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Jazzahead! 2014

Jazzahead! 2014
John Kelman By

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Jazzahead! 2014
Bremen, Germany
April 24-27, 2014

It's hard to imagine, with diminishing music sales, the emergence of streaming services as the musical version of the antichrist for musicians and the increasing challenge of putting rear ends into seats at North American jazz festivals, but as it heads into its ninth year, Jazzahead! continues to provide unassailable evidence that it may be struggling to be so, but jazz is, indeed, a business. A place where artists, labels, festival presenters, club owners, publicists, media and anyone else in any way connected to jazz can comingle in the contexts of daytime conference streams, performance showcases and booths, booths, booths—all manned (peopled?) by folks who want you to hear their latest release(s) and check out their band(s)—Jazzahead! has become the place to go if you're looking to find your way into an international network of jazz industry people that quite literally covers every continent but two: the Arctic and Antarctica...and if a jazz band ever emerged on one of those two isolated locations, they'd no doubt be added to the Jazzahead! roster, too.

One of the most admirable and appealing aspects to Jazzahead! is that it is staffed by people who listen. The event has grown (a very good thing) to the point where it was becoming increasingly difficult to cover evening showcases in the nearby Kulturzentrum Schlachthof—literally an old slaughterhouse that has been converted into a performance space, bar and restaurant, where so many people were going that unless you were there early enough to find a seat, more often than not you had to listen from near the door (not always in the hall), trying to look over masses of peoples' shoulders to catch a glimpse of the act. While there are even more solutions planned for invited journalists who were having trouble getting their work done, the 2014 edition of Jazzahead! already made one very significant improvement: to open up one of the halls in the Congress Centre that houses the majority of the event's activities for evening showcases, so that there were now two venues to choose from. The result was relief in both venues and, while it might well have been possible to move back and forth between them, one of the other problems with becoming a regular at Jazzahead!—and one that nobody expects the organizers to resolve— is that most attempts to keep to a strict schedule are scuttled simply because, walking from one venue to another, or even from one end of a hall to another, someone—or, more often than not, someones—will yell out, "Hey! John!!" and the next thing you know, you're seeing someone you've not seen in months or perhaps even years, trying to catch up with them while still attempting to stick to that schedule.

So, after two prior years covering Jazzahead—2011 and 2012—the big lessons learned have been: don't over-commit, don't try to take in everything, and....relax. The result? Jazzahead! 2014 was the most pleasant experience yet, with plenty accomplished, and that includes, despite being there for only two full days, catching more music than in the previous years, and with far less stress and considerably more comfort.

As ever, the booths represented a cornucopia of music covering the broadest possible purview of jazz. Curious what ECM is up to? There's a booth. Looking to find out more about ACT, Intakt, Enja, Effendi, Hubro, ILK, Whirlwind or the nearly countless collection of established labels and others looking to break into the market? No problem. Want to find out what's going on in Norway, Finland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and pretty much any country where jazz is being released has on offer? It's all there. In fact, one noticeable change in Jazzahead! over the past several years is that more and more countries are setting up booths so that artists, labels and other industry folks who might not be able to justify one will have a defined place where they can set up meetings.

Of course, there's always the coffee bar and cafeteria for more informal get- togethers and, if you're lucky enough to be booked in it, the adjoining Maritim Hotel (connected by an indoor hallway to the congress centre) where it's rarely possible to predict with whom you'll be sharing breakfast, but one thing is for sure: you'll never be eating alone.

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