Jazzahead Bremen, Germany April 28-May 1, 2010 Jazz may be a marginalized genre with shrinking CD sales and, at least in North America, a painfully low profile in popular media, but just a few days at Jazzahead in Bremen, Germany, leave a much different impression. A trade show for all things jazz, Jazzahead is in its sixth year, and has become the annual focal point for the jazz industry in Europe. Make no mistake: on that continent jazz clearly is an industry, albeit one supported by people in all areas for whom it's clearly a passion; very few people get rich in jazz, after all. With over 80 booths representing every facet of the industry, which may not be as large as, say, the pop world, it's clearly a business that's big enough, despite the surprisingly personal nature of the goings-on at Jazzahead, where everybody either seems to know everybodyor is out to meet themand new partnerships are struck at booths, over coffee or over drinks, anywhere and everywhere throughout the event's four-day run.
For the 2011 edition of Jazzahead, three floors of Bremen's massive Congress Center were devoted to a combination of booths (representing artists, labels, managers, jazz magazines, national jazz organizations and more); a number of meeting spaces for daytime programming, including seminars and opportunities for multi-national organizations like the European Jazz Network to bring everyone together under one roof; and performance spaces for artist showcases. Something like The Netherlands' Dutch Jazz & World Meeting, only much, much larger, both in scope and size.
Performances also took place at the nearby Kulturzentrum Shlachthof, a converted slaughterhouse that, five minutes' walk from the Congress Center, now sports its own good-sized performance space, a bar and restaurant. Shlachthof was, in fact, the place to hang in the evenings, a place where old friendships were revived, new relationships forged, and countless deals struck over many, many drinks, well into the wee hours of the morning. Themed evenings took place there each night, including an Overseas Night featuring Australia's Trichotomy, Canada's Rafael Zaldivar Trio and Indonesia's simakDialog; a German night with Philipp Van Ender and Transit Room; and a Turkish night, on the trade show's last evening, that demonstrated the rich variety to be found across continental Europe and beyond.
A little farther away, an ECM Night took place at Sendesaal Bremen, a building that used to house Radio Bremen's studios but which, since closing its doors in 2007, has been repurposed as a combination recording studio/performance hall seating 270 people; a smaller space for recording radio drama; a restaurant; and more. Two of ECM's up-and-comersSwiss pianist Colin Vallon
's instincts remain as acute as ever more than forty years after the label's inception, as he continues to find new talent from around the globe, giving it the international visibility it deserves.
Europe clearly has a more sizable jazz scene than most North American audiences know, with new traditions emerging from old, and sometimes coming from what might be considered the unlikeliest of placesthough it's equally clear, at Jazzahead, that no place is truly unlikely when it comes to expanding jazz's already broad purview. As endless discussions about whether or not the musicwith, at times, a tenuous connection to the American jazz tradition that started it allis "real" jazz, Jazzahead proved that, despite the importance of that tradition, jazz has evolved into a global music, with a myriad of local cultures acting as springboards for exploration and cross-pollination that mirrors the genre's emergence at the turn of the 20th century.
The only problem with an event like this is that it's impossible to do it all. Meetings run overtime (but, usually, for all the right reasons); walking from one room to another means bumping into someone you've not seen for years or, even better, someone you've been dealing with via email and have never met face-to-face; and, walking through the large conference halls, a booth of interest seems to pop up everywhere you look. Stand in a space talking, and someone is sure to see your name tag and grab you to talk about their latest release, their festival, their label, or their publication.
But if it all sounds big and confusing, what's most surprising about Jazzahead is how well everything is laid out. A book that details every booth and every participant makes it easy to figure out what to do, though the real problem that emerges is choice. Attend a meeting of the JazzX initiative, which strives to break down barriers of language and geography, or catch a short set by Partisans