Revitalising the (jazz) music festival, at 12 Points, San Sebastian

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.

  • 12 Points
    12 Point Jazz Futures discussion, San Sebastian

    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.

Two Jazz Festivals, One Great City

12_points_festival_logoThe 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.

victoria-eugenia_crop2The 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.

20160719_203656In 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.

20160721_125458Being 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.


20160719_203624Just 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.


Nice Jazz Festival 2016

Nice Jazz Fetival 1948 programmeThe 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.

Nice Jazz Festival 2016 annulee

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.

CHIME at Wonderfeel

Chime is teaming up with Wonderfeel, a three-day outdoor festival in the Netherlands that brings classical music on the estate of ‘Schaep en Burgh’ in ’s-Graveland. logo_Wonderfeel JPEG
The program includes over 250 musicians, 100 concerts and music documentaries, lectures, children’s activities and food trucks. On the 25 hectares of the estate, you will find six Wonderfeel stages, a mini stroll away from each other. The repertoire ranges from Mozart to Steve Reich, from Rameau to Pärt with hints towards jazz, world and pop music.Wonderfeel closely cooperates with Natuurmonumenten (Society for preservation of nature monuments in the Netherlands).  As part of the Flessenpost (‘message in a bottle’) lecture series, Chimer Nick Gebhardt will read his message called ‘Playing for free (or almost for free)’. will take place on the 22, 23 and 24th of July on the estate of ‘Schaep en Burgh’ in ’s-Graveland (near Hilversum).