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European Jazz Conference 2019

Ian Patterson By

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On a Lighter Note...

The EJC is a bit like a large wedding -a gathering of an extended family and old friends. During the more solemn rituals a certain quiet gravitas prevails. In between the choreographed acts, however, old friends catch up and socialize. A very amiable atmosphere surrounds each EJC, and Novara, with its small-town feel, contributed a lot to the relaxed atmosphere at this year's conference. Novara opened its doors to EJC attendees, providing cultural tours on the Sunday to some of the city's most cherished sites: The Gallery of Modern Art Paolo and Adele Giannoni; the Cupola of San Guadenzio, the symbol of Novara; the Faraggiana Ferrandi Museum of Natural History; the Basilica of San Guadenzio; the Cathedral of Novara; all revealed something of the rich history, art, religion and culture of Novara.

And who will forget the sight of Novara Jazz's Corrado Beldi entering the stage of the Teatro Coccia on a bicycle? The wheels were the prize for the person who had travelled farthest by bicycle or train to reach the conference. This initiative was part of the EJN's Take The Green Train programme, aimed at encouraging a lower carbon footprint. The winner, and proud recipient of the Novara Jazz-branded bicycle, was Nigel Slee of Jazz North, who travelled from Leeds, England, by bicycle and train.

To defend his title for the EJC 2020, Mr. Slee will probably need more than the one bottle of wine to steel him for for the one thousand, three hundred and seventy-six miles from Leeds to Sofia.

Paul Grabowsky: EJC Wrap Up

After three days of meetings, discussions, talks, music and good food, it fell to guest speaker Paul Grabowsky to summarize for the attendees the main points, as he saw them, of the EJC 2019. Pianist, composer and curator Paul Grabowsky is one of the most preeminent figures in the Australian arts and has an acute feel for the cultural roles of music and the arts in society.

In a thoughtful and inspiring ten-minute summary of the EJC 2019 Grabowsky examined the contested ideas behind words like jazz, European and soul. In a broad-ranging speech he spoke of the ancient arts culture of Aboriginal Australia, alluded to the dangers of global warming and the rise of the far right, and praised the commitment and passion of the EJC attendees towards jazz.

Music formed the centre of Grabowky's talk. He underlined the capability of jazz/improvised music as positive force for the good, for transformation, for growth. He also recognized Europe's historic role in the embrace and propagation of jazz.

Perhaps it was no surprise that Grabowsky's most profound insights were inspired by the conference's two brilliant keynote speakers—Du Yun and Tania Bruguera. From Yun he focused on her notion of art and liminal spaces, drawing comparison to jazz, itself the result of different forces coming together and becoming something new. Jazz, he said, is the great survivor, and though he didn't agree outright with Reiner Michalke's opinion that jazz is an idiom that belongs to the twentieth century, he seemed to suggest that the music we call jazz today is something very different.

From Bruguera, Grabowsky highlighted the idea that art itself contains the seeds of socio-political reform and creates a safe place for people to share their ideas and freedom, which he said was a beautiful expression of something that was also true of jazz.

Grabowsky concluded by sharing the three principles he imparts to his music students: technical command that allows you to say what you want to say; listening closely, which is a decision that allows communication to continue flowing; and trust. These three guiding principles, Grabowsky said, apply to life in general.

In Conclusion

Warm praise must go to Corrado Beldi, Enrico Bettinello and Veronica Devechi of Novara Jazz and their team, and to the Municipality of Novara, who together made the EJC 2019 such an enjoyable and memorable experience. The food, drink, general hospitality was second to none. Where else but Italy would a sommelier tell you off for the mix-and match cold foods on your buffet plate that make his job of recommending a wonderful red wine so difficult?

The membership of the Europe Jazz Network and attendance at the conference grows year on year. Portable toilets may be the way forward as the EJC moves on to Sofia, Bulgaria for its next edition in 2020. Whether or not UK delegates will have to obtain special visa to travel there remains to be seen. Brexit will no doubt rumble on for some time to come. All will be revealed in next year's post-Brexit discussion group. Former members of the European Union will be welcome.

That the EJC address the big socio-political issues is testament to the seriousness of its intent. There may only have been two rather bemused individuals in the session on European Copyright, but that experts on such matters are invited to the EJC to share their knowledge on fundamentally important matters to the music industry and to musicians is also an indication that jazz does not exist in a bubble.

In an increasingly complex and often threatening world, jazz musicians, promoters, agents and festival directors are affected by the changing tides of economics, politics and legislation, just like everybody else. The Europe Jazz Network, through culture, is striving to improve communication, to increase mutual understanding and to encourage collaboration. That the EJN aspires to inclusiveness and equality in times when such ideals are widely threatened is both reassuring and something to be applauded.

The 2020 European Jazz Conference will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, 10 -13 September.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Emanuele Meschini/Novara Jazz, Mario Finotti
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