Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Jazz has survived by keeping a foot in the camps of the commercial and also the sector supported by grants/patrons.
Contrast the clubs and venues, such as the Vortex or Ronnie Scott's, with the parts which have been supported by the Arts Council. The reach of the Arts Council into jazz has been relatively short-lived and never that huge, in comparison with the largesse required to keep opera, the orchestras or the big venues such as the South Bank running.
I remember organising my sole Contemporary Music Network tour for the wondrous Billy Jenkins (soon to turn 60, by the way) in 1996 and the relative luxury and support that was given at that time - guaranteed radio broadcast and half a dozen gigs which got organised with virtually no pleading.
The 'commercial' approach has really been imported from New York, while the other could be thought of as more 'European', picking up on the philosophical, aesthetic but also the classical roots of the music. Clubs closing have been mainly the result of commercial exigencies.
The country in which the supportive approach has been seen to best advantage is Germany. Struggles of festivals and venues are mainly the result of a decline/cut back/questioning of public funding. If public support is reduced this is problematic, while the chance of growing without is difficult.
A recent example of the former has been shown by the latest querying leading from the debt of €300,000 of the promoters of Moers Festival. When the programme was announced on 3 March, there was no guarantee that it would take place. A new hall was opened a couple of years ago, courtesy of North Rhine Westphalia and it seemed to lead to the festival's long-term security. Basically, the programme is, for jazz and Vortex lovers, near perfect - many of the artists perform at the club, but rarely in as large formations as Moers could afford. Rainer Michalke, one of the co-founders of the Stadtgarten in Cologne, has been running for a decade and built on its roots of high quality improvised music, from all points of the compass.
And a clear example of the latter is that, up in the North, in Hamburg, a tremendous wide-ranging jazz festival, Elbjazz, had grown dramatically over the past four years. Virtually unfunded by the city or state, the festival grew, courtesy of the support of leading shipyards and also the involvement of some of the main jazz promoters, such as Karsten Jahncke - in the year that I went, the range was from Jamie Cullum via Joshua Redman and Troyka to Schlippenbach Trio and Mary Halvorson. With inadequate income from the general public/ sponsors and only a belated offer of more-than-token public support, the festival has been put on hold. But it will be revived next year, we also have to hope.
The struggle of jazz as peripheral to the mainstream arts world is shown by the fact that the festival took place in the shadow of the new Philharmonie rising nearby. Total cost of that edifice, much underwritten by the city, is €750,000, up from an initial €200,000! So, here, an attempt at a true commercially-based festival in Germany has foundered with the public funding safeguarding its serious-minded roots.
At least Tina Heine, whose brainchild it was, now has the chance to run the autumn jazz festival in Salzburg. This was the second festival that Gerhard Eder had created, following on from Saalfelden. Unfortunately he died suddenly and suprisingly last Autumn. So she will be able to take her knowledge of the scene to the neighbouring country which already has a few fantastic festivals.

The Moers Festival is now safe for another year. As the press release on 10 March said:
'moers festival 2016 will take place as planned, just like we thought it would.
Concern about the festival’s financial situation arose after the new CEO reevaluated the figures. Last night, the city of Moers signed a guarantee agreement and thereby fulfilled the new CEO’s condition to go ahead with moers festival 2016. Time will show to what extent the CEO’s financial assessment was correct.
Unfortunately, we lost precious time to advertise for the festival due to the uncertainties in these past weeks. Therefore we now need your help with advertising for our festival! Please support us now by raising awareness of the festival.
The best proof that the world needs moers festival is a sold out house on all four days.'
Clearly it's a relatively expensive investment for a town of just over 100,000, but who would have heard of the town outside the Ruhr area, had it not been for this festival?
Programme on

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