“I was part of the group that decided which international bands were going to perform at jazzahead!, says Tim Jackson, the Monterey Jazz Festival Artistic Director and jazzahead! jurist. This will be his first time attending the massive event that takes place April 21-24 in Bremen, Germany. jazzahead! was founded in 2006 in this Northern German city about one hour from Hamburg. It is hosted in the Exhibition Center Bremen, easily accessible by air and train.
jazzahead! is the most important international jazz trade show today, including its integrated showcase festival, featuring world-class jazz from Europe, the United States and beyond. It’s a place where the jazz scene meets, exchanges ideas and does business. In 2015, there were 929 exhibiting companies from 64 countries, with more than 3,000 registered delegates, and more than 110 concerts and showcases on more than 30 stages!
“They asked me to participate in this jury of about seven or eight other presenters, I think they were mostly from Europe,” Jackson continues. “They set us up on a website with lots of bands from all over the world, but mostly Europe, North America and South America. We had some strong criteria and it was very well organized on their side. You want to make sure you have the proper criteria, so you can work within those parameters and try to choose the music and the artists that fit, for what the guidelines are for the jury.”
The jurors this year included: Peter Schulze (jazzahead!), Derya Bigali (Akbank Jazz Festival – Turkey), André Ishak (Oslo Jazz Festival – Norway), Stéphanie Moretti (Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation – Switzerland), Amy Pearce (London Jazz – UK) and Huub van Riel (Bim Huis – Netherlands).
“Overseas Night” will feature the following bands: Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Ensemble (USA), Bokani Dyer (South Africa), Hadar Noiberg (USA), Kevin Hays ‘New Day’ Trio (USA), Laila Biali (Canada), Maite Hontele (Columbia), Omer Avital (USA) and The Aaron Diehl Trio (USA).
“It’s good outreach for me and it’s good for my work at festivals, to check out some of the European jazz artists. I was at the festival in Norway recently. It’s fun to listen to. The European style is a little bit different and there’s some really incredible musicians. So, I’m looking forward to it,” Jackson said.
Regarding the selection process, Jackson ponders, “Wisely, the overriding concern is artistic excellence, that’s job #1. From there it was interesting new music, diversity and different types of styles. I think where we ended up was with a really nice mix of mostly young artists from different continents and stylistically different, but still several groups that followed true to the jazz tradition. Going through the process, they said it was, by far, the largest representation of American bands.” In 2016, the U.S.A. has a powerful presence with five bands out of eight performing.
“It was a strong, artistic crew that was on the jury,” he continues. “We were mostly in sync with the groups, it was really not a difficult process. I was happy with the choices that were made. The cream rises to the top and I think it did and most people recognize that. We were all agreed on the artistic excellence part of this.”
Jackson has already gained much respect for the organizers, “They are certainly working hard to build their awareness internationally and it is well-run and focused and there are sharp people involved. ‘Overseas Night’ will feature the artists that we chose. It seems a little bit like APAP, where there are exhibit rooms, different venues, different festivals, different presenting organizations, probably different groups. It seems very comprehensive.”
American jazz artists have long had a love affair with Europe and its people. “There’s no question that there’s an allure for Europe for U.S. artists and there’s still a strong market there,” Jackson explains. “I’m part of the International Jazz Festivals Organization. It’s a consortium of 15 of the world’s leading jazz festivals, mostly European-focused, because they started out as the European Jazz Festivals Organization. I see, firsthand, the artistic power of these festivals and they leave a big footprint in their countries.”
Jackson stresses the importance of people going out to see jazz performed in the clubs and festivals. “Again, the technology rules are changing all the time. I think one area that remains strong is the presentation of ‘live’ music, particularly in a festival setting. While the vehicles for people to listen to recorded music over the years has changed – from CDs to online – people still crave the ‘live’ music experience…that ‘live’ one-on-one relationship with the artist and their music, and those being in the audience. I think the marketplace is healthy right now.”
Jackson looks forward to attending the great gathering for the first time. “For me, because I have relationships with a lot of the European festivals I do feel a certain collegiality there. I’m sure they’ll be a lot of people that I know. Several of my friends have been going to jazzahead! for several years and in some cases, since its inception. I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out!
Meanwhile, jazz heavyweight Jeff Levenson, has been an integral part of the event, as a jazzahead! consultant. His role is to promote engagement with and from North America – ie: labels, artists, media, presenters and gatekeepers. Levenson is also a Recording Academy National Trustee. He states, “jazzahead! began showing what it could do, actuated by Euro gatekeepers possessing an egalitarian approach to jazz – that is, the all of jazz, with myriad sub-genres worth celebrating, without any of the parochialism or condescension often heard in American diatribes.” Levenson is one of the key players in the American record business and longtime observer and benevolent supporter of jazzahead!
Levinson concludes, “It seemed that jazzahead!’s timing was perfect. It filled the hole created by the demise of the IAJE. In short order, jazzahead! became a global showplace where members of the jazz ecosystem could gather to exercise their roles, interests and shared commitment to jazz.”
Feature by Scott H. Thompson
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally published writer and jazz publicist.