Festival Da Jazz
St. Moritz, Switzerland
July 18-22, 2013
How To Run A Jazz Festival 101. Get a big hall, put on some big names: get a small room, put on some smaller names. Stars in the big spaces, up and comers in the little ones. There's a commercial and economic logic to it, maybe even an artistic logic. The Festival Da Jazz does different: get a small room, with space for 150 people, put on some big names. Chick Corea
, for example, or Hiromi
, or Randy Brecker
. It works. Of course, it's a small room like no other.
A glamorous location helps as well and St Moritz, nestling at over 1700 metres (about 5,600 feet) above sea level in the Swiss Alps, is certainly glamorous. For many pop music fans of a certain age it's forever immortalised in the lyrics of Peter Sarstedt's 1969 hit "Where Do You Go To My Lovely""When the snow falls you're found in St. Moritz, with the others of the Jet Set." The Jet Set is still fond of the place.
The town has a population of just over 5,000 people but in winter it's far more populous: a hectic, high-end, alpine sports resort that played host to the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948. In summer it's quieter, but still up-market with prices to match. The town center is modern, built to capture the eyes and wallets of wealthy visitorsthe Main Street, filled with designer stores, is a mini version of Rodeo Drive. St Moritz' major hotels, by contrast, are testament to a bygone age and a very different kind of glamor: the Hotel Kulm and the Hotel Schweizerhof were first opened in the mid to late nineteenth century.
While the sophistication of St. Moritz provided the background for the Festival Da Jazz, the main venue for the big name concerts added its own glamor and just a touch of legend. The Dracula Club is not the typical jazz festival venue. It's a private members club, situated on the edge of town at the head of St Moritz' first bobsleigh run. It was established in the mid-70s by Gunter Sachs, the German photographer, author and sportsman once married to Brigitte Bardot: his son Rolf is now the club's President In Eternity
The Dracula theme runs strongly through the club's decor, which features coffins and a hologram of the Count rising from his web-encrusted bed for a night of evil doing. There are bats, real ones, living in the rafters of the club too. There's no need to worry: just in case a vampire should threaten the evening's enjoyment the club keeps an anti-vampire kit to hand behind a glass panel.
Usually closed in summer, the Dracula Club opens its doors to the Festival Da Jazz and plays host to a concert on most nights from mid-July to mid-August. It's certainly intimate. The "stage" is an area of the clubroom floor next to the barnot raised and with no physical barrier between performers and audience. Audience members sit on benches, stools or the floorthere are no tables and no reserved seats. It makes for an egalitarian and friendly atmosphere: sitting at the bar for the Hiromi concert I was closer to her than anyone else except her bassist.
The 2013 Festival Da Jazz was the seventh since its inception in 2007. Artistic Director Christian Jott Jenny drew some major league jazz names to the Alps. Week one, from July 11, had seen concerts from singers Dee Dee Bridgewater
, Diane Schuur
and Randy Crawford
as well as from the young Spanish vocalist and trumpeter Andrea Motis
One word can neatly sum up the stylistic content of the second week's performances fusion. Corea had brought his new project, The Vigil, to the Dracula Club on the Tuesday nightafter which he delighted the bar pianist in the Hotel Kulm, a Corea fan, when he sat in to play some 4-handed pianoand David Sanborn
performed on the Wednesday. The four concerts I witnessed all brought their own kinds of fusion as well.Thursday, July 18
Japanese pianist Hiromi gave a passionate and energetic performance. Bassist Anthony Jackson
and drummer Steve Smith
completed the trio. Both players did much to create and deliver the energy of the performance, their styles suiting Hiromi's full-on approach to the music. Jackson, on 6-string electric contrabass, was seated center-stage with an almost constant look of surprise on his face. He made full use of his instrument's range on almost every tune, his plectrum seemingly glued to his bottom lip when he played fingerstyle. Tellingly, when soloing he often favored the instrument's upper register, playing some of his loveliest phrases on just the top two strings.