Jazznojazz Fest Celebrates 20 Years

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Maceo Parker heads up the “no jazz” portion of Zürich, Switzerland’s Jazznojazz festival.

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Johannes Vogel had a vision for Jazznojazz from the moment in 1998 when the Zürich newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, then the underwriter, enlisted him to organize the fledgling festival.

“In the 1980s, I was a Montreux Festival-goer,” Vogel recalled. “You always had four bands on the bill, and sometimes you were only interested in one, but you had to pay for all four; that’s what I didn’t like. So, I thought, ‘We’ll make it so that [at this festival] people can see only what they’re interested in.’ We have five shows per night, for four days, and all are sold separately.”

That marketing strategy has allowed Jazznojazz to thrive. The 20th edition of the festival, which runs Oct. 31–Nov. 3, features bassist Avishai Cohen and saxophonist Maceo Parker as its headliners. Over the course of two decades, Jazznojazz has become a staple of culture in Switzerland’s largest city.

Each year, the fest attracts about 10,000 spectators to the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, a small performance space near the Sihl River in Zürich’s city center. Full-festival passes are available, but Vogel’s production company, All Blues (which acquired the festival from Tages-Anzeiger in 2003, though the newspaper remains a media partner), sells only about 50 each year.

According to Vogel, 90 percent of the fest’s attendees are there to see a single show. “That’s quite a special concept: Most people have one ticket for one evening,” he explained. “I haven’t seen this anywhere else.”

The origins of Jazznojazz stretch back to 1996, when Pius Knüsel, a jazz club owner in Zürich, attempted a festival by that name. There was no 1997 iteration.

Tages-Anzeiger saw potential, however, and it hired Vogel and All Blues to design the event from top to bottom. Organizers retained the name of the original festival.

“I think it’s quite a great name, Jazznojazz,” Vogel said. “We have jazz concerts—and we have ‘no jazz’ concerts, but with implications of jazz: genres that are related, like blues, funk, soul, electronic.

“We are aiming a little younger than jazz festivals usually have, but we are not doing Deep Purple or Queens of the Stone Age, like Montreux has. We are definitely a jazz festival.”

Jazznojazz is structured identically every year: It takes place the Wednesday through Saturday of the first weekend in November. The setup at Gessnerallee includes three stages: a main and second stage (capacities 1,000 and 600, respectively), each hosting two acts per night, along with a club stage (capacity 300) that hosts each night’s late set.

Jazz artists dominate the first two days, with the last two days leaning toward non-jazz. In 2017, headliners included Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kamasi Washington and Cécile McLorin Salvant (who is also scheduled for this year’s festival, fronting the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra). Previous years offered Chick Corea, the Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau duo, GoGo Penguin and Somi.

Cohen, one of the 2018 headliners, is also a veteran. “It will be my third time performing at this lovely festival,” said the Israeli bassist. “[It’s] always a good experience with Johannes, a very professional and knowledgeable person.’”

Cohen tops the bill on the “jazz” side (although with his new album 1970 inclined toward songwriting, he said, “It’s really more ‘no jazz’ than my last visit”), which he shares with Clayton-Hamilton and the Manhattan Transfer. Parker heads up “no jazz,” joined by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and the Swiss polyglot Jojo Mayer.

While All Blues produces other festivals in Switzerland, Vogel is particularly proud of the longevity of Jazznojazz. “I’m a long-term guy,” he said. “I think it’s important for a promoter to develop something, to do long-term things, and that’s what I’m doing here.” —Michael J. West



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