All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Belgrade Jazz Festival 2016

Thomas Conrad By

Sign in to view read count
Belgrade’s bookings reflect an awareness of the players now operating on the leading edge of the jazz art form, famous or not, from the United States and elsewhere.
2016 Belgrade Jazz Festival
Belgrade, Serbia
October 26-October 30, 2016

Because of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Belgrade Jazz Festival, like most good things in the Balkans, went dark for 15 years after 1990. When it started up again in 2005, it was small. By 2008, it was big enough to book names like The Bad Plus, Christian Scott and Patricia Barber. But even then, from the vantage point of the world jazz community, Belgrade was off the grid. Serbia, after all, had been bombed by NATO for 76 days in 1999. In the early years of the reorganized Belgrade festival, most jazz fans outside the Balkans had never heard of it, and would have been surprised to learn of its existence.

All that has changed. Belgrade is now regarded as one of the influential jazz events on the annual European circuit. It has probably replaced Skopje, in Macedonia, as the most important jazz festival in eastern Europe. The first reason is programming. The second reason is the vibe.

As for programming, Belgrade's bookings reflect an awareness of the players now operating on the leading edge of the jazz art form, famous or not, from the United States and elsewhere. Unlike so many jazz festivals these days, Belgrade does not offer any rock or pop. There is some world music (such as the Spanish harmonica player Antonio Serrano this year), but it always contains genuine jazz content. Every act in the program has a reason to be there. There are always a few local bands, and they are the best in town. The bookings are in the hands of board member Vojislav Pantić and program manager Dragan Ambrozić.

As for the vibe, the festival reflects the particular severe energy of its gritty, graffiti-covered city. Serbia is one of the poorest countries in Europe, still struggling to emerge from the deprivation brought on by years of war, repression and isolation. Perhaps because so much of their recent history is tragic, the Serbian jazz audience seizes the music like a lifeline. Over the years, concerts have been held in many different venues around town. Now they are almost all concentrated in Dom Omladine, in the old center, just off Trg Republike (Republic Square). It was a communist youth center in the Tito years. It contains two spaces for music, the refurbished 560-seat auditorium, Velika Sala, and Sala Amerikana, a smaller, funkier cave upstairs where the late night shows go down.

There are jazz festivals that spread themselves over many days and many different sites across a city or even region. They are more like concert series than festivals. But in Belgrade, Dom Omladine became the festival's nerve center and throbbing heart. For five nights, before and after concerts and during intermissions, its overflowing foyer was a world-class hang. In keeping with current trends, Belgrade's hardcore jazz following is middle-aged and older. But this festival also attracts a younger crowd. Some are jazz fans, some are there for the party. (Ticket prices are unusually low and virtually every single performance was well attended.) Overall, the festival vibe is intense and communal. Musicians feel it. More often than not, they spill their guts when they play Belgrade.

For visitors from other countries, there are huge attractions and one major drawback to Serbia. The attractions include the austere, hard-edged beauty of Belgrade, the welcoming people (more reserved than, say, Italy, but sincerely interested to meet you), and the affordability of almost everything (especially the excellent food and, if you're into it, rakija). The drawback is the cigarette smoke, even in nice restaurants. Serbia is not a member of the European Union, which requires a ban on smoking in public places. Cigarettes are the national pestilence of Serbia.

The only concerts outside Dom Omladine were in the cavernous 3000-seat Sava Centar, across the Sava River in Novi Beograd (New Belgrade). For the first time since 1989, the festival featured two nights at Sava Centar. The trio of Jack DeJohnette / Ravi Coltrane / Matthew Garrison, Dave Holland's new quartet Aziza and the Avishai Cohen Trio all played there. It is natural to assume that a given edition of a jazz festival is defined by its headliners. It is natural but untrue. None of the great moments of Belgrade 2016 came from Sava Centar. The headliners were OK but not extraordinary, and all had issues.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read The Magpie Salute At The Grand Point North Festival 2018 Live Reviews
The Magpie Salute At The Grand Point North Festival 2018
by Doug Collette
Published: September 23, 2018
Read Chris Isaak at The Paramount in Huntington, NY Live Reviews
Chris Isaak at The Paramount in Huntington, NY
by Christine Connallon
Published: September 23, 2018
Read Detroit Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Detroit Jazz Festival 2018
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 19, 2018
Read Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner Live Reviews
Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner
by Martin McFie
Published: September 18, 2018
Read Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia 2018 Live Reviews
Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia...
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 16, 2018
Read Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood Vampires, Black Asteroids & Paul Lamb Live Reviews
Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood...
by Martin Longley
Published: September 16, 2018
Read "Isabella Lundgren at Bullret Jazz Club" Live Reviews Isabella Lundgren at Bullret Jazz Club
by Patrick Burnette
Published: November 25, 2017
Read "The NJE at Indo, Whitechapel" Live Reviews The NJE at Indo, Whitechapel
by Gareth Thompson
Published: February 5, 2018
Read "We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory" Live Reviews We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory
by Josef Woodard
Published: December 16, 2017
Read "David Amram 87th Birthday Celebration at the Falcon" Live Reviews David Amram 87th Birthday Celebration at the Falcon
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: December 6, 2017
Read "GoGo Penguin at Out To Lunch" Live Reviews GoGo Penguin at Out To Lunch
by Ian Patterson
Published: January 25, 2018
Read "Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café" Live Reviews Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: April 5, 2018