While folks around the world debate the future of jazzand, for that matter, what exactly jazz is and even what it should be calledan annual trade show in Bremen, Germany, now in its fifth year, has managed to demonstrate that jazz as a brand may be facing challenges like everything else, but is far from approaching its death bed. Jazzahead! also makes clear that the future of jazz is absolutely and undeniably predicated on the tireless efforts of a surprisingly connected (and growing) community of passionate people, who travel each year from points around the globe for a few days of showcase performances, meetings, educational streams...and just plain hanging. From Penang to Portland, Montreal to Molde, Brooklyn to Bologne, Reykjavik to Rotterdam, Tallinn to Tampere and Kuala Lampur to Köln, musicians, record label reps, festival promoters, booking agents, artist managers, writers, photographersand people who just want an opportunity to catch as many as fifty acts, selected by an international jury each year, strut their stuff for a brief but important thirty minuteshave made Jazzahead! an annual cannot-miss event whose incremental growth will surprise those who think that the end of jazz is nigh.
If anything, 30% growth in 2011 and a projected growth for 2012 of a whopping 35% would suggest that Jazzahead! may soon need to consider extending its core event by another day and look for a larger night-time showcase venue than Schlachthof, the converted slaughterhouse where getting in is becoming increasingly difficult andunless you're prepared to line up two hours early (sacrificing valuable meeting time)in which finding an actual seat is next to impossible. With so many people to see during the daytime, and an overwhelming number of showcase acts beginning at two in the afternoon and running well past midnight each evening, it's an exciting place to be, but one where there's a constant sense of trying to keep upor, even worse, catch up. Two floors in the Exhibition Centre Bremen sport about 100 boothsoccupied by labels like ECM, ACT, Pirouet , Edition Records, Challenge, Effendi, Hubro, Rune Grammofon, NORCD and Enja; larger booths which act as focal points for a variety of interests for countries ranging from Norway, Denmark, Canada and Iceland to The Netherlands, Sweden, The UK and Brazil; festivals including WartaJazz from the Far East, ELBJazz from closer to home in Hamburg, and Skopjejazz in Macedonia; magazines including Germany's Jazzthetik, Norway's Jazznytt; and artists ranging from pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs
And then there are the people who come to Jazzahead! to just "float"media folks like Jazzwise's Jon Newey, Jazznytt's Jan Granlie, and freelancers like Luca Vitali, Madli-Liis Parts, Henning Bolte, Christoph Geise and Karsten Muetzelfeldt; festival representatives including Palatia Jazz's Hagen Daten, Earshot Jazz's John Gilbreath, Molde Jazz's Jan Ole Otnes, Vancouver Jazz Festival's Ken Pickering and Penang Jazz Festival's Paul Augustin; and management/publicity folks like Nadja Von Massow, Antje Hubner, Burkhard Hopper, Don Lucoff and Matt Merewitz. What's more surprising than the sheer number of people who attend Jazzahead! is how many people know each otherthe biggest challenge, next to accomplishing everything you'd planned for going to Jazzahead! is actually leaving; unless hurrying away under cover of darkness, most Jazzahead! regulars need a good 60-90 minutes to say goodbye to everyone, before actually being able to exit the venue(s).
That's not to suggest the road ahead for jazz is an easy one, but with the number of international festivals continuing to increase, and the virtually untrackable volume of new releases coming out each and every month from artists known and unknown, it's clear that few may be getting rich in jazz, but plenty are dedicating their lives to it, whether they're artists, journalists, publicists or festival promoters. Jazzahead! is the place to be to find out about the European jazz scene, to be sure, but in the last couple years the event has broadened its purview to include showcase performances from artists farther afield, with this year's "Overseas Night" featuring Canada's François Bourassa Quartet, American saxophonist/clarinetist Oran Etkin
, who burst onto the scene in the 1980s, opening for artists like Sting, but who later seemed to be MIA.
And then there are the awards. This year, Siggi Lochfounder and primary producer for Germany's ACT Music+Vision label (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, though Loch's involvement in the industry has now eclipsed the half century mark)was the recipient of the ŠKODA Award, while the European Jazz Network, now celebrating its silver anniversary, inaugurated its first Award for Adventurous Programming. Few could argue its choice of Ireland's 12 Points Festival which, thanks to Founder/Artistic Director Gerry Godley, has focused on bringing one dozen cutting edge, up-and-coming European acts to public attention each year since its inception in 2007.
All in all, Jazzahead! 2012 was a smashing success, even with the problems that are beginning to show as a result of its rapid growth. And while it was impossible to catch anywhere near all the showcase performances presented, those caughtranging from Spain's Benavent-Di Geraldo-Pardo and England's Kit Downes
demonstrated the breadth and depth of an international jazz scene that may be dealing with the same fundamental industry shifts that are affecting everyone in the arts, but remains vibrant and strong, evolutionary and revolutionary.