Revitalising the (jazz) music festival, at 12 Points, San Sebastian

12 points festival panel

12 Points Festival panel, ‘Jazz Futures’, San Sebastian, July 22

In panel conversations between musicians, researchers, journalists, organisers and promoters we found and heard about a range of approaches to trying to revitalise the (jazz) festival experience and the jazz scene during the 12 Points Festival discussion days on ‘Jazz Futures 2016’ here in San Sebastian. This was felt important for a number of reasons, including that in some countries the big all-star jazz festival is fading, its audience diminishing, while elsewhere, perhaps ironically, perhaps in a connected way, there is a surfeit of festivalisation of culture, in that festival in its ubiquity has become everyday, even banal, and no longer the intense, heightened and exceptional. Here are some of those diversifying approaches.

  • Jazz festival or event as immersive experience—music, yes, but also costume, design, actors and dancers, food, theatre and masque, historical reconstruction of scenes from jazz past with a promenading audience
  • Jazz apps, and audience interactivity via mobile digital technology
  • Electronic deconstruction of the live music event in the very next concert that follows, so the audience hears fresh the new music it just heard, where sometimes the remix is better than the original (though, yes, “sometimes it’s shittier”)
  • An emphasis on creative curation rather than simply programming or organisation and presentation of a series of concerts
  • Cross-cultural and cross-arts dialogue. Whether improvised arts (music, dance, animation) working with each other in the moment, or a festival of improvised music that must include literature and vice versa
  • 12 Points logoA continuing struggle with the Jazz word: a European jazz festival director says I don’t want to use the term “jazz festival”, it’s off-putting for a new audience, others saying we lose something worth cherishing and celebrating if we reject it (i.e. a century of live and recorded music)
  • The on-going core relevance of jazz and music education: new musicians, new networks and events, new energy, and new audiences
  • The regular inclusion of academic research in the festival programme, an openness to it in the scene more generally.
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Nice Jazz Festival 2016

Nice Jazz Fetival 1948 programmeThe history of the jazz festival in Europe goes back to the early post-war years, when one visionary city organised a set of concerts over a few days in seafront venues round the resort. These featured both national musicians as well as a sprinkling of US headliners, including the transatlantic star Louis Armstrong. We can think of it as a gesture of cultural futurity, with the aim of sounding a better international situation after the war years. They called it the ‘festival international du jazz’, the year was 1948, and it happened in—Nice, France. Thus the European ‘jazz festival’ was born, in Nice.

In England the earliest jazz festival would be Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1956-61), while perhaps the most famous European event, Montreux Jazz Festival, was founded later still, in 1967. (A book marking 50 years of Montreux is published this year.) But it was Nice Jazz Festival, in the late 1940s, that set the template.

Within a few years Nice would do something else marvellous for jazz, for jazz’s heritage and sense of place and relation to the past: Nice located its festival of jazz, that clashing music of modernity, in the Roman amphitheatre to the north of the city. Go there today and you can see busts of famous jazz musicians who played there in the park next to the amphitheatre, a neat public recognition of that jazz moment in that great city by the Mediterranean.

This year’s festival was due to start today, hundreds of musicians and thousands of festival-goers coming to Nice, under the sun and stars, by the sea, for a celebration of a music which, at its very best, is an outernational music of dialogue and listening where we might just for a second glimpse or hear another, better world. I know that sounds like a jazz utopia but, you know, we had a conference recently on the very theme of #jazzutopia, so it’s in the air.

Nice Jazz Festival 2016 annulee

But the 2016 Nice Jazz Festival was cancelled yesterday, as a result of the terrible atrocity on the Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night. Nice est en deuil. We should listen to the silence of the jazz not happening there this weekend. From another festival city, Edinburgh, where a group of scholars and musicians is meeting this weekend during the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival at a conference marking ‘50 years of European jazz’, we send wishes of sympathy and solidarity, anger and love, and the desire for peace and a different sort of future that jazz can sometimes still sound, and that a festival can still capture. Vive Nice Jazz Festival.

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