Love Supreme Jazz Festival reveals sellout success
Europe’s biggest outdoor jazz festival, Love Supreme, is set for its most successful edition yet after tickets for its 2022 return officially sold out.
The 25,000-cap festival, which specialises in jazz, soul, R&B and pop, returns this weekend from a two-year hiatus this to Glynde Place in East Sussex, UK.
Produced in partnership with Vivendi’s live music arm, U-Live, Love Supreme was founded nine years ago by Ciro Romano, whose company Neapolitan Live also co-founded the Nocturne Live concert series at Blenheim Palace and the newly launched Kite Festival in Oxfordshire.
“Jazz continues to go from strength to strength and it’s an incredible exciting time to be working within the genre”
“The Love Supreme journey really has been a remarkable one,” says Romano. “When we launched in 2013 we were the UK’s only major greenfield jazz festival so to have got to this point is testament to both the incredible hard work of the Neapolitan and U-Live teams and the enduring popularity of this music.
“Jazz continues to go from strength to strength and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be working within the genre.”
Running from 1-3 July, Love Supreme is topped by headline shows from Erykah Badu and Gregory Porter, and will also feature performances by the likes of TLC, Tom Misch, Lianne La Havas and Sons of Kemet x Nubya Garcia.
Love Supreme’s inaugural Japanese edition was held earlier this year in Tokyo, having originally been due to launch in 2020 prior to the pandemic.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan to debut in May
The UK’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, the largest greenfield jazz, funk and soul festival in Europe, will hold its debut Japanese edition this May.
Launched in partnership with Vivendi stablemate Universal Music Japan (Love Supreme is co-promoted by Vivendi-owned U-Live), Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan will take place in the 375-hectare Chichibu Muse Park, just outside Tokyo, on 15 and 16 May 2021. As a result of ongoing coronavirus restrictions, the debut festival will feature only Japanese artists, although an international line-up is planned for 2022, according to Love Supreme founder Ciro Romano.
“There’s an incredible jazz scene in Japan and it’s long been a plan of ours to launch a sister festival in Tokyo,” explains Romano, who launched Love Supreme (20,000-cap.) through his company Neapolitan Live in 2013. “The majority of the artists we book for the UK festival have huge fanbases across Japan, and so it made perfect sense to look at replicating the Love Supreme ethos over there.
“This year will focus on the rich pool of incredible Japanese artists, but the plan moving forward is definitely to draw on the full spectrum of international jazz, soul and R&B talent.”
“There’s an incredible jazz scene in Japan and it’s long been a plan of ours to launch a sister festival in Tokyo”
Love Supreme Japan was originally scheduled for May 2020 but, like its UK sister festival, was called off amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Love Supreme UK is scheduled for 2 to 4 July 2021.
In a statement, Universal Music Japan says it is committed to keeping all festivalgoers safe and urges all ticketholders to keep an eye on updates from the festival as it approaches. Among the “maximum infection countermeasures” already announced are a seated-only format, which the festival says is necessary to protect fans, staff and performers.
“What used to be normal may no longer be normal, and it may cause more trouble for everyone,” reads the statement from the festival. “However, the excitement that can only be experienced live should […] still be shared with everyone at the festival. Please feel such a loving musical experience at Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan 2021, held for the first time in Japan.”
Tickets for Love Supreme Japan, headlined by Dreams Come True and Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, start at ¥11,000 (€85) for a single-day pass.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Opening gambit: Chess & Jazz on why it’s game on for 2020
With all eyes currently on Exit Festival and its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the festival season, it’s worth remembering that while the Serbian event is by far the largest European festival to confirm it will go ahead this summer, it’s not (quite) the only one.
In an addition to the raft of music festivals adapted into a digital format, a handful of events are still going ahead physically, including showcase events such as Tallinn Music Week (Estonia) and Reeperbahn Festival (Germany) and Russian music festival Chess & Jazz, originally scheduled for 24–25 July but now expected to be pushed back to September.
IQ caught up with Nick Babin, founder of Chess & Jazz, to discuss the festival’s ethos, preparations for 2020, and why the festival won’t be going online…
Give us a brief history of Chess & Jazz.
Chess & Jazz is international boutique festival which has been held in Moscow since 2018. The festival takes place in the iconic venue of the Hermitage Garden, in the historical centre of Moscow, where Soviet Jazz was born in the early 20th century.
Chess & Jazz has already featured performances from double Grammy award-winner Gregory Porter, the Manchester trio GoGo Penguin, American singer CeeLo Green, London-based band Kamaal Williams and the American soul star Christian Berishai, better known as JMSN, over the past few years.
The festival concept has also drawn attention from international markets, and we organised Chess & Jazz in Singapore and Kazakhstan in 2019.
Why combine chess and live music?
Russia has a significant chess legacy, and it’s probably for that reason that, from the outset, our festival made a large impact on the Russian cultural map.
I also run a booking agency, booking acts for several Russian festivals and private events. But I always wanted to create my own product and realise the ideas that come from my own experience – so, one day, being inspired by chess aesthetic and being a huge fan of jazz music, I did it.
What is your music booking philosophy?
We are a jazz festival. We try to present to our guests stars such as Gregory Porter, but we are not afraid to mix genres, because jazz is a baseline for all music. Our social and cultural mission is to present to our audience new names in the global jazz scene, while also spotlighting Russian jazz artists.
“I don’t believe in online festivals. … Festivals’ main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact”
Who is the average Chess & Jazz fan?
Our audience is an intelligent, creative class of people from 25 to 40 who love comfort and unusual, interesting events. The first day of the festival is a grand opening with ‘jazz-tie’ dress code and more academic jazz. The second day is more about lifestyle, picnics, more mixed genres, and the best gastronomy Moscow has to offer.
The chess part of the festival is very significant; it has its own line-up with world-famous grandmasters. The opportunity to play chess matches with stars such as the youngest grandmaster in history, world champion in blitz and rapid chess, Sergey Karjakin, attracts a lot of people.
Chess & Jazz is not a mass product. Events like ours are good because they allow you to maintain your personality. At Coachella, for example, you are just one of 50,000 or 100,000 people. You are lost in a crowd. When the event is for a very specific audience, you are significant – you are a personality, not part of the mass.
What is the situation in Russia at the moment? Do you think you’ll be allowed to go ahead?
From April all public events are prohibited by authorities because of Covid-19, so it will be impossible to stage our festival in July. Nevertheless, we haven’t considered changing the format and going online. I don’t believe in online festivals. Offline events will remain offline, as their main strength is in the live atmosphere and human contact.
In the days ahead, we are going to announce new rescheduled dates in September. Our festival is not classified as a mass event, because the capacity is less than 5,000 people, but still we hope that we will be able to conduct our event without any danger to the audience’s health in September – this is our main priority.
Also, we would like to thank our artists and their agents for the support and cooperation in such turbulent period of time.
“We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more”
Beyond coronavirus, are there any unique challenges involved in organising a festival in your part of the world?
Unfortunately, we have no support from the Russian authorities and no dialogue with the government. To be honest, it has always been like that.
Another challenge is partners. Partners for a niche event should be selected more carefully than for large festivals. In the case of our festival, chess and jazz should be organically presented in every detail. If the brand says it just wants to put up its stand, we’d say that this does not work. We take an individual approach to each partner so that the integration fits harmoniously with the rest of the event.
What are you most looking forward to at Chess & Jazz 2020?
I am just really looking forward to the festival! This year’s Chess & Jazz will be the most anticipated festival yet, as the other Russian festivals are canceled. Our headliners are British soul star Lianne La Havas and Australian musician Jordan Rakei, with the full line-up to be announced at a later date.
We are confident that Chess & Jazz will commemorate the coming together of music fans once more and mark a victory over this crisis.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Serious, London Jazz fest founder John Cumming passes
John Cumming, founder of jazz music promoter Serious, London Jazz Festival and the European Jazz Network, passed away on Sunday (17 May), following a battle with cancer.
As a founder and director of Serious, Cumming produced live jazz, international and contemporary music festivals and events across the UK and Ireland.
Having gained experience organising Bracknell Jazz Festival and Camden Jazz Week, Cumming founded what was then known as Serious Productions in the 1980s with manager and concert promoter John Ellson, later joined by David Jones and Claire Whitaker.
Cumming then went on to found London Jazz Festival in 1992, along with Ellson and Jones. The ten-day event, which takes place each November across over 60 venues, has gone on to host acts including Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, Courtney Pine, Joe Lovano and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
Pelin Opcin, former director of Istanbul Jazz Festival and current director of programming at Serious, took over from Cumming as director of London Jazz Festival in 2018.
“The international jazz community has suffered a great loss”
Cumming stepped back as the director of Serious last year but remained involved with the company.
Cumming has received awards for services to Jazz at the BBC Jazz Awards and the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. In 2014 he was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to Jazz.
“The Serious family is saddened by the loss of one of its founders John Cumming – a much-loved colleague and friend,” reads a statement on the Serious website. “[He] was an inspiring producer, loved by everyone who knew him.”
“With the passing of John Cumming, the international jazz community has suffered a great loss. His importance cannot be overstated,” says Jan Ole Otnæs, president of the European Jazz Network, which Cumming founded in 1987.
“He was an inspiring colleague and his curiosity, creativity, deep knowledge of music and ability to unearth and present new talent in every possible context, will be sorely missed.”
Growing number of artists contract coronavirus
Updated 8/4/20: US folk and country singer John Prine has passed away due to complications from Covid-19, aged 73. Garnering praise from the likes of Johnny Cash and Roger Waters over the years, artists including Bruce Sprinsteen, Ron Sexsmith and Bonnie Raitt are among those to have paid tribute to the late singer.
As cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continue to mount around the world, members of the live music community are among those falling ill.
Pink, whose Beautiful Trauma tour was the highest grossing of 2019, raking in $215.2 million, is among artists to have contracted coronavirus. The singer, who has now recovered, is donating $1m to support health care workers in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Other artists to have contracted the virus include English singer Marianne Faithfull, who is being treated in hospital, US singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, actor and DJ Idris Elba, producer Andrew Watt, rapper Slim Thug, rock artist Jackson Browne and Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo.
‘Love Song’ singer Sara Bareilles recently revealed she had been ill with the virus, but is now fully recovered.
Tragically, the live music world has lost a number of great talents to coronavirus in recent weeks. Artists to have passed away from Covid-19 include Fountains of Wayne bassist and songwriter Adam Schlesinger, who died on 1 April, aged 52. Schlesinger’s achievements include co-writing Fountains of Wayne hits including ‘Stacy’s Mom’ and his soundtrack work on Crazy Ex Girlfriend, A Colbert Christmas and That Thing You Do!.
Tragically, the live music world has lost a number of great talents to coronavirus in recent weeks
US country music singer Joe Diffie, passed away on 29 March, aged 61, known for hits including ‘Bigger Than the Beatles’ and ‘John Deere Green’. Tributes have been paid to the late Diffie by country stars including Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Charlie Daniels, Brad Paisley and Travis Tritt.
Singer and songwriter Alan Merrill, best remembered for co-writing the original ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’, died over the weekend from Covid-19, aged 69. Artists including Meat Loaf and Joan Jett have paid tribute to the singer on social media.
The world of jazz has also lost some greats to coronavirus in recent days. Trumpeter Wallace Roney passed away on 31 March, aged 59. The Grammy-winning trumpeter played with the likes of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.
Jazz pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis Jr lost his life on 1 April, aged 85, due to complications caused by coronavirus. Four of Marsalis’ six sons are also prominent musicians, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
African jazz great Manu Dibango died on 24 March, from coronavirus, aged 86. The Cameroon-born saxophonist gained international fame with his 1972 song ‘Soul Makossa’.
Music Works Int’l starts booking in North America
After five years of booking only internationally, Reading, Massachusetts, boutique agency Music Works International (MWI) has announced its expansion into the US and Canadian booking territories.
Heading up the new domestic division is Gunter Schroder, an 18-year industry veteran who most recently served as vice-president of international at the Kurland Agency.
MWI founder Katherine McVicker comments: “I started this agency five years ago with no idea that we would grow so quickly. Developing the North American market is the natural progression for us.
“Having Gunter join our group of focused and growth-oriented industry professionals makes us a better agency all around.”
“Developing the North American market is the natural progression for us”
“It is an honour to join forces with the MWI team,” adds South African-born Schroder, who has worked with artists including Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman.
“I have admired Katherine’s career for a long time, and share her vision for developing a comprehensive global strategy to further develop the careers of our clients.
“We are poised to move into the new decade stronger and fiercer, and have some exciting plans in the works outside of simply being just a booking agency. More will be revealed soon.”
Music Works International’s jazz-focused North American roster includes House of Waters, Nigel Kennedy, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robin McKelle, Bob Reynolds, Hamilton de Holanda, Peter Cincotti and Sona Jobarteh.
Trailblazer: Yazz Ahmed, artist
Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global live entertainment business.
From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. IQ’s last Trailblazer interview featured Chris Jammer and Louise Young of independent UK festival Strawberries and Creem, which can be read here.
This time, IQ welcomes its first-ever artist of the Trailblazer series, in the form of British-Bahraini trumpet player and composer Yazz Ahmed.
Seeking to blur the boundaries between jazz and electronic music, Ahmed brings together the sounds of her mixed heritage in what has been described as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz’ and lauded as ‘intoxicating and compelling’.
Ahmed’s forthcoming album Polyhymnia is the result of a project commissioned by jazz music education and artist development organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors, in conjunction with PRS Women Make Music. The suite is inspired by courageous and influential women from across the globe, including songs dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s first female film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, civil rights activist Ruby Bridges and the suffragettes.
IQ talks to Ahmed about upcoming concert dates, the instability faced by freelance musicians and the need for more female-led bands and composers.
How did you get your start in the industry?
The first big ‘gig’ for me was miming on a Manic Street Preachers music video when I was just 18. I was very excited and even though it was a miming gig, it gave me the courage to decide to become a professional musician even though I wasn’t sure what that would mean. I just had a love for music and knew I wanted to take it further.
What this meant was ten years of really hard work, studying all aspects of music, learning to play my instrument, exploring jazz and completing a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters in the process.
I said ‘yes’ to every gig I was offered, no matter what it was, to gain experience and also supplemented my income by teaching for Haringey and Merton music services in North London, and working as a music librarian in the offices of promotion and production company Raymond Gubbay.
I began composing whilst I was studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Some of those early compositions formed the basis of my first album, Finding My Way Home, released in 2011, and that became the start of my solo career.
“I was desperate to find a female role model in jazz and felt quite down not having anyone to look up to”
Can you tell me about your current projects?
Well, I’m really happy to be back on the road with my quartet after a break over the summer. We’ve got dates in France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands coming up in the next couple of months.
The rest of the year revolves around putting together a tour to perform all the music from my new record, Polyhymnia, with a twelve-piece ensemble. I’ve assembled an amazing group of musicians, augmenting my regular Hafla band with players featured on the album and some very talented guests.
We have confirmed dates this November in York, Hull, Oxford and Cambridge, with some more to be announced soon for 2020.
I also have a couple of shows coming up with my side project, Electric Dreams, featuring the incredible vocal sculptor, Jason Singh, Swedish nu-prog guitar hero, Samuel Hällkvist and the world renowned American jazz drummer, Rod Youngs. We’ll be playing at the Jazz Cafe in London on 3 October and at Gosforth Theatre in Newcastle on 4 October. We’re sort of a secret, experimental band, exploring the margins between jazz and electronica. We only get together once or twice a year and the entire set is always completely improvised, so each gig will be a unique event!
“We’re sort of a secret, experimental band, exploring the margins between jazz and electronica”
Who, or what, have been the biggest influences on your career so far?
There are so many people that have inspired and encouraged me over the years that it’s difficult to single anybody out. However, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t come into contact with the pioneering oud player, Rabih Abou-Khalil, and trumpeters, Ingrid Jensen and Kenny Wheeler.
I discovered Ingrid in my early 20s. I was desperate to find a female role model in jazz and felt quite down not having anyone to look up to. I then found Ingrid who made me realise that it is possible for female trumpeters to have a career in jazz. Maybe it sounds a little silly but she made a huge psychological impact on my life, inspiring me to keep going, when I couldn’t see a way forward.
I have always loved Kenny Wheeler’s writing and playing. His sound is so unique, beautiful and with a sense of fragility that brings tears to my eyes. I remember watching his 80th birthday concert at the Royal Academy of Music and being in floods of tears throughout the whole performance! I couldn’t help it – it was so moving!
It was during my slightly obsessive search for any music that Kenny might be playing on that I came across the music of Rabih Abou-Khalil. Kenny featured on his album, Blue Camel, which combined Arabic music with jazz. Hearing this album was a life changing moment for me. It inspired me to create music that was reflective of my own mixed heritage, exploring the half remembered sounds of my childhood, and thus finding my own voice.
“It’s a much quoted truth but artists are usually their own worst critics and can be quite savage at times”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I find that there are many rewards in music whether it’s bringing people and cultures together, making listeners feel something, or just contributing to the world’s spiritual growth.
It’s so wonderful hearing from audience members expressing what our performance meant to them. My biggest wish is to inspire others to be creative, to make just a small positive difference in the world.
And the most challenging?
It sounds a bit mundane but, as freelancers, we have no financial security beyond our next gig, no pension plan, no sick pay and this can make it difficult to plan for the future.
We spend a large amount of time on our own, whether that’s practising, composing, researching, or finding inspiration. This isolation can be tough at times and in many cases can lead to feelings of self-doubt and depression.
There’s also a lot of pressure on us to always produce excellence. Most of which comes from within ourselves. It’s a much quoted truth but artists are usually their own worst critics and can be quite savage at times.
It’s a stressful and all-consuming job, but at the same time it’s something I can’t imagine trading in for anything else. I’ll just keep going as long as there is still somebody who wants to listen to my music. Actually, I’ll probably just carry on even if I’m only entertaining my cat.
“I think that we need to lose the prefix ‘female’! When have you seen a gig advertised featuring an ‘all-male line-up’?”
What achievements would you say you were most proud of?
Well, my second album La Saboteuse has just been selected for the UNESCO Crossings Institute’s list of the most significant recordings of the 2010s. That’s pretty amazing for a record, much of which was recorded in my garage with two microphones.
What, if anything, do you think the music industry could do better?
Venues and festival could book more female-led bands. The industry could create projects that commission female composers, and offer support, encouragement and opportunities to students and professionals. I think that we also need to lose the prefix ‘female’! When have you seen a gig advertised featuring an ‘all-male line-up’? Sounds ridiculous, right?
What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in live music/entertainment?
Work hard and study your craft – be the best ‘you’ you can be.
Be open minded to all music and be willing to learn from everybody.
Stay humble, be kind, carry a pencil with you and always arrive on time!
Legendary jazz promoter Walter Homburger passes
Walter Homburger, the German-born promoter whose International Artists Concert Agency (IACA) brought jazz and classical music greats including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Luciano Pavarotti to Canada, has died aged 95.
Born in Karlsruhe in 1924, Homburger, a Jew, emigrated to Canada in 1940 and became a citizen (British subject) two years later. After a spell working on a pig farm in Aurora, Ontario, Homburger made his first foray into concert promotion, which, according to FYIMusicNews’s Nick Krewen, was “a disaster”.
“He borrowed money to guarantee soprano Lotte Lehman a $3,750 haul for three German leider recitals at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium in 1947, and lost $1k,” Krewen writes. “But his backers felt he had a future and covered his deficit. Their trust was rewarded when three months later Homburger recouped his losses with a sell-out by Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz.”
In addition to working as a promoter, Homburger was a successful manager, guiding Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould to global success.
In 1957, Gould became the first Western artist to play the USSR after the second world war. Homburger told Gould biographer Colin Eatock: “I felt it would give Glenn some good publicity. […] But it was the McCarthy era, and I was very concerned about Glenn not being able to get into the United States after visiting Russia. So I had some correspondence with the Canadian government – with [future PM] Lester Pearson, who was at that time our external affairs minister.
“This is a huge loss for … all those fortunate enough to have worked with him”
“The government was behind the idea, and they helped me with contacts in Russia. I asked them to please let their colleagues in the USA know that they are in favour of Glenn going to Russia so that he wouldn’t be banned from the United States.”
Gould performed in Moscow and St Petersburg (then Leningrad), and also gave lectures during the tour, which made him a household name in Russia.
As Homburger’s relationship with Gould ended, in 1962 he became managing director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he would keep until his retirement in 1987. When he retired, the orchestra held a benefit concert, the Great Gathering, which made more than C$2.3m for the orchestra’s charitable foundation.
For his work with the Toronto Symphony, Homburger was made a member of the order of Canada. He was also awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
“Walter represented a rare mix in one man: He was a brilliant impresario, a strategic leader and a kind inspiration to all who knew him,” says Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) CEO Matthew Loden. “This is a huge loss for the TSO family and for all those fortunate enough to have worked with him, but we are comforted in knowing Walter’s legacy survives in our collective memories and in the music we make every day.”
Homburger is survived by Emmy, his wife of 58 years, his son Michael, daughter Lisa and four grandchildren.
‘We inspired people with jazz’: Elbjazz hails record sales
A total of 20,000 day and two-day tickets were sold for Elbjazz 2019, in a record-breaking ninth edition for one of Germany’s largest jazz festivals.
On both days of the event, Friday 31 May (headlined by Jamie Cullum) and Saturday 1 June (headlined by Tower of Power), around 15,000 people attended, at both festival sites, at venues in Hamburg’s HafenCity and at the Blohm + Voss shipyard. More than 50 artists played, with other performers including London trio Kamaal Williams, Danish bluesmen the Savage Rose and electronic folk artist Sophie Hunger.
Other highlights included an appearance by Hamburg’s senator for culture and media, Carsten Brosda, a ‘history of jazz’ set by pianist Jason Moran at the Elbphilharmonie and a performance by the Michael Wollny trio at Blohm + Voss which “stunned the audience with its breathtaking improvisation”.
Elbjazz festival director Alexander Schulz attributes the festival’s success to the growing public appetite for jazz music, as documented in IQ’s recent jazz feature, with the festival “inspiring” its visitors with its diverse line-up.
“The artists who had appeared were enthusiastic about the unique festival atmosphere”
“We are very pleased with the entire course of the festival,” he comments. “Whether they performed at Blohm + Voss, at the Elbphilharmonie, at St Katharinen or on the MS Stubnitz, the artists who had appeared were equally enthusiastic about the unique festival atmosphere, the extraordinary venues and the audience. Everything went according to plan.
“The weather also played along and spoiled us with early summer temperatures. We are very happy about these two successful days, but especially about the fact that we once again inspired tens of thousands of visitors with jazz.”
Elbjazz 2020 takes place on 5 and 6 June. Ticket sales begin in November 2019, with the first 11,000 Elbjazz 2019 ticket buyers given priority.
Jazz: Rebirth of the cool
This year marks a full century since the arrival of jazz in the UK, one of the first countries outside of the US where the genre really took root after American musicians started touring to appreciative British audiences. In that time, the style has evolved and faced backlashes from purists, and has become a byword for both effortless cool and difficult or indulgent music. Jazz is all of these things and more, but the fact it has endured and evolved, finding fresh ways to reconfigure itself and reach new audiences, is something to be celebrated.
Part of its endurance is due to the support of jazz festivals and how they have contributed to the rolling narrative of what jazz is and what it can be next.
For these events, jazz is a common thread running through the music on offer rather than existing as a full stop. This allows the events to bring in musicians forged exclusively in the furnaces of jazz as well as others who come from very different traditions but have jazz DNA in there somewhere.
Founded in 1967 by the late Claude Nobs, Montreux Jazz Festival is a giant in this world as well as a talisman for those events that came in its wake. “Montreux has always been about multiple genres of music,” says Mathieu Jaton, CEO of the festival. “It is not only about jazz.” He has been involved in the festival for the past 22 years, eventually taking over after the passing of Nobs in 2013. He is keen to retain that committed and adventurous spirit brought to the event by Nobs and ensure its eclecticism continues.
“The focus on jazz music is getting higher and higher,” he says of the new acts coming to the fore today. “Jazz has never been in such good shape.”
Another key development was the establishment of the International Jazz Festivals Organization (IJFO), which can trace its origins back to 1982. Now headed up by Fritz Thom, who also runs the Jazz Fest Vienna event, it is intentionally tight in its focus and membership.
“The focus on jazz music is getting higher and higher. Jazz has never been in such good shape”
“IJFO is not like other organisations around the world that might want to gather large membership numbers and try to have as many members as possible to collect membership fees from them,” explains Thom. “Our aim is to have one festival per market that interests us. We are an umbrella organisation for 16 festivals currently.”
Thom suggests that it was Claude Nobs who really set the benchmark for all the other European events who are members of IJFO.“Montreux was the first one to really open wide to other genres in its programming,” he argues. “But there is always a media discussion around if this counts as jazz and if it should be allowed to be programmed in a jazz festival.”
The Montreux founder was also a huge inspiration for Jean-René Palacio who has been running the Antibes Jazz Festival for the past decade and which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2020.
“What I’m trying to say with this programme is that jazz is an open music,” says Palacio. “It is open to everybody. Like Claude Nobs started doing years ago, jazz festivals must be open to other types of quality music. This is a way to bring new people into the jazz festival. You want to bring in a younger audience and a new audience.”
The Montreux effect was also felt outside of Europe, with the Montreal Jazz Festival in the 1970s taking the lead from its near-namesake. As co-founder André Ménard says, “We were influenced by festivals like Montreux that would go into different styles. We never went as far as Montreux by booking Johnny Hallyday and Motörhead. But I would love to have booked Motörhead!”
While jazz is the unifying thread, none of the jazz festival organisers IQ spoke to for this feature considered themselves to be dealing purely in jazz, all regarding a hybrid approach and programming eclecticism as key to their continued presence in the market. The trick, they argue, is moving in lockstep with the musicological evolution of the form.
“Jazz is an alive music. It is no longer American music. It belongs to the world”
“Jazz is an alive music,” is how Ménard puts it. “It has taken lots of influences and it has given lots of influences. It is coming back in new waves from around the world. It is no longer American music. It belongs to the world.”
Jaton adds, “A good definition of a jazz musician is someone who is ready to share music with others and to open minds to different styles of music.” This, he says, is reflected in the bookings that happen at Montreux, where acts like Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter and Rag’n’Bone Man can comfortably be added to the festival running order.
Jan Willem Luyken of North Sea Jazz Festival concurs. “Because we book a lot of young talent every year, there were lots of artists who performed in an early stage of their career,” he says of his role in helping to break new acts through the festivals and, in doing so, give the events a new energy. “The ones on the top of my mind are Gregory Porter, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Jamie Cullum, Jason Mraz, Amy Winehouse, Snarky Puppy, Cory Henry, Kurt Elling, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau and Melody Gardot.”
Palacio suggests that diverse running orders can become symbolic statements of intent. He cites the example of having Sting play last year on the same running order as Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda and pianist Hiromi as a ripe example of this in action.
At times, these festivals have had to battle against the purists – what Ménard jokingly refers to as having “the jazz police on our backs” – but they also can delight in proving the naysayers wrong with inspired bookings.
“When Prince arrived in Montreal [for the 2011 festival] he saw a newspaper that said he did not fit in with the festival,” recalls Ménard. “He then opened his show by doing one hour of freestyle music – just him and Larry Graham! […] Then he launched into two hours of his own hits.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 80, or subscribe to the magazine here