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Burghausen Jazz Festival 2013

Burghausen Jazz Festival 2013
John Kelman By

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Burghausen Jazz Festival
Burghausen, Germany
March 12-17, 2013
Located almost exactly halfway along the border of the province of Bavaria (located in Germany's southeast) and Austria, the town of Burghausen might seem an odd place for a jazz festival, especially one now celebrating its 44th year. But this town of just 18,000 people, located literally a stone's throw (or a quick bridge walk) away from Austria, has long been a wealthy town, thanks to the Wacker chemical company. But just as is true with oil-rich Norway, having money in no way ensures that it will be used to support the arts; thankfully, Burghausen isn't just a town rich in material goods; it's also a town with a cultural heart.

You only need walk down the town's "Street of Fame," where bronze placards embedded in the cobblestones reflect Burghausen's longstanding commitment to jazz, with inductees past and present including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianists Teddy Wilson and Chick Corea, and this year's recipient, singer Cassandra Wilson. Clearly this is a town with a special love of jazz and it isn't afraid to show it.

What is, perhaps, surprising is that the Burghausen Jazz Festival (or, as most called it, B-Jazz) actually brings in more of its audience from outside the town than it does its locals. According to Andreas Bentlage, who handles public relations, marketing and artist liaison, "Last year we did a survey, and the result was that most of our audience comes from other towns; we had people from England, Switzerland and France; although most do come from Germany or German-speaking countries."

This year's program is heavily dominated by American artists—in addition to Wilson, artists included guitarist John Scofield and his Organic Trio; rising star singer Gregory Porter; funk-meister Larry Graham and his longstanding Graham Central Station; and the Jazz Master All Stars, a truly all-star septet with trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonists Nathan Davis and Benny Golson, pianist George Cables and bassist Abraham Laboriel. But that's not an intentional philosophic choice. "The concept of our festival is to have no concept," says Bentlage. "The American orientation this year is just how it worked out, quite randomly. Each member of our programming group is a fan of other bands or has a list of bands they'd like to come here, so we condense that list, check availability, fees, etc. In the beginning the list of bands is large, it becomes smaller and smaller, and suddenly we have a program."

Still, the idea of a town of 18,000 supporting a jazz festival when most towns that size in North America are lucky to have a movie theater speaks to the town's distinct nature. "B-Jazz was founded at a time when there were fewer cultural venues," says Bentlage. "Burghausen is a rich city, with a large chemical industry that pays a lot of taxes, and so the city supports what we do here, by providing funding, and correlating with that industry, we have many people here with academic backgrounds and higher level educations, so the result is a greater interest in jazz.

"It's a festival of continuity," Bentlage continues. "There's been no break in its 44 years. It was founded almost randomly; there was a jazz movie being shown in the old part of town, and two men thought, 'OK, let's do something with jazz in this city,' and it has grown from a shorter festival in a small venue to a week-long event in Wackerhalle [which seats 1,276 people]. The city contributes the most money, but it's not enough; half of our costs are covered by ticket sales, and the rest comes from the city and some private sponsorship, like the local bank. We also have a lot of things given by Wacker— like the venue [Wackerhalle], electricity, heating, firemen, parking spaces...we don't have to pay for any of this, so we also get a lot of soft dollar support."

Beyond providing a great program to its attendees—this year also including pianist Aki Takase's New Blues Project, , the Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, saxophonist Klaus Doldinger's Passport and many others—B-Jazz sees itself as having a responsibility to cultivate jazz studies for a younger demographic and provide opportunities for up-and-coming musicians to get some real exposure. In addition to a closing day devoted to younger jazz artists, a contest is held the night before the festival's official opening concert, and five young groups compete for the opening slot the following night, which this year meant performing to a full house who'd paid to see Cassandra Wilson.

"The competition is in its fifth year," says Bentlage. "The groups apply with an anonymous CD, meaning we get it in the office and assign it a number, so that the jury receives the music without knowing who it is. Applicants cannot be older than thirty and there must be at least three members in the group, so no solo artists or duos. People can apply from anywhere; we get applications from as far away as the USA and New Zealand—today, the jazz scene is so multinational, and young people are networking increasingly around the world. The bands are given travel support and a certain amount of money for accommodations; they can choose how to get here, whether it's by train, plane or car.

"We get somewhere between 50 and 100 applicants," Bentlage continues. "The winner gets 5,000 euros in cash and an additional 10,000 euros, to be used for creative development—touring, making a CD, promotion, equipment, whatever, as long as it is used for creative development. the money comes from the city of Burghausen. We enjoy doing it because we may be small, but we're hungry for the whole world to come here."

This year's winner, Matīss Čudars Quartet, not only turned out to be a great choice that wowed the audience who'd come to hear Wilson—no mean feat, given the Latvian guitarist was absolutely nothing like Wilson's eminently accessible jazz and blues- drenched music—but it was also remarkable in that it was a unanimous choice from the panel of judges, and a decision made literally in seconds after the five groups performed—all excellent bands, according to Bentlage, but clearly Čudars had something special that was clear from the first moments of his performance.

The festival is also connected to a jazz school in the town, and during the week of B- Jazz the members of the Jazz Master All Stars, organized by trumpeter Claus Reichstaller, delivers a series of master classes to the academy's young attendees, with one lucky participant winning a chance, this year, to perform a onstage with the All Stars when the septet opened the Scofield double bill. "For more than 35 years, we've had a kind of jazz school here," says Bentlage, "and we thought it would be good to have an academic complement, so we asked Claus [Reichstaller]—he's the head of the Jazz Institute in the Munich University. We decided to found the jazz academy last year, here in Burghausen. We have three classes per year: a winter academy; the master class during our jazz week; and a summer academy that's open to other kinds of music as well as jazz."

Burghausen is a beautiful town, and home to the oldest—and, at over a kilometer in length, the largest—castle in Germany, situated on a hill overseeing the old part of town and dating back to the 13th or 14th century. In the evening, with the castle lit up, it's a truly stunning site. And with cobblestone pathways throughout the old town, restaurants serving up local cuisine, and a friendly atmosphere that makes it an inviting and enjoyable place in which to be, it's no surprise that attendance is strong and that it draws people from farther afield.

"I want to invite all the people in the world to visit Burghausen," concludes Bentlage. "It's a beautiful city, we have a great atmosphere and it's a great place to visit. We love what we do, and I think the fans and the musicians feel this. We try to do the best we can for the musicians, so that they can just concentrate on giving the best show they can. If we can do this, then we know the audience will enjoy it."

Chapter Index

March 13: Matīss Čudars Quartet / Cassandra Wilson

March 14: Jazz Masters All Stars / John Scofield Organic Trio

March 15: Larry Graham and Graham Central Station

March 16: Klaus Doldinger's Passport / Gregory Porter

March 17: Next Generation Day / Festival Wrap-Up


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