Jazz Finland Festival/European Jazz Conference
Hotel Crowne Plaza/Various Venues Helsinki
September 18-21, 2014
When the steamship RMS Andania docked in the port of Helsinki in 1926 it unloaded more than just cargo. The American jazz group the Andania Yankees that disembarked stayed for two months and effectively kick-started jazz in the Finnish capital. Today, Finnish jazz is in rude health and it was the mission of the Finnish Jazz Federation
to showcase a broad cross-section of its finest up-and-coming jazz talent to the two hundred or so jazz professionals gathered in Helsinki for the General Assembly of the European Jazz Network
, which for the first time was also open to non-member professionals. The European Jazz Network
As the name suggests, the three-day Jazz Finland Festival was essentially a shop window aimed at the dozens of jazz festival directors, agents and journalists of the EJN who had come from every corner of Europe. Jazz professionals from Russia, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, The UK, Ireland, France, Rumania, Moravia, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Macedonia, Denmark, Estonia, Portugal, Turkey, Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belgium, Austria and Germanyall assembled for what was billed for the first time as the European Jazz Conference.
After the welcome and official opening by Annamaija Saarela, President of the EJN, the usual business of any General Assemblya review of the year and significant developments, counting the pennies in the piggy bank and strategies for the year aheadduly took place. But with jazz professionals also invited from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia for a panel discussion entitled Beyond Europe
there was a broader scope to the conference than networking or discussing the health of jazz within a purely European network. Jazz Beyond Europe
Paul Augustin, Director of the Penang Island Jazz Festival
, Agus Setiawan of Wartajazz
from Indonesia and Joanne Kee, Artistic programmer for both the Sydney Improvised Music Association
and the Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival and editor of Jazz Australia
reminded all present that jazz has a history throughout Australasia almost as old as jazz itself. Significantly too, Australia and many Asian countries boast thriving jazz scenes (Indonesia has fifty three jazz festivals at time of writing) that represent healthy opportunities for cultural exchange and business. Money, Magazines and Market Forces
Jazz, lest we forget or choose to ignore the factat our perilis a business after all. Whilst money is unlikely the primary motivation for a young musician to pick up an instrument and tune it to a jazz frequency or for those fantastic Looney Tunes to start up jazz festivals (or jazz magazines for that matter), nothing much happens without the circulation of money. Festivals cannot run without serious capital in place, musicians struggle to tour without financial backing and CDs don't make and promote themselves.
It was a reality check to attend the European Jazz Media session, ably moderated by Cyril Moshkoweditor of Russian jazz magazine Jazz.RUand learn of the dwindling numbers of hard-copy jazz magazines. When a top-quality magazine like Spain's Cuadernos de Jazzfounded in 1990 by Raúl Mao and María Antonia Garcífolds as a hard copy concern in the face of the financial crisis it sends shockwaves through the international jazz media. More importantly, however, people lose their jobs.
Fourteen writers and photographers attended the sessiondown on previous years. Full-time professionals like Jon Newey of Jazzwise magazine fame were outnumbered by part-timers, volunteer enthusiasts and that increasingly common speciesbloggers. What was encouraging, however, was the unquestioned enthusiasm for the cause and the determination to keep on bearing the standard through the battlefield. Most jazz media operates at the financial margins of the industrya position which hardly reflects the important job that it does in promoting the musicians and their music.
Market forces, however, prevail, no matter how unpalatable that fact is for jazz professionals of all stripes. It was a slight surprise to learn therefore, that the twenty or so Finnish jazz bands that performed thirty-minute showcase concerts over the three days weren't paid. The argument, perhaps, is that with so many European festival directors in the audience, not forgetting those from Indonesia, Malaysia and Australiaas well as delegates from Japanany musician should be happy to play for free knowing that a good performance might be the passport to performing at foreign jazz festivals. It's an argument, however, that many festivals themselves use to lure bands cheaply and one that musicians are no doubt sick of hearing. What's In A Name?