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Jazzfestival Umeå 2013

Henning Bolte By

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Jazzfestival Umeå
Umeå, Sweden
October 23-27, 2013

Umeå, 400 miles/650 km north of Stockholm at the Ume river and near the gulf of Bothnia, is the capital of Västerbotten County. The city is located in the plain coastal strip with an enormous wide horizon on all sides, and everything within reach in the city itself.

The municipality with about 117,000 inhabitants is an important traffic junction for the northern region as well as an educational, cultural and medical center of the area. It has the lowest average age of any city in Sweden. Its lively creative scene has resulted in its appointment as the European Capital of Culture for 2014.

Umeå, a special place to let things happen

Frederik Lindegren, the festival's young artistic director, set up a creative- -and successful—campaign with an impressive, attractive program spread related to the eight seasons of the year of the Sami people. One of the strengths of Umeå, it seems, is the ease of collaboration between different art disciplines, genres and styles. A reflection of this could be seen at the festival with its very young and international corps of volunteers connected to various university institutes, schools and international businesses. I met and talked to Flemish people from Antwerp, German people from Rostock and Polish people from Wroclaw. A reflection of this is the way the international guests were received. In no time, guests were familiarized with the festival and felt well cared for. A guided tour by the artistic director immediately after arrival and an intimate dinner the next evening, all completely natural but very special nonetheless.

Gestures like these and an open ground make things happen. But there is also a firm belief people stick to and do not hide or run away from. That is what makes things flourish. This is contrary to moods in other parts of Europe: "When taxpayers' money funds culture it sometimes provokes strong feelings. But Umeå's politicians need ''ice in their blood'' to stand firm against populist and anti-culture sentiment, and combine this resolve with the collective will of the municipality's residents to keep the public free from the suggestion of xenophobia or racism," said Leif Larsson, journalist and former culture editor at Västerbottens-Kuriren.

The Umeå festival was founded in 1968 and is run by the local opera house Norrlandsoperan. Its director, Marco Feklistoff, is very present, around during the whole festival, approachable and open to exchange. During the last 20 years the programming of the jazz festival was in hands of artistic director Lennart Strömbäck, a man still driven after all these years. Umeå not only has this festival with its long history, it has a rich musical culture with a.o. Meshuggah, one of the most world famous Swedish metal bands, who originate from the city. And more recently, rock band Refused made a name worldwide. They released an album The Shape Of Punk To Come, A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts (Burning Heart, 1998), creatively alluding to Ornette Coleman's legendary album The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959).

The festival's philosophy is all a consequence of the unifying concept of K- society, propagated by Åke E. Andersson, a Swedish economist 25 years ago: "kunskap, kreativitet, kultur, kommunikation"—knowledge, creativity, culture, communication. Culture as one of the most powerful forces for growth and development. It enforces self- consciousness contrary to populism which is a manifestation of lack of self- consciousness and (aggressive) fear, discomfort, uncertainty.

Festival locations are the opera house, and just a stone's throw away Folkets Hus, with its more than 10 halls of different sizes and shapes, a typical socialistic people's culture palace from the 1960s. Walking around and looking at Umeå you might say it is a city with three utopias, the old socialistic one manifested by Folkets Hus, the commercial one manifested in the brand new oversized shopping center, and in between the feministic one which manifests itself in various non-stony forms.

This years's Jazzfestival

The festival opened on Wednesday with a concert by talented music students from Midgårdskolan. Thursday offered two concerts: one with the symphony orchestra of the Opera House (Norrlandsoperan), featuring Argentian bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi with German cellist Anja Lechner and reedist Felix Saluzzi, followed by a concert of Chris Potter Underground at Studiojazz in Folkets Hus. On Friday the number of concerts increased considerably to 12. Saturday was the busiest day with more than 25 concerts. On Sunday evening all volunteers of the festival gathered for a dinner and celebrated a concert given by young local/regional musicians. On Friday and Saturday both, a seminar dedicated to jazz-related issues was held, plus a concert for children as well as a singing workshop.

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