12

European Jazz Conference 2019

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count

Discussion Groups: Sharing Expertise Between Professionals

A major feature of the annual EJC are the afternoon sessions on areas of interest to the members of the Europe Jazz Network. This year, subjects included: the effectiveness and impact of showcases; immersive technologies and their ability to enhance live music presentation; funding streams; the mobility of musicians around Europe in the wake of Brexit; new European copyright regulations; the latest in jazz research.

These sessions came a day after the parallel working groups that focused on EJN's ongoing projects, subjects of which included gender balance, social inclusion and environmental impact. Those sessions were for EJN members only. A full report the EJN's ongoing projects and the 'sharing expertise' sessions will be available on the EJC conference report, due for publication in December.

Suffice it to say, the great range of activity around the business of making jazz music, whether it be socio-political, logistical and regulatory, financial, academic or technological, is proof that jazz does not exist in a vacuum. Like any industry, a large number of individuals and organisations oil the wheels of the commerce and help enable the art to flourish. That said, it's important to remember that it's the music and the musicians who drive everything.

Keynote Speech # 2

Tania Bruguera: Political Timing Specific Art

Living and working between her native Cuba and New York, Tania Bruguera's installation and performance art examines the relationship between political power and art. Though this internationally renowned artist has been arrested and jailed on more than one occasion for her art, she continues to jab a metaphorical stick in the face of authoritarian rule as she draws attention to political injustices.

Site specific art that embraces culture and history is all very well, she told the EJC audience, but it must provoke discussions that wouldn't ordinarily take place in everyday walks of life.

Central to Bruguera's art, she explained, is her notion of time-specific political art. Instead of responding with art to the political abuse of power, say, five years after the event, it is her aim to raise difficult issues when people's nerves are still raw.

Another important consideration for Bruguera is that her art must be part of people's reality. A number of photographs exemplified Bruguera's art, much of which has a metaphorical feel to it. As the artist explained, the beauty of metaphor in political art is that people can interpret it whatever way they wish.

Some of Bruguera's projects are more politically literal than others, for example, The Francis Effect, which, she explained, involved collecting signatures to petition Pope Francis to ask for Vatican citizenship for all the undocumented migrants and refugees in the world. This petition, which to date has collected over 20,000 signatures is a challenge to the political power of the Pope, his office and the Vatican state. It is also, at its core, about humanity.

Going deeper into the concept of political timing-specific art, Bruguera described an art installation she conceived of with the thaw in Cuban-US relations, back when Fidel Castro and Barack Obama were getting a little cozier together. The installation consisted of a microphone in Revolution Square, Havana, and an open invitation to people to announce their fears and hopes for Cuba. The installation brought together a small number of dissidents and activists; a gathering far smaller than the one million Cubans who gathered to hear a Castro speech. The important thing, Bruguera said, is to demonstrate political agency to people. A single person can voice an idea that everyone is thinking.

That particular installation and gathering saw over eighty arrests, including Bruguera, but she used the multiple interrogation sessions she faced to discuss art, installation and theatre with her interrogators.

When her project to read aloud Hannah Arendt's book The Origins of Totalitarianism for one hundred hours resulted in a work team arriving to drill and break up the road and thus drown out the reading, Bruguera celebrated the government's creative response to her art.

A driving question for Bruguera is not so much what is art, but what is art for? Raising issues, yes, challenging authoritarian politics, that too. But Bruguera explained, vital to her art is her attempt to bring people into the process. This came to pass with Bruguera's commission by London's Tate Modern, where a giant, 'invisible' floor painting of an anonymous refuge—given the name Joseph—was revealed with the heat of human contact. Many people were required to achieve the full effect, a comment on mass participation in bringing about political change.

And what better way to bring people into a project than by creating a new community, one that only came into being with an art project? Bruguera created the Tate Group, neighbors of the Tate Modern, one of whom had never set foot inside.

The Tate Group asked the Tate Modern to name one of its buildings after someone revered and respected in the neighborhood. The person in question was Natalie Bell, a veteran social worker in the area. Bell had found the refugee 'Joseph' homeless on the street and helped him to get on his feet. Today, thanks to the lobbying of the Tate Group— strangers to each other before this project began—one half of the building is named after Natalie Bell.

For Bruguera, art cannot be beautiful unless it has an ethical framework. "Political art may not change the world, but it can change our political behavior."

Politically, economically and environmentally, the world is in flux as never before. Bruguera sees a greater need than ever for artists to respond to the dangers. "Fascism is on the rise everywhere in the world and artists recognize that they have a function, to wake people up, to stir their activism and even to make them angry. Certain things are not to be accepted."

Coda

The Europe Jazz Network, with its work on social inclusion, gender balance and environmental awareness, is attempting to conduct its affairs in an ever more ethical framework. This work is important but there is still a long way to go before jazz is once more understood as a popular music that is accessible to all.

Walking around the historic centre of Novara and surrounding neighborhoods one could observe Africans in not insignificant numbers. A Gay Pride manifestation was being held in the square right next to the EJC, with its own music to animate the crowd. Societies everywhere, we were reminded, are pluralistic. Is jazz? Once championed as the music of freedom and protest, jazz is all too often viewed by outsiders as music of the elite. And perhaps with good reason. Of course, that's not the full picture, but tackling that perception is perhaps the greatest challenge facing jazz programmers today.

Global Perspectives on New Ways of Programming

As a network, European predominantly, but with an increasingly global reach (Australia, Israel, Azerbaijan), the EJN is all about sharing expertise, experience and best practices. As jazz and its audiences continue to evolve, and as festivals seek to offer audiences new experiences, the art of programming and curating successful festivals becomes more demanding, more nuanced.

This panel, moderated by Martyna Markowska—Artistic Director of Katowice JazzArt Festival—picked the brains of four of the world's most lauded festival directors: Johan Gijsen, Director of Le Guess Who? in Utrecht; Rainbow Robert, Managing Director of Vancouver International Jazz Festival; Louis Rastig, Artistic Director of A L'ARME! in Berlin; and Reiner Michalke, former Artistic Director of Moers Festival and currently Artistic Director of Monheim Triennale -a new festival in Germany.

The odd festival out of the four was the Monheim Triennale, not only because it's the only one not to operate annually, but because it will only celebrate its first edition in 2020. After many years directing jazz festivals, including the celebrated Moers Festival for eleven years, Michalke declared himself bored with jazz festivals and in need of a new challenge. His vision for Monheim Triennale, needless to say, is of a festival that embraces any music, regardless of genre.

This broad-church approach is also common to Le Guess Who?, L'ARME! and the more jazz centric VIJF. All three festivals boast quite eclectic line-ups that in a given year can see experimental hip-hop, avant-garde rock, electronic, noise and contemporary composed music rubbing shoulders with jazz of various stripes. Though this trend towards genre-inclusive/genre-fluid programming is becoming commonplace at jazz festivals throughout the world, Michalke no doubt still raised a few eyebrows in the audience when he said that jazz was an historic idiom of the twentieth century, adding that he was more interested in the music of today and tomorrow.

It wasn't the only time in the conference that someone spoke of a post-jazz era.

Rastig said that programming decisions follows on from the questions: why programme music? who is the music for? In the same way we speak of carbon footprints, a festival leaves a cultural footprint. This is why it is so important, he stressed, to understand the aims of a festival from the outset.

Robert explained how the VIJF's selection of artists is based on how they will relate to, inspire and strengthen the local scene. Collaboration between artists is another common denominator between the four festivals

All four directors spoke of communication, inspiration and innovation. Travelling, all agreed, is the best way to discover exciting new music. Surprisingly, perhaps, Michalke said that he didn't listen to CDs or watch YouTube for ideas. Besides travelling to showcase events and festivals, Michalke listened to the word-of-mouth recommendations of musicians and seasoned journalists.

Both Rastig and Robert have been brought in as co-curators of Michalke's Monheim Triennale -a case of three heads are better than one. Roberts also acknowledged the important collaborative relations between the VIJF and the Europe Jazz Network. Clearly, there is a difference between programming a festival of three or four days— pretty much the norm for jazz—and a festival like the VIJF, which runs for ten days. As Robert noted, the longer the festival, the greater the potential range and depth of the music on offer.

There are also different programming pressures for an annual festival compared to a tri-annual festival. The latter is surely expected to raise the bar, a challenge that Michalke welcomes. All four agreed that matching music with an appropriate venue is an absolutely crucial element of successful programming. As Michalke said, the very best music can sound strangely unsatisfying in the wrong venue.

Robert likely spoke for the others when she said: ""We have a commitment to surprise the people in our city. We want people to change the way that they think about what is inspiring in art and what music means to us as human beings."

Gijsen acknowledge the large number of incredible musicians around the world who work outside the industry to a significant degree. It is Le Guess Who?'s goal to find and help promote such musicians, he said, a sentiment that drew applause from the EJC audience.

This latter point was picked up by EJN member Nod Knowles, who suggested that future editions of the EJC could invite grassroots promoters, curators and musicians— those who work independently and who do not enjoy the luxury of funding or of operating with significant budgets—to see what could be learned from their approaches. "I think we would get another perspective that might prove inspiring," Knowles said to general applause.
About Massimo Urbani
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...

Tags

Watch

Jazz Near Novara
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related