jazzahead! Aims at Connecting International Jazz Community


Horse Orchestra performs April 20 at Kulturzentrum Schlachthof as part of jazzahead! in Bremen, Germany.

(Photo: Jens Schlenker/Messe Bremen)

“This is the most useful tool for international networking in Europe,” said Cyril Moshkow, board member of the Russian Jazz Research Center, as he was greeting jazzahead! attendees at the trade show on April 19 in Bremen, Germany. “It’s not just the free booze.”

The industry gathering, which was founded 12 years ago, has become a fixture of the European jazz scene, drawing high-profile performers from the continent and beyond. The 2018 edition featured well-known American acts, like vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, but also European players, like the U.K.’s Beats & Pieces Big Band and German-based drummer Shinya Fukumori.

During an interview in the press area, Sybille Kornitschky, project manager of jazzahead!, spoke eloquently about the divides being bridged in Bremen, as well as what the event’s longevity has meant for planning.

“There’s a lot of routine in organizing everything—structural things that do not change, like how we set up the showcase festivals,” Kornitschky said. “But then, as we put a partner country at the center of the festival and trade fair, you have to deal with a new country—they all work differently. It’s wonderful to understand this, but sometimes it feels like we are starting from scratch.”

She went on to say that word-of-mouth has been beneficial to drawing new performers, label representatives, agents and others to jazzahead!, which reportedly counted 17,000 attendees April 6–22. But with increased attendance and participation at the Bremen event, some changes also were necessary. In the past, jazzahead! has live-streamed performances from Kulturzentrum Schlachthof, a venue adjacent to the main hall of the trade show. Because of scheduling, though, this year was the first time simultaneous sets were planned at disparate venues, necessitating some additional tech savvy.

On April 19, eight groups from jazzahead!’s partner country Poland performed in a pair of halls at Messe Bremen, the expansive convention center where exhibitions are held, as well as at the Schlachthof. The High Definition Quartet, which reflected influences that included Keith Jarrett and the recently departed Cecil Taylor, meandered through free passages, telegraphing its escape plan amid unreasonably shaky rhythmic gambits. Any perceived shortcomings, though, easily were washed away as the Kuba Więcek Trio, led by its namesake saxophonist, gamboled through inventive compositions, aiming at various times to mimic a glockenspiel or solidify whatever it currently means to be a new-millennium Euro-based ensemble indebted to jazz’s history and pop music’s populism.

The event’s European Jazz Meeting featured more than a dozen acts, including party band Horse Orchestra (whose seven members hail from Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) and Estonia’s experimental-leaning Kirke Karja Quartet. The German Jazz Expo spotlighted acts like Markus Stockhausen’s Quadrivium, whose bandleader is the son of venerated 20th-century composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. And Overseas Night showcased Sweden’s Freedoms Trio, whose music hued close to singer-songwriter conventions.

But business was at hand during daylight hours amid the scores of performers and label reps as 120 booths filled one of Messe Bremen’s halls.

David Gambarzada, an Azerbajani artist representative who was at jazzahead! with pianist Isfar Sarabski, hadn’t been to Bremen previously.

“We already have a tour scheduled for this project, but everyone needs help,” he said about Sarabski’s upcoming plans, while sipping a glass of wine. “This is an additional platform for him to get out there. For us, it was useful because we made new connections, we had meetings with agencies and labels. So, we’ll get its fruits later on.”

Adrian Ross, of the New York- and Montreal-based ARE Group, offered a similar perspective during a chat at the DownBeat booth.

“I have a lot of background in other areas, but this is really connecting the dots, meeting people connected to the venues in person and meeting with some of the agents, the festivals,” said Ross, who represents vocalist Sachal Vasandani, among others. “It’s putting a face to the emails.”

By the end of jazzahead!, event organizers had made clear their plans for next year, naming Norway as the 2019 partner country. It’s a step to showcase not just the rich history of the nation’s music, but also a pointed move to promulgate European jazz.

“I think that the birthland of jazz took a long time to realize that there’s a lot of wonderful jazz music outside of the United States. They did not realize that there was a strong and diverse jazz scene elsewhere,” jazzahead!’s Kornitschky said. “What’s really important for me is to let them know what wonderful jazz productions they can expect when coming here—or what they should read about and listen to. For us, the most wonderful thing would be to strengthen the awareness and open an interest in the music.” DB

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