Norway may be a country that, more than most, aims to expose people from around the world to its culture through annual events like JazzNorway in a Nutshell, but as rich an experience as attending that junket is, returning to it on a regular basis is an experience that transcends the mere opportunity to soak in some of the country's music, scenery and cuisine. The 2010 editionlike JNiaN 2009, focusing on Bergen's Nattjazz festivalbrought together 35 people from countries including Canada, the United States, England, Italy, Japan, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, China and Germany, ranging from festival programmers and jazz advocacy organizations to musicians and journalists. Some met for the first time, while others were reunited following shared experiences at JNiaN 2009 and other Norwegian festivals, including Molde 2009 and Punkt 2009. When JNiaN 2010 was over, a network of people interested in Norway's vibrant music scene had, once again, grown even larger, even stronger.
More than just the music, and beyond the fantastic opportunity to gain exposure to Norway's distinctive culture, JNiaN is an event where old friends catch up and new friendships are forged. JNiaN 2010 may have lasted just four days, but its organizersLars Mossefin, Bo Grønningsæter and Brit Aksnespacked a tremendous amount into that brief timeframe. Sleep was hard to come by, to be sure, with the days nearly as event-filled as the nights, but there was a palpable energy and camaraderie that continued to build with each passing day. Attending a festival like Nattjazz would have been exceptional on its own, but combining it with JNiaNand experienced alongside a group of warm, talented and knowledgeable people from around the worldmade these few days, from May 26-29, 2010, even richera shared learning experience that went far beyond that of any of JNiaN's individual performances or programmed activities.
With a population of approximately 200,000, the city of Bergen, situated along the country's west coast, is Norway's second largest city, next only to its capital, Oslo. With water visible from nearly every location, and in the center of a group of mountains known as de syv fjell (The Seven Mountains), Bergen's architecture manages to seamlessly marry the centuries-old with the utterly contemporary. Steep hills make walking Bergen inherently healthy, and visiting it in late May, when it's still only twilight at midnight, is a surprisingly energizing experience. It's hard to imagine the winters, when things reverse and daylight can be as short as six hours, but leaving a show at 11:00PM and seeing light skies makes it somehow easier to live with the minimal sleep allowed by JNiaN's hectic schedule.
May 26, 2010: Arrival, Introductions and The Key Club
Most of JNiaN 2010's attendees arrived throughout the day on May 26, and so the first event took place at 7:00PM that evening, in a room at USF Verftet, a large building that, with a number of performance spaces (in addition to offices, a restaurant and more), hosts the annual Nattjazz festival, the 2010 edition running from May 26 to June 5, 2010. Festival-goers purchase either day or complete festival passes. Either way, it's possible to attend any or all of the performances on a given day (six or seven shows), providing an opportunity to either focus on individual shows or get a taste of everything taking place.
First-timers to JNiaN were met with their first hurdlea tremendously steep hill situated between the hotel and USF Verftet that gave everyone an early cardio workout. But it was well worth it, as JNiaN attendees got their first chance to meet up with old friends and become introduced to new ones at a brief ceremony where Lars Mossefin introduced the JNiaN staff and representatives from organizations including the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Music Export Norway, Kalleklev Management and Musikkprofilall of whom would prove to be incredibly valuable resources throughout the four daysalong with Jon Skjerdal, Nattjazz's Festival Director. Amidst drinks and acquiring festival accreditation, JNiaN attendees introduced themselves, and it became instantly clear just how far and wide the organizers of JNiaN set their sights, with journalists and other media representatives from Canada, Italy, England, Germany and Japan, and festival programmers/directors from international festivals including Estonia's Jazzkaar, Germany's Moers, the Tokyo Jazz Festival, England's Cheltenham and Birmingham festivals, Parma Jazzfestival from Italy and Austria's Salzburg festival.
After a quick chance to grab dinner at Kippers, the indoor/outdoor restaurant at USF Verftet, it was off to the first evening of Nattjazzbut not before also checking out The Key Club, a room set up each year for JNiaN attendees, where drinks were plentiful, conversation even more so, and, in addition to providing everyone with a warm JNiaN jacket, a table was filled with promotional CDs for the taking. Even those who attend JNiaN regularly and believe they have heard all there is to hear from the Norwegian scene were in for a humbling experience, going home with thirty or more albums they've not heard, ranging from promotional samplers to commercial releases...even a couple of DVDs.
It was time, then, to head off to the first show of the night.