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Jazzfest Berlin 2012: Berlin, Germany, November 1-4, 2012

Henning Bolte By

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Jazzfest Berlin 2012
Berlin, Germany
November 1-4, 2012
In 1964, famous pioneering jazz aficionado and impresario Joachim E. Behrendt founded the legendary Berlin Jazztage. The event, nowadays named Jazzfest Berlin, with its tumultuous history and multitude of faces, has since worked with a variety of different artistic directors. This year was the beginning of a new four-year term and the first edition of new director Bert Noglik, from Leipzig. As a critic, writer and journalist, Noglik has played a prominent role—comparable to that of Berendt—for the new European improvised music that developed in Eastern Germany, the former German Democratic Republic, in the 1960s and '70s. In the recent past he was artistic director of the Leipzig Jazzfestival (1992-2007), and since 2009 he has also curated Berlin's Sounds No Walls— Friends & Neighbours in Jazz festival, Jazz from Poland (2009), South African Jazz Connections (2010), and Jazz & Jewish Culture (2011).

The festival's primary venue was the Festspielhaus, with its 1,000 seat main hall plus a small stage supporting 200 seats. In the late hours each night during the festival there were concerts in two clubs—A-Trane and Quasimodo—as well as at the Academy. These concerts slightly overlapped with each evening's closing concerts at the Festspielhaus. The venues were sold separately, and most of the concerts were sold out well in advance.

Consequently, clear choices have to be made. Access for journalist is not guaranteed for any concerts other than on the main stage. Ticketholders had priority; as a result it, some concerts could not be attended.

Chapter Index

Strong Marks

In his first edition Noglik, made strong marks by focusing on jazz as it relates to society and history, as well as to other artistic disciplines like poetry, cinema and dance. Noglik put two key musical figures of 20th century in the spotlight: composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) and pianist Jutta Hipp (1925-2003), both born and raised in Leipzig. Two special productions were premiered at the main venue, Haus der Berliner Festspiele: Remembering Jutta Hipp, an homage to the outstanding German jazz pianist of the 1950s; and Das Kapital (named after the famous work of Karl Marx) staged Wanted! Hanns Eisler, an audiovisual tribute to Eisler's work, with live video projections by directors Nicolas Humbert and Martin Otter. Another special production, Songs for Kommeno, featured drummer Gunter Baby Sommer's commemoration of the massacre of the German Army in the Greek Village of Kommeno during WWII, with a group of Greek Musicians including reed multi-instrumentalist Floros Floridis, bassist Spilios Kastanis, oudist Evgenius Voulgaris, and singer Savina Yannatou.

Noglik also explicitly connected the new edition of the festival to Germany's free music movement of some decades ago, by reviving former locations for its activities, like the Total Music Meeting, the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), in the western part of the city. For many years, the Total Music Meeting—which started in 1968 and the foundation of Free Music Production with FMP label as a part of it one year later—was separated from the "big" festival, as an off-festival event, but gradually young rebels like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Han Bennink, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Peter Kowald crossed over, moving to-and-fro between both worlds. In 2009, Total Music Meeting ceased to exist, but in 2012 Noglik took it up again and tried to integrate it with his festival.

Eisler and Hipp

In the case of Eisler and Hipp, big history and personal history are intertwined heavily. Like his teacher, Arnold Schönberg, and his artistic collaborator, writer Bertold Brecht, Eisler took refuge in California in the early 1930s. Eisler was indicted by the Un-American Activities Committee after the end of the war; deported from the United States in 1947 and subsequently expelled from Britain, he then settled in East Berlin, where he was reunited Bertold Brecht.

Hipp, a young woman of 22 living in Leipzig at the time, was the most advanced jazz talent in Germany. Hipp went the opposite direction, first from the Soviet zone in Eastern Germany to Munich, and later Frankfurt in the Western part of Germany, where she collaborated with the excellent reed player Hans Koller and turned into a leading figure in jazz in post-war Germany. In 1954, she became the first European and the first woman recorded by Alfred Lion's Blue Note label. That was the beginning of her American career and so, In 1955, she moved to New York to play and record with American musicians. She had a group with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Ed Thigpen, played at the1956 Newport Festival and recorded for Blue Note with saxophonist Zoot Sims. Soon after, in 1958, she quit music and made her living as a worker in a sewing factory in Queens. She never returned to Europe and died in 2003.

Eisler navigated through cold war unruliness on the eastern side of the iron curtain. He even composed the hymn of the newly constituted eastern German state, the GDR. However, he never lost his keenness in its intimate interplay with his lyrical side. That is one of the reasons his music is still that vividly attractive, feeding new generations of musicians like young Dutch rebel, saxophonist Willem Breuker, and nowadays the young Danish, French and German group Das Kapital. Eisler died soon after the Berlin wall fell, ending the need to move the between western and eastern parts of both Berlin and Germany.

Four female pianists from different generations and angles performed or received tributes on the festival's first day: Jutta Hipp, Julia Hulsmann, Geri Allen and Irene Schweizer. The following day featured more women, including organist Amina Claudine Myers and pianists Marilyn Crispell, Aki Takase and Mary Lou Williams.


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