WDR3 JazzFest 2013. Final Round-Up

WDR3 JazzFest Final Round-Up. Sebastian wrote extensively (twelve pieces here) as blogger-in-residence at the festival in Cologne. Here is his final round-up.

It’s rare for not just the artistic programming of a festival but also the broadcasting to be in the same organization. The BBC Proms provide one example. The first WDR3 JazzFest, held in Cologne from January 31st and February 3rd, is another.

There is, of course, a difference in scale. The Proms run over two months and are steeped in their own history and traditions, and have separate management teams within the same organization to run the live events and the broadcasting. But that difference was what made the opportunity to witness the new WDR3 Jazzfest at close quarters quite so interesting. What I was able to see was what happens in a festival where – without traditions and expectations – the reins of both the  programming and the broadcasting are in the same hands.

WDR3’s clever programming choices had brought a varied selection of bands to Cologne,  representing the current, hugely diverse local and international jazz scene. The festival became a demonstration of quite how alive with interest and possibilities the scene across Europe is. The WDR team were also able to draw attention to the particular strengths of this region  of Germany. There was huge variety, from the largest and loudest ensembles down to the calm of a more intimate scale, from augmented amplified big bands right down to two concerts by solo performers.

This was a first time the festival had been produced, and one had the sense of an organization willing to learn through experiment. In the context of jazz broadcasting internationally, the extent of WDR’s commitment relative to other broadcasters shows a station not ashamed to take a lead and try out new things. As an experiment, it should be judged a success.

I wrote a piece in the WDR blog about how the festival found a good mixture of supporting – and celebrating – the local scene while simultaneously being open to the trends in international jazz.

The broadcast schedule relayed the festival’s live events. That integration worked well, and in two ways. It allowed the radio audience to feel connected to the live event. And for those present in the hall – musicians and audience alike – there was an heightened sense of immediacy.

That sense of immediacy in the room was at its highest at the moments when the live broadcast was cutting in. The schedule had been planned to dip repeatedly into and out of the live programme. To get to that carefree sense of flitting back and forth will have needed a lot of pre-planning. And, from what I witnessed, nobody in this team dropped the ball.

The live moderators – particularly Götz Bühler and Karsten Mützelfeldt clearly enjoyed, and rose to the challenge of dealing simultaneously with the two-way pull of live audience and broadcast audience, switching from talking just to the room to – “And now we’re… live” – having both audiences in at the same time. And to complicate these intersecting manoeuvres, Austrian Radio OR1 was also dipping in and out, and at different times. That responsiveness in the moment felt true to the spirit of jazz.

WDR3 had students from the Cologne International Film School filming. In my case it allows me to catch up on a gig which – stupidly, it turned out – I managed to miss, the Sebastian Sternal Trio (video below). It also enables me now to re-visit the tight interaction of guitarist Dave Fiuczynski and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (video above) in a fast-moving gig. There is really only so much one can absorb live, and this video portrays well an atmosphere in which artists are free to create.

But the final sentence of Stefan Hentz’s essay in the official programme is what is still going round in my mind, a week after the end of the festival :  “Radio and jazz” wrote Hentz,   “are [.] made for each other.” The first WDR3 JazzFest, by planning and experimenting, has found new and creative  ways to renew the relationship between broadcasting and live music.

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