jazzahead! Expo Embraces Global Horizons

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The massive European jazz trade show jazzahead! attracted 14,490 attendees for 40 concert showcases and Clubnight performances that took place April 11–13 in Bremen, Germany.

(Photo: Jan Rathke)

Messe Bremen, the spacious convention center in Breman, Germany, teemed with nonstop activity April 11–14 during the 17th annual jazzahead! trade show. Musicians, event presenters, record companies, managers and bookers swarmed the massive European trade show, attracting its largest turnout yet of 14,490 attendees for the 40 concert showcases and Clubnight performances.

Jazzahead! can be both exhilarating and exhausting to navigate amid multiple booths of record company representatives, festival and club bookers, concert promoters, artists managers, jazz publications and musicians all vying for one’s attention. It takes Herculean stamina and eagle-eye focus to reap lasting benefits from jazzahead!’s expo and concert showcases.

The renowned lineup of international musicians included pianist Andy Milne and Unison, saxophonist Tineke Postma’ Aria Group, trumpeter Christine Kamau, pianist Xavi Torres’ trio and guitarist Vuma Levin. [Full disclosure: This reporter performed as a DJ at two Clubnight events]. Jazzahead! also hosted several illuminating panel discussions touching upon women in jazz, the current state of jazz labels, the future of jazz radio and, for the first time, jazz from Africa.

Moreira Chonguiça, a Mozambiquan saxophonist and composer who founded the Maputo International Jazz Festival, applauded the Jazz from Africa stand at jazzahead! because it was the first time the convention explicitly featured stakeholders from Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania. “It was a great opportunity for us to expose, network, explore and plan ways of penetrating and connecting with the [many other] most important festivals in the world,” Chonguiça said. “From Portugal to the Netherlands, from Switzerland to Germany, African musicians have been part of the global transformation of music.”

This year was the first time Chonguiça attended jazzahead! He also found the panel discussion “African Jazz–Now Is the Moment” illuminating in unpacking hurdles such as travel costs and getting musician, venues and festivals from the continent wider recognition and acclaim within the global jazz ecosystem. “The biggest conclusion that I got was that everybody wants African jazz artists, but we have a huge handicap with regards to distance,” he said. “Flights are very expensive, and even the issue with the visas, depending on which country from Africa you’re coming from, is a huge issue. The panel discussion touched on this, but there need to be more conversations and brainstorming to find innovative ways of improving mobility.”

German-born, New York-based saxophonist, composer and educator Timo Vollbrecht had attended several prior jazzahead! events as a performer for some of its showcases and Clubnights. This year, he attended to meet with his agent’s new team and to participate in Berthold Records’ Clubnight, where he hosted an after-hours jam session.

“If you want to get something out of jazzahead!, you cannot go just once. You’ll have to attend on a regular basis,” Vollbrecht said, before touching upon what he sees as the downside of the insistent activities involved with professional networking. “As a musician, I am always curious to see music. The convention is a good opportunity to check out groups I usually don’t get to see. On the other hand, I don’t find jazzahead!’s showcase format the most conducive and inspiring place to hear music. So, when I go to Bremen I tend to focus on networking and meeting folks in person whom I usually only email or talk on the phone with.”

Berlin-based singer and composer Erik Leuthäuser shared similar observations. He’s been attending jazzahead! regularly since 2015 to network with various record labels, concert promoters and fellow musicians. This year, he succeeded in finding a new booking agency.

“But I never really attend too many shows because it’s a lot of input for me already just talking to people all day and basically being that presentable version of yourself for the business part of it,” Leuthäuser said.

This year’s edition marked the first for jazzahead!’s new artistic advisor, Götz Bühler, a Hamburg-based jazz radio and television broadcaster and music journalist, who assumed the role after Peter Schulze and Ulli Beckerhoff retired last year. As artistic advisor, Bühler selected all five juries — European showcases, Dutch showcases, German Jazz Expo, overseas showcases and Africa jazz — which, in turn, listened to more than 800 submissions in determining which artists to feature.

With the Netherlands as its country partner and embracing “New Horizons” as jazzahead!’s underlying theme, Bühler used his new professional role as a platform to continue his longstanding advocacy for diversity, equity and inclusion within the international jazz ecosystem. “I wanted, and we succeeded at, creating a very diverse set of juries,” Bühler explained. “We never had so many women and people of color on the juries before. It’s 2024 and we are looking ahead. We looked at how the jazz game has changed. And there are so many other things that still needs to change. The way that I can implement that positive change is choosing the juries.

“Inclusivity has always been important to me,” Bühler continued. “I have two little daughters and I want them to live and work in a more inclusive world — a world that will take them seriously and give them the same changes as men. I’ve always been aware of the racism that surrounds me and this music we call jazz. I’ve always been aware of the reasons why we have this music and the struggles that people went through to give us this gift.”

Bühler reflected on his upbringing in Hamburg, where he listened to the record collection curated by his father, Hugo Hans Eberhard Buhler, on both helping him develop an appreciation for jazz and more importantly, the humanity of many of the Black American jazz icons whom his father idolized. “[My father] grew up in wartime Germany, so for him, jazz represented freedom and liberation,” Bühler recalled. “Most of jazz musicians that he listened to were Black. Ella Fitzgerald was always playing in our house; he loved Duke Ellington and Count Basie; Louis Armstrong was his idol. I remember him taking me to a Lionel Hampton concert.”

Jazzahead!’s partnering country for 2025 has yet to be announced. Nevertheless, Bühler says that it will incorporate a theme of reconnect partnerships with countries that jazzahead! had partnered with a decade ago. “So much has changed in various jazz scenes around the world in the past decade,” Bühler said. “It’ll be great to catch up and reconnect.” DB



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