An A to Z of German jazz

I’ve just been at a fascinating two-day conference about German jazz under the heading “Jazz andBusiness”. Here’s my conference report, in the form of a (definitely unserious) A to Z. For more about the delightful conference location try the letter N.

A is for Albert Mangelsdorff (1928-2005). The late trombonist is a godfather figure for the music in Germany. A valuable prize and an archive have been named in his posthumous honour. His surname means “village of insufficiency” or possibly of washing mangles. But don’t let’s go there.

B is for Berlin. Berlin has a very busy scene, at least in part because it is such a cheap place for musicians to live and to study (fees low, subsidies for student travel.) The city is a magnet for players from all over the world. One conference participant said that it’s now almost too easy for musicians to get gigs, suggesting – with a smile – that they’d probably appreciate them more if they had to work harder for them.

C is for Cyminology . This band is possibly the best case study so far of the German nurturing system producing a band which has gone on to develop an international reputation. Their fourth album is out on ECM.

D is for Darmstadt, home to the hard-working Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, started in 1983. Their 416-page Wegweiser/ address book is superb.

E is for ECM . Manfred Eicher’s label needs no introduction. See also L and W.

F is for Feuilleton (the world-class arts features sections of the broadsheet newspapers.) There was a fascinating discussion about their editorial policy. Not enough jazz features, it was said. German newspapers feel absolutely obliged to cover major local events, and premieres, and new opera productions and spats between arts figures. If coverage of this kind is the goal, then an easy solution, I thought, mischievously….. it would get heaps of coverage for jazz…. E, K, L and W -or any pairing of the above -should stage a very public fight about something.

G is for Goethe Institut, which promotes German jazz abroad. Here’s their jazz home page which gives a good flavour of the scene.

H is for Hamburg,where the preparations for a new ambitious first-time festival Elbjazz ,set to happen in May are being watched with some interest.

I is for Initiative für Musik. One of a series of generous, separate but interlocking state initiatives to support non-classical music. The funding landscape in Germany is complex.

J is for Jazzahead in Bremen. At the end of April the third edition of this important European conference and showcase will take place in the Hanseatic port which is a Land in its own right with its own radio station.

K is for Karsten Jahnke, Germany’s leading live jazz promoter. The network of festivals and big venues which put on jazz is impressive.

L is for Siggi Loch of ACT records, one of three internationally significant, all Munich-based, jazz labels, each with its different character.

M is for the popular and respected Moers Festival in May. (Photo above). Early bird tickets have very nearly sold out already.

N is for the Naturfreundehaus Humboldstein, in a splendid setting overlooking the Rhine south of Bonn. I’m told that Naturfreunde are people who greet each other with the expression “Berg Heil” (hail to the mountain), which can also be misinterpeted as “Berg geil” meaning the mountain gets me aroused. I didn’t try out either greeting.

O is for optimism. Jazz people in Germany, as everywhere, are independent-minded and open. They believe in the quality, health and diversity of their jazz scene.

P is for Plattenladen, or record shops. Allegedly the number of specialist jazz record shops still hanging on in there in the whole of Germany is now down to twelve.

Q is for Quellen which means sources. There is a great variety of influences around.

R is for radio, and for regional. The German system of radio stations based on the regions or Länder clearly allows the country’s regional jazz scenes more scope to become visible than the BBC as national broadcaster. Big topic.

S is for Sparten, the German word for niches or genres. All of the journalists I met wrote about more than one genre of music. Are we in the UK on average more compartmentalizing when we think about music?

T is for the trombone, Posaune. Mangelsdorff and Nils Wogram and bandleader Nils Landgren make it a more mainstream and popular instrument in Germany.

U is for Unabhängigkeit , independence, freedom. That’s jazz.

V is for Vielfältigkeit, diversity, pluralism. Why not?!

W is for Matthias Winckelmann.Holy. Shit. I thought, as the legendary founder of Enja Records (he started it up in 1971 and it’s still going strong) wandered in to have a chat. How strange to meet, in person, a substantial part of one’s record collection. I also discovered that he is related to J J Winckelmann (1717-68) the legendary German art historian and father of German Hellenism. Hellenism, heaven, and some amazing albums.

X is for Export subsidy. The main push will be at the German Jazz Meeting, coinciding with Jazzahead in Bremen in April.

Y is for “Yats”. Germans pronounce the word jazz indiscriminately in two ways. Either as the English word or …very curiously, thus.

Z is for Zittau. A touchstone for the breadth and depth of the scene. Zittau is a town of 25,000 people. It is at the furthest point to the east in Germany, hard on the borders of both Poland and of the Czech republic. But it has just,proudly, hosted its 14th annual jazz festival.

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3 replies »

  1. Where was the conference and which organisation was responsible for making it happen? Just so we know!

    Sounds like a pretty healthy relationship between the national and regional media and Jazz.


  2. It's called the jazz radio group. It meets regularly and is hosted by senior producers from the WDR based in Cologne. Yes, there is a healthy relationship, your supposition is right. It was my first visit. All the proceedings are hel in German.

  3. The similarities and differences between how jazz works out in Germany and UK are intriguing. Many of the same problems – lack of outlets to buy recorded music and so on. But this is compensated by the healthy interest of the radio stations, as shown by this event; and by lively magazines, including Jazzthing – represented at the meeting – and just that there is the curiosity every few months to get together to talk about these things in an informal manner.
    As well as a German love of the music, there is also a German love of beer and wine!

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