It may be true, at least most of the time, that familiarity breeds, if not exactly contempt, then certainly complacency; but that simply doesn't apply if subject is Norwayand, in particular, its disproportionately large and vibrant music scene. Suffering from an epidemic that most folks would be happy to attractfestival inflationthis country of just five million people is host to approximately 600 music festivals annually, covering every possible stylistic nook and cranny. More often than not, even when they're called jazz festivals, they stretch the boundaries of what defines the music, and audiences flocking to these festivalswith a demographic spread far broader than that showing up to jazz festivals on the other side of the Atlanticseem less concerned with moaning about what isn't, instead focusing on, and celebrating, what is. Of course, those who come to these festivals from abroad may well be thinking about the question covered in a recent All About Jazz editorial, When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival?but, based on programming at annual festivals like Molde, Kongsberg and Oslo, there's little doubt that the reductionist concerns of jazz purists are falling on deaf ears as festivals look for creative ways, not just to survive, but to attract new audiences and think outside the box to keep their existing constituents happy and challenged. But as much as a festival like Bergen's Natt Jazz continues to recruit acts whose relationship to the American tradition is tenuous, at best, there's little doubt that the vast majority of them fall within a far broader purviewone that acknowledges and respects the American roots of jazz, while maintaining a commitment to incorporating references from other cultures. It's not just a good thing, either; it's essential to the cross-pollinating undercurrent of jazz, one that's become all the more important as it expands to become a global musicowned by no-one, as the music moves well into its second decade in the new millennium. And there are few events in Norway that address the expanding definition of jazz for a specific and focused international audience quite as well as JazzNorway in a Nutshell.
Now in its sixth year, JNiaN is a showcase that brings festival programmers, club owners, journalists, and other industry folks together with Norwegian record label heads, artists managers and in-country club/festival heads/programmers, for either an intensive first-time introduction to the country's jazz scene, or to broaden the exposure of repeat JazzNorway in a Nutshell attendees (Nutshellers) by setting up four days of activities, all surrounding the Bergen's Natt Jazz festival. And it's more than just the music; during the daytime, JNiaN's organizersLars Mossefin, Bo Grønningsæter and Brit Aksnesput together a packed but not overwhelming schedule that includes day trips to locations in and around Bergen that also include special showcase performances, providing even more opportunities for JNiaN attendees to find out what's hot in Norway 2011. It's like being on another planet for four days, where the only matters at hand are hearing about the music; listening to the music; and networking with friends old and new to discuss a myriad of matters surrounding the musicall in a relaxed social environment that engenders the creation of personal and business connections which ultimately continue throughout the year, in between JNiaN installments.
It's also about creating and maintaining a global network of advocates for the Norwegian scene. That a country so small has five separate organizations devoted to the jazz of their regions (east, west, north, south and central Norway), as well as organizations whose names say it allMusic Export Norway, and Music Information Centerseems almost implausible to folks from North America, where such remarkable organization simply can't afford to exist. And while the global economy is being felt, even in a country as oil-rich as Norway, there's a fundamental difference in its approach to arts support. Sure, the country has money; but how it chooses to spend that money gets to the real heart of the mattera country where, as the result of firm commitment to arts and education for the last half century, culture has become an integral part of its social fabric, rather than the dirty word it so often appears to be in North America.
And so, JNiaN is a meeting place for old friends to come together and meet new ones along the way, all in the context of an outstanding musical program. The bloom never falls off the rose, but it's always a great experience to see the reactions of people coming to Norway for the first time, like Australian journalist Jessica Nicholas, whose enthusiasm was so palpable that, even if JNiaN alums were becoming jaded, they'd be hard-pressed to remain so, after spending four days and nights experiencing the music and culture Norway has to offer.