Jazz Festival Ljubljana 2019

Henning Bolte By

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Cankarjev Dom
Jazz Festival Ljubljana
June 18-22, 2019

Ljubljana—capital of the Republic of Slovenia, member of the EU, neighbored by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy—hosts a now six decades old jazz festival. The event is organized by Cankarjev House/Cankarjev Dom, a prestigious, state-run cultural center in midtown Ljubljana opposite the Slovenian parliament. The center resides in one of the impressive two neighboring towers, the other part being the National Bank of Slovenia.

Cankarjev Dom was created in the 1980s to foster collaboration between all art disciplines. Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) is held to be the most important writer to shape Slovenian identity: "Cankarjev Dom believes that cultural, artistic and scientific creativity meets the basic condition for attaining spiritual freedom and the richer spiritual lives of people and social development."

Billy Hart

Veteran master Billy Hart (1940) was the clearest link to the early pioneering days of the festival in the early 60s. In those days Hart was connected to the group of the Montgomery Brothers (Monk, Wes, Buddy), to Wes Montgomery, Buck Hill, Shirley Horn, Jimmy Smith and also new soul artists such as Otis Redding and Sam . At the end of the 60s, he moved into new territories with, amongst others, Herbie Hancock Sextet and Dave Liebman (Quest). He has been visible through the course of more than five decades. In Ljubljana this found its expression in his appearance in the trio of Slovenian musician of the youngest generation, pianist Marko Črnčec/Churnchetz (1986) together with Dutch bassist Joris Teepe /Joris Taipe/ (1962) from the middle generation. The trio played a magnificent, enjoyable set with wonderful dynamics and great finesse thereby drawing a line from the past to the height of the present.

While Joris Teepe has been running in the circuit for quite a while, active in Europe as well the in the US, New York resident Marko Churnchetz has already a notably number of albums under his belt, among which are Devotion with Mark Shim, Chris Tordini and Justin Brown and the latest one Ace To Live with Harish Raghavan, Justin Brown and Jonathan Hoard. The trio with Hart and Teepe celebrated its first album Brooklyn Sessions.

Bits of history

When going back to the time of the first Jazz Festivals in Europe it becomes clear that all came into being on the Eastern and North-Western periphery and not in Central Europe. Looking closer, it also becomes clear how it depended on politics on a macro and a micro level. These are a few landmarks of the history of jazz festivals (in Europe) taking the Newport Festival in the USA as point of departure:

Newport (USA) 1954, Sopot (Poland) 1956, Warsaw (Poland) 1958, Bled (Yugoslavia/Slovenia) 1960, Juan-Les-Pins (France) 1960, Molde (Norway) 1961, Berlin (Germany) 1964, Montreux (Switzerland) 1967, The Hague (1976).

Jazz Festival Ljubljana has an impressive history of six decades. It did not run in a straight line throughout but had a few crooked parts too. It started in 1960 as Yugoslavia Jazz Festival in Bled and 1967 moved to Ljubljana. Another significant turning point was 12 years later in 1979 when the festival organization was handed to the then newly established Cultural Center Cankarjev Dom, a state organization in former Yugoslavia. This caused a schism between Cankarjev Dom and the original organizer, Jazz Society Ljubljana, as well as an internal schism at Cankarjev Dom itself.

After the festival organization was given to Cankarjev dom, Jazz Society Ljubljana started again organizing a Yugoslavian jazz music focused festival held in Bled. Until the mid-1990s it also organized regular jazz concerts in Ljubljana, worked on the local jazz culture, managing, for example, to install a jazz course into Ljubljana Music and Ballet Conservatory curriculum. In 2003, the Festival of Slovenian Jazz was held at hotel Lev in Ljubljana and afterwards was moved to Ravne na Koroškem.

Internal controversies about the artistic direction of the Ljubljana Festival led to so much pressure that the people responsible for a more open musical programming of the festival left in 1984 and established the Druga Godba Festival. In practice, it means that there are now three different festivals as successors of the original festival founded in 1960.

In the '80s, Jazz Festival Ljubljana got a clear international perspective and direction. In 1982, Sun Ra Orchestra appeared there as well as Steve Lacy & Mal Waldron (1982), Irene Schweizer (1982), Lester Bowie Ensemble (1982), Vienna Art Orchestra (ca. 1985), Anthony Braxton Quartet (1985), Julius Hemphill Jah Band (1985), Dudu Pukwana & Zila (1986), McCoy Tyner Trio (1986), The Art Ensemble of Chicago (1987), and Henry Threadgill Sextet (1989). The 90s brought Steve Coleman's Five Elements (1990), Miles Davis (1991), Don Byron Klezmer Orchestra (1994), Bill Frisell Group , Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos (2001), Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (2002), Jan Garbarek Group (2003), Ornette Coleman Quartet (2004), Abdullah Ibrahim (2005), , Alexander von Schlippenbach & Die Enttäuschung (2006), and Charlie Haden Quartet West (2008). For the more recent history see my review here (2017), here (2014) and here (2012). Artistic director Bogdan Benigar has profiled the festival and the Jazz and World Series of Cankarjev Dom the past decade in cooperation first with Pedro Costa from Lisbon, then with Edin Zubčević from Sarajevo.

Slovenian fields

This year's edition presented a greater number of homegrown musicians of different generations and Slovenian musicians from abroad (New York, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen).

Alphabet/Young Explorer series

The Alphabet and Young Explorers series organized by renowned Slovenian drummer Dre Hocevar. The series was set up in order to bring new generations of musicians close to the goings-on of the festival and to strengthen ties with the young scene. It happened here with the series in a much freer way than through the usual showcase format.


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