What constitutes a music festival? The answer to the question would likely generate a number of answers, for example a limited geographical space, a question that soon turned out to be focal while conducting fieldwork on the 2016 installment of the GMLSTN JAZZ festival.
The 2016 installment of the festival took place on no less than 17 stages. The festival was dispersed all over the town of Gothenburg; spanning from pubs and churches in the suburbs, to established, renowned venues in the core cultural center. During the festival week in April 2016, we tried to map the festival as a whole in order to depict how it was distributed in the urban space and, equally important, how it appropriated it.
By interviewing members of the audience and analyzing answers from the online query we (Olle Stenbäck, Niklas Sörum and Helene Brembeck) made accessible during the festival week, we soon found that the lack of a limited, geographical space, raised questions among the festival goers. Some said that the festival, due to the dispersion, lacked a sense of community; a festival atmospheric.
Focus soon turned towards the theoretical term festivalisation, which is often used as a tool for critique. Researcher Nikolay Zherdev observes that urban planners attempt to “galvanize local cultural life” and “build a continuity of ‘happening’” to attract creative individuals (Zherdev 2014:5). Festivalisation have become a key concept for urban cultural production, whether it’s within the sports sector or city development; a part of the creative economy. Festivalisation marks a translation of sorts; transforming an ordinary event into something else, to differentiate. The term can also be used as an empirical, investigative tool to map the audience’s understandings of what a musical festival is and what it can be, which is how we operationalized it during the festival week.
“There is no generally accepted typology of festivals (Getz 2010:2, Mackley & Crump 2012:16f). From a North European perspective, there are several easily distinguishable types of musical events that are labelled festivals. One, especially common in the field of rock and pop, presents many acts on a few large stages over a rather short period of time (often a weekend) and in a limited, often fenced, space” (Ronström 2016).
Though there might not be a generally accepted typology of festivals, there’s obviously some understandings more dominant than others; the limited, often fenced space, being a distinct example of such.
While conducting fieldwork we were especially interested in finding out how – and/or if – the GMLSTN JAZZ festival committee worked to communicate the festival as part of the temporally translation of the Gothenburg jazz club scene into a more coherent festival space.
However, one of the focal ideas behind the GMLSTN JAZZ initiative is to function as a promotor, a unifying network, for the local jazz scene. Emphasis is put on tying scenes and venues together, where jazz – as a musical (yet broad) genre – is the unifying factor. The scenes/venues are not necessarily transformed into something else, but remains the same. They’re made part of the festival mainly by being represented in the festival program.
Apart from posters and festival programs, there wasn’t much that glued the 2016 installment of the festival together. In terms of communicating unity, there could have been more obvious visual-symbolic cues, moderating the festival goer’s experience, thus generating a uniform festival atmosphere.
GMLSTN JAZZ is still looking for its form. The festival is a young player on the musical festival field, which means there’s more – for them and us – to explore. In terms of branding mechanisms, the festival currently act mainly as an occasionally prominent, other times subtle, jazz promotor.
An interdisciplinary and multi-sited festival located in a historically rich area, the New Music Festival (Festival Nieuwe Muziek, FNM, 1976-2005) is an interesting site to explore one of CHIME’s research questions: How does (jazz) music facilitate a connection to heritage? In this blog I will give an overview of ways in which Dutch improvised music intersected with cultural heritage sites and cultural landscapes during the New Music Festival.
The New Music Fesival took place between 1976-2005 in Zeeland, a province in the southwestern region of the Netherlands meaning “sea land” and known as the eponym of New Zealand. The province gained wealth as a gateway to the prosperous regions of Flanders and Brabant and as a key player in the colonial trade, as Zeeland merchants, together with their fellows in Holland established Dutch East-India Company (1602) and West India Company (1621). Furthermore, the founding of the Middelburg Commercial Company (1720) gave Zeeland “majority control of the Dutch Republic’s lucrative slave trade” (Neele 2012, 289). While Holland retained its international trading position, Zeeland has increasingly focused on agricultural activities, which because of its high productivity levels and superior quality have gained international acclaim. Also, consisting primarily of islands, peninsulas and beaches, the province has become a popular tourist destination.
While the province has delivered state-of-the-art in terms of agriculture, tourism, and civil engineering, it has remained a rather traditional agenda in terms of culture and arts promotion. As the website of the Zeeland tourist office announces: “Zeeland is proud of its heritage and has the most museums per capita. Many of the museums focus on traditional life in Zeeland, including farming, fishing and shipping.” The focus on traditions and skills rather than on modern arts is partly informed by the religious background of the Zeeland inhabitants, which is predominantly Calvinistic and does not allow for much frivolity.
Considering this rather conservative climate, the organisation of the New Music Festival seems all the more remarkable. The festival was part of the activities of (Jeugd & Muziek Zeeland, JMZ), a member organization of the Jeunesses Musicales International. While most departments set a more traditional course that focused on classical music, the departments of Amsterdam and the province of Zeeland proved particularly vital in the support and promotion of contemporary and experimental forms of art. Zeeland-born Van ‘t Veer (1941), both programmer of the festival and JMZ manager, played a decisive role in the organization’s radical course, which focused primarily on ground-breaking artists such as Greek-born composer Iannis Xenakis and Dutch improvising musicians.
To stimulate the musicians and audience to meet in a loose, informal setting, JMZ in 1971 moved the majority of its activities from the concert hall to the street. Under the name of Muziek op Straat (“Music on the street,” 1971-1976), the association organised a series of concerts, workshops and film screenings. Van ‘t Veer, who considered improvised music specially fit for this purpose, regularly invited Amsterdam-based improvising musicians to create performances that were easily accessible to all layers of society. In 1971, for example, JMZ organized an open-air workshop including works by Ton de Leeuw, Misha Mengelberg and Daan Manneke, which from Van ‘t Veer’s installment in 1969 specifically aimed at “renegotiating the interaction between performer and listener, beyond the restrictions of the traditional concert practice.” Also, on several occasions composers wrote pieces for Lange Jan, the carillon of Middelburg, which could be heard all over town.
Likewise, the performance of the Zeeland Suite (1977) a multi-movement work for jazz septet by pianist and composer Leo Cuypers is a fascinating example of the use heritage sites as part of musical performance. Cuypers came up with the idea of an outdoor “conceptual art performance” that covered all of the province’s peninsular islands, an idea that fitted in with the JMZ’s principles. The different parts of the suite were performed on historical, industrial as well as natural sites typical for the province of Zeeland, including the medieval Haamstede Castle; the artificial island of Philipsdam; the harbour of Hoedekenskerke; the marshlands of the Westerschelde estuary; the beach at Domburg; and Fort Rammekens.
Under the pretext of “provincial promotion”—and thus provincial funding—Van ‘t Veer added a historical locomotive and a folklore group to the initial plans. One year before the suite’s performance, the construction began of the Oosterscheldekering, the largest and most ambitious of the thirteen Delta Works. Considering Van ‘t Veer’s attempts to use the Zeeland Suite as a promotional device for the province of Zeeland, it comes as no surprise that part of this project received a prominent place in the performance as well.
JMZ organized activities in different historical buildings, an idea that was born out of a lack of suiteable concert venues. Most of these buildings were owned by the local authorities and designated as “cultural space”. Before it found a suiteable, fixed concert venue, JMZ regularly organized concerts at the Vleeshal (“meat hall”), a space in the former town hall of Middelburg that was used to sell fresh meat, and the Kuiperspoort, a seventeenth century building formerly owned by the coopers’ guild and in the 1960s and 1970s acting as a youth centre. Between 1985 and 2003 the city of Middelburg allowed the JMZ, now called the Centrum Nieuwe Muziek Zeeland (New Music Centre Zeeland, NMZ) to use the Kloveniersdoelen, both as office and as a performance venue. Built in 1607 in Flemish Renaissance style it was originally home to the city’s civic guard, until the end of the eighteenth century, when it became the local headquarters of the East India Company. Because of the limited space—the venue held ca. 100 seats— NMZ in 2004 moved its headquarters to Grote Kerk Veere, a church built in the thirteenth century that also happened to accommodate the local Tourist Office. It currently still functions as the headquarters of NMZ, now known as MuziekPodium Zeeland.
As appealing as these historic buildings were from the outside, as problematic they were as a performance space. The Kuiperspoort, for example, was hardly accessible for transport vans as it was located in the historic city centre with its narrow streets. “It is impossible to get a grand piano here,” remarked Van ‘t Veer, when asked about the Kuiperspoort. The Kuiperspoort was also infamously known for its bad acoustics, caused by the low ceiling. When in 1974 the local authorities refused to give permission to use amplifiers, JMZ cancelled the scheduled theatre performances by Orkater and Baal and limited the programming to film screenings and piano recitals.
Altogether, the monumental status of the the Vleeshal, the Kuiperspoort, the Kloveniersdoelen and Veere’s Grote Kerk challenged the re-use of the building as a performance space, as it restricted the ways in which these spaces could be adapted. Moreover, the monumental status caused restoration to be very costly. In the coming months I will be investigating further the performances that took place in these venues and the ways in which these interacted with the space.
Judging from the crowds lining up at the stands that sell festival merchandise, the festival T-shirt is a much sought-after item. At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival some of the T-shirt sold out quickly, at 35 USD a piece. The T-shirts at the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival (CNSJF) carried a similar price tag, which, to the island’s economic standards made them even more pricey. Then again, with a ticket price of USD 180 per night, the festival is the most expensive I’ve witnessed so far. Those who have dished out that much money surely want bring to home a tangible souvenir, and the price is not going to stop them.
The fate of many festival tees must be pretty sad. I, for one, have a decent stack of them at home, but I basically wear them around the house when doing chores. After all, the quality is usually rather poor, they tend to fade after a couple of rounds in the washer and many loose shape quickly. Still, buying a shirt is clearly part of the festival fun, and all those newly printed shirts, caps, scarves and tote bags at the vendor’s area certainly look alluring. Many head for that section straight away.
At the Summer Jazz Bike Tour (ZJFT) I photographed people who wore ZJFT-shirts from earlier editions. The festival has no fixed logo so the design changes every year. Most images play with musical instruments and bicycle parts, bringing out the unique and playful aspects of the event (past posters here). The design for 2011 had a sax with handle bars, 2008 and 2015 had a pump-like device that ended in a trumpet (‘a pumpet,’ as team member Nick Gebhardt called it), and the 2013 design merged a double bass with a unicycle (that sounds smarter in English than in Dutch). Not only are these shirts collectibles, they are also the perfect gear for biking from concert to concert, especially if the weather is as good as it was this year. By contrast, the CNSJF makes for a classy night out, and the festivalgoers wore much more festive dress than a printed festival shirt.
Everybody I asked at the ZJFT gladly posed for me, and those modelling their tee often announced they had a shelve full of them, typically of all the editions they had visited. With a T-shirt one supports the event financially and connects with the other attendants. But there is more. By wearing a festival shirt, the ZJFT-ers celebrate the festival’s heritage and traditions, which they have helped to shape. Indeed, the ZJFT has a high number of returning visitors, who truly perform the festival together with the organizers. After all, the event is as much about its tangible locations and concerts as it is about the intangible activity of connecting those locations by cycling through the landscape. That active role is understood by the participants, and the festival shirt helps to express it all.
The first day of September saw Amsterdam-based CHIME-members Walter van de Leur and Beth Aggett travelling to the Caribbean island of Curaçao to attend the ‘tropical edition’ of Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival. Curacao is a small island of around 160,000 people, lying just off the coast of Venezuela – indeed a good 8000km away from Europe and its jazz festival scene. It is however a former Dutch colony, with a rather turbulent past: Curacao was ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in 1499, conquered by the Dutch in 1634 and even seized briefly by the British in 1812 – all the while serving as an important ‘depot’ during the transatlantic slave trade (1640s – 1860s). Although it was primarily a trading post, there were around 100 small plantations established on the island during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on which slaves lived and worked. Curacao’s central Caribbean location and free port meant it was also a stopping point for traders and travellers from all over, and it has a long history of in and out migration from the surrounding region and much further afield. The island is therefore connected to the European, African and American continents in myriad ways, resulting in a highly complex socio-cultural landscape. The locals’ mother tongue of Papiamentu, for example, displays components of Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and West African languages, and most Curacaoans are multilingual. In contrast, much of the architecture is distinctly Dutch, and there remain many tangible links to the colonial period. We noticed the Netherland’s coat of arms on government buildings, for example, and plaques commemorating visits of the Dutch royals displayed in town. Indeed it was only a few years ago that Curacao celebrated gaining independence; although the process of decolonization of Dutch Caribbean territory began in 1954, it wasn’t until 2010 that Curacao achieved full recognition as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Also in 2010: the very first Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival (CNSJF). The country’s own charity organisation Fundashon Bon Intenshon produced this ‘sister’ event in collaboration with Mojo Concerts (owners of North Sea Jazz, who are themselves owned by the American company Live Nation). In bringing a ‘world-renowned festival brand’ to Curacao, the organisers hoped to attract a new demographic of visitors to the island – an international, wealthy, and sophisticated ‘jazz crowd’ – that would boost the country’s stagnant tourism industry. Like much of the Caribbean, Curacao’s economy is heavily dependent on tourists; its ‘sun, sea, and sand’ are the most important draw. The island’s capital of Willemstad, furthermore, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique colonial architecture – another crucial selling point. Indeed, the festival’s CNSJF website describes it as an ‘untouched paradise’ with an ‘authentic’ and ‘historic’ centre and ‘vibrant’ culture.
During the first lustrum of Curacao’s national independence, then, this small Afro-Curacaoan/Dutch/Caribbean/Central American island has been host to one of the largest and most significant events in the European jazz festival circuit/scene. CNSJF therefore is ideally situated to study a number of CHIME-related questions, such as the relationship between the festival and (constructions of) local cultural heritage. How are the heritages of both the festival location and the history of jazz music dealt with in the production of the festival? Does the music invite engagement with the heritage location, does it ignore it, or does it reconfigure the visitor’s relationship to place? In what ways can the presence of CNSJF act as a lens to interrogate concepts of cultural identity? Furthermore, how does the festival help us to think about the meanings and usages of jazz today? What are the possible synergies and frictions?
Interestingly, CNSJF is preceded by a low-key free festival called Punda Jazz that is organised by the bars and restaurants in the oldest district in Willemstad. With its strictly local acts, Punda Jazz provided an interesting counterpoint to its star-laden 180-dollars-per-day bigger sister across the bay. In our next blog post we will talk about our experiences at both events.
CALL FOR PAPERS – CHIME Conference, Music, Festivals, Heritage
Siena Jazz Archive, Italy. 25-28 May 2017
Keynote Speaker: Professor Andy Bennett, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
In a world where notions of culture are becoming increasingly fragmented, the contemporary festival has developed in response to processes of cultural pluralization, mobility and globalization, while also communicating something meaningful about identity, community, locality and belonging.—Andy Bennett et al, The Festivalization of Culture
From Woodstock to The Proms, from Burning Man to Montreux, music festivals have a transformative potential; they can help people connect with places and spaces in new ways and play a key role in identity formation. Festivals at their most utopian offer a fantastic space in which to dream and try another world into being. Equally, they offer opportunities for people to celebrate and engage with their cultural heritage and to re-connect with the past.
We invite submissions for Music, Festivals, Heritage, a four-day multi-disciplinary conference that brings together leading researchers across the arts, humanities and social sciences, as well as festival directors, producers and programmers, to explore the relationship between music festivals and cultural heritage.
We welcome contributions that address the conference title from multiple perspectives, including heritage studies, festivals and event research, media and cultural studies, musicology, sociology, cultural theory, music analysis, history, and practice-based research. Music, Festivals, Heritage also aims to feature presentations from both researchers and industry professionals.
Conference topics include but are not restricted to:
Established and innovative uses of heritage sites and public spaces
Festival sites and cultural memory
Transformations of place: music festivals as utopian sites
Questions of music genre (e.g. jazz, opera, folk, rock, classical) and the construction of heritage at festival
Festival as dull culture: repetition, predictability, boredom
The tension between the conservation and the use of heritage sites
Festivals and cultural tourism
New models of engagement between festivals and cultural heritage
Festivals as sites that explore the relationship between tangible, intangible and digital heritage
Critical perspectives from festival programmers, producers, organisers
The mediation and representation of (heritage and) festival
Festival as exclusive community; festival as marginal space
From carnivalesque to festivalisation: theoretical approaches and questions of festival
The cultural politics of festival sites
Proposals are invited for:
• Individual contributions (20 minutes) – up to 250 words.
• Themed sessions or panel discussions – 250 words per contribution plus 250 words outlining the rationale for the session.
• 75 minute sessions in innovative formats – up to 750 words outlining the form and content of the session.
Please submit proposals (including a short biography and institutional or organisational affiliation) by email in a word document attachment to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The deadline for proposals is 1st December 2016; outcomes will be communicated to authors by 10 January 2017. All submissions will be considered by the conference committee:
Prof Walter van de Leur, Chair (University of Amsterdam/Conservatory of Amsterdam)
Prof Helene Brembeck (University of Gothenburg)
Prof Nicholas Gebhardt (Birmingham City University)
Dr Francesco Martinelli (Siena Jazz Archive)
Prof George McKay (University of East Anglia)
Professor Beth Perry (University of Sheffield)
Dr Loes Rusch (University of Amsterdam/BCU)
Prof Tony Whyton (Birmingham City University)
Dr Marline Lisette Wilders (University of Amsterdam/University of Groningen).
The conference forms part of the JPI Heritage Plus-funded CHIME project, a transnational research project that explores the relationship between European music festivals and cultural heritage sites. Visit www.chimeproject.eu for further information. Updates on the conference and information about travel and accommodation will be available on this site over the next few months.
CONFERENCE VENUE: SIENA JAZZ ARCHIVE
In 1988, the Siena Jazz Foundation founded the National Center for Jazz Studies “Arrigo Polillo” with its Library and Sound Archive. The Center is virtually the only specialized facility for jazz documentation and research in Italy; its serves as a reference point countrywide for students, musicians and scholars for their work. The facility is computer-based and the online catalogues are continuously updated. The Center holds the most important specialized collection in the country; the number of data included in the catalogues and the continous growth of the collections, which include more than 25.000 sound and video carriers, more than 2.000 books and thousands of magazine issues including the only complete collection of the Musica Jazz magazine put the Center on the par with the best Jazz Archives worldwide. The latest years saw important development with internal restructuration of the spaces, and with a general update of available equipment for digitization of audio and images.
In summer 2016 a small number of us attended and spoke at the 12 Points Festival of European improvised music, which was held in San Sebastian. It was consciously scheduled alongside the annual city jazz festival, as part of a bumper package of summer music befitting the San Sebastian’s status as 2016 European Capital of Culture (along with Wroclaw).
We were with friends and the music was great—we’d already listened to three avant-garde acts from a box (yes) in the Victoria Eugenia Theatre as part of 12 Points Festival, and now we were in a hurry to join in and enjoy the generous free stages of the 51st Jazzaldia, San Sebastian’s impressively longstanding jazz festival.
We followed the people and the music across the river and down to the beach. It was one of those magic nights. The crowds swirled around the various stages, the live music from one stage bled creatively into that from another, there were packed beer tents where you had to shout for a drink, the rain mostly held off and there were glimpses of stars through the clouds, the sound of the waves crashing against the beach could just be made out in a lull between numbers. It was dark and packed like a rock festival, yet the lights of the city and the shade of the sea were all around in brilliant contrast.
We had a few drinks, it’s true. And the music! Someone said Marc Ribot is playing here tonight and I was like, Marc Ribot, I love Marc Ribot! And it’s free, really? In fact it was Ribot and his star Young Philadelphians band, doing the disco project, as cool as uncool can get (for those who preferred punk to soul back in the day). I mean, the bass guitarist, thumping out powerful and heavy lines, was Ornette Coleman’s bassist, Jamaaladeen Tacuma.
The night was so good that there are no photos. We all shouted possibly a little too loud for an encore, and the band came back on. Ribot sat down and alone played the guitar figure from Van McKay’s (I wish. OK, McCoy) 1975 hit ‘The hustle’. Well, we were thrilled and loved it, cheering and doing the hustle for all our worth. It was a perfect choice, for a perfect encore—funny, clever, knowing, respectful of a disco-soul-jazz tradition some of us had not given much thought to.
Fantastic memories of a special night of music, friendship, and festival. Whenever we meet now someone will burst into ‘The hustle’ and we smile, laugh, do a little dance. We were touched by the music, at the jazz festival. It was intangible, in a temporarily transformed public space for culture, a pleasure for everyone there.
Finding myself in San Sebastian again after the summer, I went to look at the public cultural space by the beach where we had had our transcendent collective dance, the recent landmark Kursaal complex (opened 1999) on Zurriola beach. But where were our memories and pleasure, where was the place of our memories and pleasure? Surely not here! We had been Kursaal Flyers in July, but by October this seemed to me a silent barren place, magnified by its own scale and emptiness.
The Kursaal complex from the outside seems a place that is designed to demand transformation, hard and hard up against the golden sand, by an influx of people, by music resounding off its walls. To me, looking for the festal trace, it dramatises the potential of transformation, alongside the difficulty of articulating the intangible. It needs a festival, to live. It really needs to do the hustle.
With my co-author, postdoctoral research assistant Dr Emma Webster, I’m pleased to draw attention to our newest output from our AHRC-funded project, The Impact of Festivals. This project is in collaboration with our research partner the EFG London Jazz Festival. The new output is a peer-reviewed article for Jazz Research Journal focussed on the impact of jazz festivals in particular. (The wider project embraces pop, folk and classical music festivals too.) The abstract is below, followed by a short film in which I talk about the research. You can access freely a copy of the article here.
The full citation of our article is: Emma Webster and George McKay. 2016. ‘The impact of (jazz) festivals: an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research report’. Jazz Research Journal 9(2), pp.169-193. We hope it will be of interest to CHIME-rs and our international community of jazz researchers at Rhythm Changes.
Festivals are an essential part of the jazz world, forming regularly occurring pivot points around which jazz musicians, audiences and organizers plan their lives. Funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, the purpose of this report is to chart and critically examine available writing about the impact of jazz festivals, drawing on both academic and ‘grey’/cultural policy literature in the field. The review presents research findings under the headings of economic impact; socio-political impact; temporal impact and intensification and transformation of experience; creative impact—music and musicians; discovery and audience development; place-making; the mediation of jazz festivals; and environmental impact. It concludes with a set of recommendations for future research, which identifies gaps in the field. To accompany the article, a 100-entry 40,000-word annotated bibliography has also been produced, which is freely accessible online.
In panel conversations between musicians, researchers, journalists, organisers and promoters we found and heard about a range of approaches to trying to revitalise the (jazz) festival experience and the jazz scene during the 12 Points Festival discussion days on ‘Jazz Futures 2016’ here in San Sebastian this week. This was felt important for a number of reasons, including that in some countries the big all-star jazz festival is fading, its audience diminishing, while elsewhere, perhaps ironically, perhaps in a connected way, there is a surfeit of festivalisation of culture, in that festival in its ubiquity has become everyday, even banal, and no longer the intense, heightened and exceptional. Here are some of those diversifying approaches, familiar and perhaps not so.
Jazz festival or event as immersive experience—music, yes, but also costume, design, actors and dancers, food, theatre and masque, historical reconstruction of scenes from jazz past with a promenading audience
Jazz apps, and audience interactivity via mobile digital technology
Electronic deconstruction of the live music event in the very next concert that follows, so the audience hears fresh the new music it just heard, where sometimes the remix is better than the original (though, yes, “sometimes it’s shittier”)
An emphasis on creative curation rather than simply programming or organisation and presentation of a series of concerts
Cross-cultural and cross-arts dialogue. Whether improvised arts (music, dance, animation) working with each other in the moment, or a festival of improvised music that must include literature and vice versa
A continuing struggle with the Jazz word: a European jazz festival director says I don’t want to use the term “jazz festival”, it’s off-putting for a new audience, others saying we lose something worth cherishing and celebrating if we reject it (i.e. a century of live and recorded music)
The on-going core relevance of jazz and music education: new musicians, new networks and events, new energy, and new audiences
The regular inclusion of academic research in the festival programme, an openness to it in the scene more generally.
The 10th edition of 12 Points kicked off in San Sebastian last night. This year, the nomadic festival (that alternates between Dublin and different European locations) is being delivered in partnership with San Sebastian’s own Heineken Jazzaldia Festival, meaning that two jazz festivals are being presented simultaneously. Whilst this might seem strange at first, you soon realise that there is a genuine complementarity between the programmes of the two festivals; Jazzaldia features a number of leading American and European artists, from Diana Krall to Jan Garbarek, whereas 12 Points celebrates emerging talent and the diversity of improvised music from 12 different European locations.
There was clearly an appetite for the new among San Sebastian audiences last night, as people were queuing around the block waiting for the doors to open prior to the event.
The Victoria Eugenia Theatre provided a stunning backdrop to the event, as music from Denmark (The Embla), Spain (Marco Mezquida) and Germany (The Eva Klesse Quartett) enhanced, blended with, and confronted the space at times. Sound has a transformative potential both inside and outside the concert hall, and 12 Points encourages us to engage with a sense of place, to think about the similarities and differences between people and cultures through music, and to consider the importance of improvisation in art and everyday life.
In San Sebastian there are several jazz bars and clubs as well as restaurants that feature live jazz. In addition to the large Jazzaldia stage on the beach, you can also encounter street musicians playing jazz and view a number of colourful posters that advertise both festival events and local jazz gigs.
Being here, you are continually reminded of the importance of improvised music and its ability to transform our environment; jazz clearly supports cultural tourism and provides the perfect soundtrack to the city with its beautiful beaches, historic buildings, fabulous cuisine and nightlife.
But the music also has a lot to say about San Sebastian’s place in the world and the city’s aspirations as the 2016 European Capital of Culture.
There is something special about San Sebastian’s place in the Bay of Biscay, not only with its distinctively Basque character but also with its proximity to France.
Just being here makes you think about different identities, the politics and the connectedness of people in Europe past and present, and the way in which culture clearly flows in multiple directions; like 12 Points, it cannot be reduced to simple boundaries and border controls.
The history of the jazz festival in Europe goes back to the early post-war years, when one visionary city organised a set of concerts over a few days in seafront venues round the resort. These featured both national musicians as well as a sprinkling of US headliners, including the transatlantic star Louis Armstrong. We can think of it as a gesture of cultural futurity, with the aim of sounding a better international situation after the war years. They called it the ‘festival international du jazz’, the year was 1948, and it happened in—Nice, France. Thus the European ‘jazz festival’ was born, in Nice.
In England the earliest jazz festival would be Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1956-61), while perhaps the most famous European event, Montreux Jazz Festival, was founded later still, in 1967. (A book marking 50 years of Montreux is published this year.) But it was Nice Jazz Festival, in the late 1940s, that set the template.
Within a few years Nice would do something else marvellous for jazz, for jazz’s heritage and sense of place and relation to the past: Nice located its festival of jazz, that clashing music of modernity, in the Roman amphitheatre to the north of the city. Go there today and you can see busts of famous jazz musicians who played there in the park next to the amphitheatre, a neat public recognition of that jazz moment in that great city by the Mediterranean.
This year’s festival was due to start today, hundreds of musicians and thousands of festival-goers coming to Nice, under the sun and stars, by the sea, for a celebration of a music which, at its very best, is an outernational music of dialogue and listening where we might just for a second glimpse or hear another, better world. I know that sounds like a jazz utopia but, you know, we had a conference recently on the very theme of #jazzutopia, so it’s in the air.
But the 2016 Nice Jazz Festival was cancelled yesterday, as a result of the terrible atrocity on the Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night. Nice est en deuil. We should listen to the silence of the jazz not happening there this weekend. From another festival city, Edinburgh, where a group of scholars and musicians is meeting this weekend during the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival at a conference marking ‘50 years of European jazz’, we send wishes of sympathy and solidarity, anger and love, and the desire for peace and a different sort of future that jazz can sometimes still sound, and that a festival can still capture. Vive Nice Jazz Festival.