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Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012

Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012
John Kelman By

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Trondheim Jazz Festival
Trondheim, Norway
May 9-13, 2012
Being Norway's third largest city, next to Oslo and Bergen, means something completely different to being the third largest city in Canada or the United States. With more than 25,000 students in a city of approximately 160,000 people, it's not unlike (albeit a little larger than) Kingston, Canada, another university town whose size places it, however, as that country's 58th largest.

But there's more to Trondheim than its Norwegian ranking and paradoxically diminutive size. Traveling to Norway every year since 2006, it's become evident that small town Norway means something else entirely. At the southern tip of the country in Kristiansand, home of the annual Punkt Festival, a town of 75,000 means not just an art gallery (Sorlandet) and a conservatory, but a new state of the art concert house in the recently opened Kilden, housing the Agder Regional Theatre, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and Opera Sør. Compare this to most North American towns that size, which would be lucky to have a few cinemas, and Norway's commitment to supporting culture around the country becomes crystal clear.

Like Kristiansand, Trondheim's support for the arts is certain—perhaps even more so. Its NTNU-Trondheim—the Norwegian University of Science and Technology—houses a Department of Music that consolidates its former Department of Musicology and the renowned Trondheim Conservatory of Music, a school that has seen a number of now well-known artists pass through its doors, including trumpeters Mathias Eick and Arve Henriksen, bassist Mats Eiltertsen, drummer Thomas Strønen and saxophonists Hakon Kornstad and Trygve Seim, and continues to funnel creative young artists into the vibrant Norwegian scene like bassist Ole Morten Vågan, violinist Ola Kvernberg and saxophonist Kjetil Møster.

With such a remarkable focal point for music, it's perhaps surprising that the town's annual jazz festival has experienced something of a checkered past. An initial kick at the can ultimately failed, until the mid-1990s when now-festival director and drummer Ernst Wiggo Sandbakk, along with two other musician friends, revived the festival, initially as a chance to create a one-night opportunity for each to play with their own groups.

Nearly twenty years later, Trondheim Jazz Festival has expanded to five days and, for the first time in 2012, unveiled a daytime event called The Jazz Summit, which invited speakers from around the world to come and discuss a variety of topics, ranging from the state of jazz and jazz education to career management and the road ahead. Pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, saxophonist Petter Wettre and the surprisingly successful vocal/tuba/drums trio PELbO spoke about their own place in the music industry, while saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist/horn player Django Bates spoke, along with Trondheim Conservatory's Erling Aksdal, on the challenges of engendering not just technical excellence but creativity in the classroom. Stuart Nicholson spoke on the vast experiences that ultimately led to his publication of the popular book, Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved to A New Address) (Routledge, 2005), while Peter John Martin challenged some of Nicholson's assertions—or, at least, how they have been perceived and interpreted.



While attendance of The Jazz Summit was, perhaps, smaller than anticipated/hoped, it was successful enough for Sandbakk and Trondheim Jazz Festival programmer, Petter Vågan, to already be talking about round two in 2014, though a final panel discussion that, in addition to some of the speakers already mentioned also included Italian journalist Francesco Martinelli and Fiona Talkington (host of the successful BBC Radio program Late Junction), revealed a couple of noticeable omissions in the 2012 program. First, with the average age of the speakers well over 50—and despite it being clear that they were clearly connected to the scene as it is today, not some past context for which they continue to pine—the summit could have used greater representation from the age group about whom most are concerned, when discussions about the future of jazz arise. True, the majority of the four showcases that opened each morning and afternoon of the two-day event—the free improvising trio Moskus, solo electric bassist Mattis Kleppen, guitarist Nine Kristine Linge and her Sommerfuglfisk trio, and PELbO, which put on the most immediately captivating performance—consisted of youthful players. But if the intended audience for The Jazz Summit is to glean practical advice, more direct participation by younger people, in the trenches, would be a good thing.

The other noticeable gap, raised by Talkington, was the absence of women in the program. With singer Eldbørg Raknes recently named Associate Professor at NTNU, and with the Norwegian scene's strong representation, from intrepid experimental singer Sidsel Endresen to saxophonist Froy Aagre and trumpeter Gunhild Seim, there's far from equal representation across the genders, but there's certainly more than sufficient to suggest participation in a summit such as this.

Still, the four showcases, eleven speakers and final panel discussion revealed that while there will always be work to do, there's little reason to worry about there being a future for jazz, as long as it continues to be defined by inclusion rather than exclusion, and the cultural cross-pollination that has turned it from an art form created in America to one now owned by the entire world.

While it's not uncommon, these days, to actually find an almost knee-jerk reaction at some European festivals when it comes to programming American content, given the difficulty artists from abroad have obtaining work visas to enter the United State, the festival's first evening suggested it harbors no such ill will, with singer Stacey Kent and young trumpet phenom Ambrose Akinmusire delivering back-to-back performances at Dokkhuset and Blæst, respectively.

Chapter Index
May 9: Stacey Kent

May 9: Ambrose Akinmusire

May 10: Splashgirl

May 10: Allan Holdsworth / Jimmy Halip / Virgil Donati

May 11: Food, feat. Prakash Sontakke and Petter Vågan

May 11: Bugge Wesseltoft

May 12: The New Songs

May 12: Jazz Students Go Difference

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