the various fields of the arts. The Bremer Jazzpreis (Bremen Jazz Prize), newly created in 2012, took this situation into account and awarded the 2012 prize to a group called Masaa. The group, whose singer Rabih Lahoud is from the Lebanon, managed to fulfil the conditions set by the sponsors in the most convincing way , i.e. to present a successful crossover between ethnic music and contemporary jazz.
… and remarkable productionsDresden drummer, Günter „Baby“ Sommer, succeeded in producing probably the most powerful CD of the year. In the midst of the discussion on the “Eurocrisis” and who is to blame for Europe’s financial misery, with its overpowering rekindling of resentment between Germans and Greeks, Songs for Kommeno recalls the atrocities committed by the German army in occupied Greece during the Second World War.
Gestaltung: Jonas Schoder/Intakt Sommer sensitively transposes into his music the commemoration of the victims, the memory of the suffering caused by war and people’s willingness to accept reconciliation. For Matthias Schriefl, a trumpeter from the Allgäu region of southern Germany, it is a mere cock’s stride from his alpine uplands to the bayous of Louisiana. On his Six, Alps & Jazz, he demonstrates his expressive sense of humour that makes listening to this CD such fun. It is not without reason that his production was nominated for the “List of the Best” at the 2012 “Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik” (German Record Critics’ Prize). There was also an outstanding release by a German musician on Germany’s premium label, ECM, which is now in its 43rd year. The CD Equilibrium by the Benedikt Jahnel Trio rests peacefully in itself. There is only a slight ripple on the surface of the quietly calm sea, whereas underneath it is a seething mass about to erupt.
With her Orchestre Idéal pianist and electronic artist, Johanna Borchert, gives a virtuoso experimental solo performance that was released on the young WhyPlayJazz label based in Greifswald. Pianist Sebastian Sternal, from Mainz, with his Sternal Symphonic Society delivered a mature, orchestral work with shimmering arrangements that manages to unite outstanding soloists with masterly ensemble work.
Foto: Lutz Vogtländer If there were such a thing as a singles chart for jazz, then Vesna Pisarović‘ version of the Elvis Presley classic Crawfish would most certainly be at the top somewhere. Her album With Suspicious Minds is her debut into the realm of jazz. She is originally from Croatia, but now lives in Berlin and ever since she performed at the Eurovision Song contest in 2002 she has been a pop star in her own country. This is why it seems all the more daring for her to undertake a musical project off the beaten “mainstream” track with such declared improvisors on the Berlin scene as the Bavarian, Gerhard Gschlößl, and the two Australians, Steve Heather und Clayton Thomas.
Jazz musicians of the world unite … at best in Germany!