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Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 1-2, October 20-21, 2009

John Kelman By
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Days 1-2 | Day 3-6 | Days 7-10 | Days 11-12

Situated along the Neckar River in the central part of Germany, Heidelberg may seem like an unlikely place for a six-week jazz festival in the middle of the fall each year. But Enjoy Jazz, now in its eleventh year, has been bringing an innovative cross-section of jazz and beyond to the region, with an unusual concept that runs contrary to virtually every other well-known jazz festival. Rather than concentrating a high number of artists into a short period, with all the inherent problems that go along with it, Enjoy Jazz is a relaxed festival that, for the most part, offers only one show each evening, in one of a number of venues in the Heidelberg-Mannheim-Ludwigshafen area. It may seem counter-intuitive to the idea of attracting large international crowds who can come to a city for a few days and catch a large number of shows in a relatively concentrated location, but to Festival Director Rainer Kern, it's all about doing what feels right.

Enjoy Jazz / Heidelberg Old Bridge Crossing Neckar River, Heidelberg, Germany

Chapter Index

  1. Interview with Rainer Kern, Festival Director of Enjoy Jazz
  2. Jan Garbarek Group
  3. Helge Sunde Ensemble Denada

Interview with Rainer Kern, Festival Director of Enjoy Jazz

"From the very beginning," says Kern, "my idea was definitely not to have a four-day festival with a hundred bands and ten bands in parallel venues at the same time. I wanted to have a good situation for the band, so they could play as long as they want, not a change every forty minutes. I wanted it to be very comfortable for the audience, too. It's easier to focus on one artist or artistic thing on stage, rather than knowing that if you haven't found your way into the music in the first ten minutes—which happens often; sometimes you need more time—that if there are three other bands playing at the same time you could just leave."

It's a respect for the artist and for the audience that drives Kern and Enjoy Jazz. Unlike most festivals, which squeeze the number of performances Enjoy Jazz offers into the space of a week or so, but force attendees into choices they sometimes wish they didn't have to make, at Enjoy Jazz there's still a matter of choosing what shows to see, but never at the expense of missing another. Even when, on rare occasion, Enjoy Jazz offers more than one show in a day, they're typically spread apart so there's time to fully absorb the first show, and relax a bit, before heading off to the next one.

The festival is also rare in its use of a relatively large geographic area. While the Heidelberg-Mannheim-Ludwigshafen region is, in relative terms, fairly small, with the three cities (located less than an hour south of Frankfurt) close enough together that getting from one to another by car is a fairly quick proposition. A thoughtful, patient person, Kern took his time building the festival, beginning in Heidelberg. "It started in 1999," says Kern. "I'd had the idea of doing a festival in Heidelberg for a few years, because I thought we should have music of that sort in the region, in the city. Back in the '70s and '80s, you could see all the important jazz artists playing in Mannheim, but then there was a big hole. Then in 1999, the software firm SAP had a new system for regional sponsorship. I read that you could download a form to apply for money, so I thought, 'OK, I have this idea; maybe I should fill out the form.' I faxed the application on the last day, and then a few weeks later I was given the maximum allotment for the program."

Enjoy Jazz / Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg, Germany

"It was just in Heidelberg then," Kern continues, "I got the funding and thought, 'OK, we'll see. ' Then, in the second year, SAP said 'Why not go forward, we'll fund you again.' And I said 'OK, but I want to spread it out to another city. From the very beginning the vision was clear: I wanted to have it regional, because Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen are very close together; just the Rhine river in between and 15 kilometers from Mannheim to Heidelberg. In those days it was very complicated to attract people from Mannheim to attend a show in Heidelberg. It was very strange, like there was a wall between them. It's changed now, but at the time I had the idea of spreading into the region, while keeping the concept one performer per stage, per venue and per city."

Eleven years later, Enjoy Jazz has grown from a couple of weeks to six, with over sixty concerts and a demographic that may be largely from within the region, but is also attracting a growing international audience. "We have international guests, but not thousands of them," Kern explains. "Normally, as an international guest, you're happy when you can cover a whole festival in, say, four days. Here, maybe you're interested in someone in the first week, someone in last, and that's just not possible. We know that, and sometimes I force myself to think about changing it—maybe to only three weeks—but then, at the end of this thinking, it's always the same result: no, leave it as it is. I won't have hundreds of people coming from the States; that's the way it is. But the number of international guests is increasing—not from ten to ten thousand, but it is increasing. I believe in developing in short, well thought-out steps. We have international guests that arrive on a Thursday, visit a winery, take a trip up the Rhine, and see a few shows. At the end, you have one concert per day and, in my opinion, you shouldn't have more than one per day.

Enjoy Jazz / HeidelbergWhile some festivals look for immediate pay-off, Kern's longer-term commitment to his belief that there should be time to truly enjoy the music—not simply squeeze in as many shows as possible and lose the true attraction of each one—has been paralleled with a very personal approach to programming. "I'm very strict when it comes to programming," says Kern. "I think there should be one person, because it's not a democratic situation, the program should be the result of one person's vision. I have a file on my computer and I write down everything I think—what I think is worth listening to, some things that I've always wanted to see—and from that list the program evolves."

When it comes to programming, Kern is culture blind, and doesn't fall prey to matters of politic either. "Dividing into camps makes no sense," says Kern. "It's not how jazz works as a form of music; people are coming together. In the past I've been asked often, questions like: 'You have a lot of American bands this year, and not many from southeast Denmark,' and I say, 'I didn't realize that; thanks for the information, but that's not how I program.' I don't care where the artists are coming from. It's the music I am listening to and care about."

It's a risky approach, but just as unusual is the fact that, in the fall of 2009 when most festivals are beginning to book acts for the following year, Kern may be thinking about the 2010 edition of Enjoy Jazz, but there's nothing even close to firm. In fact, Kern often programs down to the wire, in order to bring the most current acts possible. "I book as close as possible to the festival," explains Kern with a grin, "so my office is often very unhappy with me, as they have to do the program booklets [amongst many other things], and I really take things down to the last minute. I don't see any reason to book my festival in January; what can I do with bands that emerge in June, for example, and I didn't know them before? Sure, I can think about bringing a Sonny Rollins for next year now, but that's only a small part of the festival. "

For 2009, Kern is going against his instincts to some extent, but with two special events—festivals within festivals—that have changed his normally one-person approach to become a more collaborative effort. The first is a four-day celebration of ECM Records' 40th Anniversary. Few independent record labels have lasted as long as the venerable German label run by Manfred Eicher and it's no hyperbole to suggest that no other label has stretched the boundaries of jazz—broken them, really—as consistently as ECM. Enjoy Jazz's celebration breaks Kern's usual rule with eleven shows in four days, as well as a screening of Holozän, a 1992 film co-directed by Eicher and Heinz Bütler, and a daytime symposium featuring eight guest lecturers and a concluding panel discussion with Eicher.

Enjoy Jazz / Heidelberg

The ECM 40th has been subtitled "The Blue Sound," inspired in part after a recent book by British author Richard Williams that discusses how Miles Davis' classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) has, like ripples in a pond, spread out to impact music from Terry Riley to The Velvet Underground—and, in no small way, helped create a context for Eicher's aesthetic vision. But, as with so many of Kern's decisions, it was something of a last minute one. Still, the idea for the celebration had been percolating in Kern's mind for some time. "I had the idea three years ago," Kern says. "I go to the ECM office in Munich three or four times a year, and meet with Manfred once or twice a year, where he plays me music that is coming out a year or two in the future. He was here in Heidelberg a few years ago, and we were out for dinner when I realized ECM was going to be forty in 2009, and that was the first time I said to him 'Hey, there should be something special,' just an abstract idea.

"And so I talked with him from year to year, and last December I took a train to Munich, met with Manfred and said, 'I'm going to apply for funding for a festival within a festival, is that OK with you for us to have an anniversary festival?' He said, 'do it,' so I applied for funding from Kulturstiftung des Bundes," the biggest and only federal cultural funding organization in Germany, and they said yes in April. So I went to Manfred and said, 'We have the funding,' and we began to plan it. ECM is not used to working with such tight timeframes, but I know that you can do very good things in a very short time. You don't need two years for every project. But we have a lot of festivals in the autumn, so finding four days that didn't conflict with the other jazz festivals was a challenge."

Kern found his weekend—October 22 to 25—and programming became the next hurdle. Given the relatively short time in which to organize a program to represent ECM's stylistic breadth, it's remarkable that, amongst those invited to the festival, only violist Kim Kashkashian and violinist/conductor Gidon Kremer were unable to attend, due to scheduling conflicts. But to program the ECM 40th, Kern again went against his norm by collaborating with two others to come up with a remarkable performance schedule that includes guitarists John Abercrombie, Egberto Gismonti, Terje Rypdal and Ralph Towner, clarinetist Louis Sclavis, oudist Anouar Brahem, bandonenonist Dino Saluzzi, cellist Anja Lechner, trumpeters Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu and three classical performances including the Keller Quartett, Thomas Zehetmair, Alexei Lubimov and others.

Enjoy Jazz / Rainer Kern"When I had the idea to apply for funding I thought it might be good to ask two journalists I like very much—Hans-Jürgen Linke and Wolfgang Sandner—to work with me on the project," Kern explains. "We sorted everything out, so in the end we took our ideas, narrowed them down, applied for the funding and got it. Once we had funding, we went to Munich and talked with Manfred, to get his opinion.

"The working title was "Klang und Vision" ("Sound and Vision")," Kern continues, "but we thought, 'That sounds too much like a new sound system.' I'm a big fan of musical titles, where you don't think about them in the beginning, just use them. Like the first sentence when you write a book—just write it, then you can write the book and then you can go back and change it if you want. So, after a while, we knew we wanted another title, so we had some ideas, and went for a meeting with Manfred. We were talking, and all the titles weren't working. And then, suddenly, Wolfgang mentioned a Kandinsky painting [Blue Painting, 1924], and Manfred had this Richard Williams book, The Blue Moment (Faber, 2009) on the table. The idea came from the Kandinsky painting; the book was just lying there, and everyone thought, 'Yeah.' You can't always explain it; everyone just thought it was right."

"The Blue Sound": An evocative title that doesn't require examination; it just feels right.

The daytime symposium, to be held on October 24, features eight noted journalists and academics including The Blue Moment's Richard Williams, BBC's Fiona Talkington, Daniel Soutif and Thomas Steinfeld and will cover a broad range of topics including the label's innovative approach to record production, ECM's survival in the rapidly shifting landscape of the music industry, and the impact of European music in general and Norwegian music in particular. This writer will also be delivering a lecture at the symposium, called "Slow Dissolve: ECM and the Recontextualizing of American Jazz."

All told, a four-day event that will provide a comprehensive cross-section of the label's ongoing innovation, and some discussion that is sure to be interesting (and, perhaps, controversial)—a feast for the eyes, the ears, the heart and the mind.

Enjoy Jazz will also bring the Norwegian Punkt festival, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary in Kristiansand Norway this past September, to Mannheim for a one-day event. The ongoing brainchild of producers/live samplers Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, its forward-thinking concept of "Live Remix" appealed to the equally future-centric Kern. "When I heard about the concept of Punkt," says Kern, "I was very interested as our festival has the name 'An International Festival for Jazz and More.' We've always covered a lot of things on the 'More' side, and one of my interests has been electronic music, but I've always found that 95% of the good electronic music didn't work onstage. So I've always been interested in finding cases where it did, which means you have to invite them to perform, and wait and see."

"A few years ago we had Lars Danielsson playing his Mélange Bleu (ACT, 2006) disc," Kern continues, "and Jan [Bang] was in the group. It was an evening where I was very busy, and I thought I'd see ten minutes and then go home to sleep as I was very tired, but I ended up staying for the whole concert, because I was so into the music. I was very fascinated with what Jan was doing, as he played electronics as if they were a full, real-time instrument. I still think—and say this to Jan every time I see him—that he's the best one who can do that onstage."

"And then I heard about the Punkt festival and thought 'Wow, that's right in the direction I was thinking of.' We were working with remixes a lot—but not live remixes—and it gave me an idea last year. Nik Bartsch was coming with Ronin, and I thought this could be a good project to be remixed. I called Nik and he said, 'Oh yeah, that sounds interesting,' but then a few days before we printed our booklet last year, he called me and said , 'I am really sorry, I think I was too hasty, I don't think we should do it, but I'm invited to Punkt this year; let me see what goes on there and we can may plan it for next year. I said, 'Fine, OK.'

Enjoy Jazz / Heidelberg

"I normally go to London for three days after the Enjoy Jazz festival, just to be away. The London Jazz Festival is going on, and it so happened, last year, that I was invited by the festival, the British Council and the Norwegians, because they had "See Norway," a two week Norwegian festival, curated by Fiona Talkington. They had Punkt as part of it, so I had a chance to see it one evening and I really liked it—saw a fantastic remix. So I saw the concept in reality and that evening I talked to Jan and said, 'Next year you have to come to my festival.' It was originally planned as a two-day festival, but for logistical reasons we had to make it a one-day event."

While some of Punkt's usual suspects will be in Mannheim for this edition—Bang and Honoré, along with guitarist Eivind Aarset and singer Sidsel Endresen—it will also include, in addition to performances by Punkt godfather Jon Hassell and this year's winner of the British Mercury Prize, Sweet Billy Pilgrim (who put on a terrific show at Punkt in Kristiansand this year), a German contingent including Kammerflimmer Kollektief and Ensemble Modern. "Ensemble Modern is a very unusual choice," Kern says. "I did a huge project with them, Karl Nicolai and Ryuchi Sakamoto, for the anniversary of the city of Mannheim. So I am very close to Ensemble Modern and I thought that what they're doing, with contemporary classical music, and what I think we're doing, with Punkt, would work very well together. No boundaries."

No boundaries, indeed. With a program that ranges from Charles Lloyd, Cassandra Wilson and Wayne Shorter to Portico Quartet, Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet, Vijay Iyer, Ola Kvernberg and Erik Truffaz, not to mention a bounty of ECM-related artists inside and outside the 40th Anniversary celebration, Enjoy Jazz is a truly unique festival. Running at an unexpectedly relaxed pace, with music across the broadest possible jazz spectrum and beyond, Enjoy Jazz may be one that requires considerable time to capture, but between the captivating programming and the stunningly beautiful region where it takes place, it's hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't take the time to take in everything on offer.

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