Insa Stanke (Organiser of jazzahead! Showcase programme – 2024 applications currently open)

The jazzahead! Showcase programme gives bands the opportunity to perform in front of a representative and influential group from the worldwide jazz industry. The window for applications to appear in the 2024 programme has just opened (on 6 September 2023) and will close on 18 October.
jazzahead! 2024, a trade fair and a festival, is the world’s largest gathering of the jazz industry. It will take place at MESSE BREMEN from 11- 13 April.

The person who has been at the centre of the showcasing activity for the past eight years – as lead organiser of the programme, all the way from receiving applications… to being the co-ordinator of the juries …right up to telling a band on the day that it is in danger of over-running its allotted time slot – is a key member of the jazzahead! team, INSA STANKE. This is her first interview about the role, and she also talks about some changes in the process for 2024… Interview by Sebastian.

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Insa Stanke. Photo courtesy of M3B GmbH

LondonJazz News: After eight years of co-ordinating the showcases and the juries, I am curious if the feedback/ response you get is mostly positive?!

Insa Stanke: I can definitely answer this with a yes! I get a lot of positive feedback on-site and also after the fact, especially from the bands.

I am always happy to get thankful emails and warm words about the whole process, the communication and the event itself. The on-site organisation and the technical crew are seen as highly professional. I am really thankful for the great people we are working with on all different levels!

Beside the “work” that the jury members do, they are also very appreciative of the opportunity to listen to so many exciting bands and to discover new projects, they might otherwise not have come across. Many jury members have been known to choose the bands they have liked for their own programming. And I’d like to be clear that this can also include bands who don’t make it through to the final showcase selection of jazzahead!.

LJN: You and the team welcome applications from all kinds of artists. Is there any kind of age limit?

IS: There is no age limit. We are not specifically focused on newcomers; nevertheless, it is our desire to offer a platform for upcoming bands being able to tour internationally. We always had, and will have, a diverse program with all kinds of projects, not at all depending on the age of performers.

LJN: Is it better if a management or a label is representing the artist / band?

IS: During the jury process this does not matter, the jury members do not know who hands in the application. The online system does not show this information as their decision shall only be based on the project/band itself and not on any kind of background. Basically, however, it is of course good if a band has a professional representative at jazzahead! who also acts as a general contact person for the band for more than just on the day of the showcase. That’s exactly why we link and require a prior registration to every showcase application.

LJN: Looking forward to 2024, how many showcases are there next year and what will be the categories?

IS: We will present 40 showcase bands from Germany, Europe and overseas as well as from the partner country, which for 2024 will be the Netherlands. The bands will be selected from all applications we receive up to October 18th by the international juries that we appoint every year.

LJN: When will jazzahead! be announcing the successful applicants?

IS: We will announce the official showcase selection mid-December 2023.

LJN: I understand you have made a change, mainly in order to make the work of the juries more manageable and instituted a “long list” for the juries to consider, after a pre-screening? How will that work?

IS: For the next edition, a screening of all showcase applications will be carried out by jazzahead!. The selection is based on a general checklist that has recently been added to the application form. All the bands that do not pass the first screening will be informed after this initial process. All other bands will be presented to the jury teams and the process will take its course as in previous years.

LJN: And from now on you will also be asking bands how long they have been in existence?

IS: Actually, we ask how long the project they are applying with has been in existence, not the band itself. The answers from the checklist will give us more detailed information about the artists/bands, projects and their work than before. For us these are important key facts, which should result in a more specific jury decision in the next step.

LJN: Are there any other changes this year?

IS: From 2024 the Overseas showcases will focus on a certain region or country – not as the partner country but as a theme covering the eight slots. For the years 2024-2026, the continent of Africa will be the focus of this first Overseas theme, also including the presence at jazzahead! in general.

This means: at least three of the eight Overseas showcase slots will be dedicated to emerging bands/artists from Africa and are preselected by jazzahead! in cooperation with partners from different regions of Africa. Other bands/artists from Africa that are not selected for one of these three slots, can still apply via the general application process. The remaining five slots for the Overseas program are open for showcase applications as before.

LJN: When will you be informing the bands who have not made the juries’ long-list. Will there be feedback for these bands?

IS: We will inform the bands after the first screening has been completed. This will be around the deadline date end of October 2023. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide feedback on the content of all submissions.

LJN: Last year you changed the practice of giving separate days to the different categories. Was it a success?

IS: Yes, it was! And we will continue this into jazzahead! 2024. We experienced very positive feedback from the audience and the showcase bands regarding the change of the programme lines and mixing the so-called modules over all three days and nights. In this way we are presenting a programme as diverse as possible in style, colour and instrumentation from the different regional modules.

LJN: One useful aspect is that all the performances are recorded both in professional quality audio and on video. How does all that work? Can the bands gain benefit of the video being available?

IS: Our media partner, Radio Bremen, has been producing the professional audio recordings of all showcases for many years now. The video production company is always selected through an official tendering. We do offer the professional video recordings to the artists for their own promotional use and we are also publishing the videos on our Youtube channel and on our website. The importance of social media is still present and we are able to reach a lot of interested jazz enthusiasts via our channels – and through the channels of the artists worldwide as well. One impressive example to name would be the video of Ed Motta’s showcase from 2015. The video still receives new clicks – even after more than 8 years!

As for 2023 I would like to mention the video of Josh Meader Trio – as Josh Meader himself is very active on social media resulting in a high reach which is also reflecting on our channels.

LJN: Some people say that the weak point of the application process is that it can possibly involve spending money for nothing, how do you respond to that?

IS: I assume you are referring to the fact that we ask for prior registration before handing in an application? The registration is for the international industry gathering jazzahead! and not a showcase application fee. Selected bands should have a professional support background to enable international touring. This begins with a backing for registering at conventions like jazzahead!. Furthermore, the international juries (25-30 people) have to carefully listen and check all applications coming in. Prior registration has the effect of simply keeping the number of applications down at a manageable quantity.

In general, bands should be using the international network at jazzahead! whenever possible – with or without being selected for a showcase. That is why we are convinced that this is the right way to go about this process. Our goal here is not to receive as many applications as possible and ever more of them, which is why we have refined the pre-conditions again this year.

LJN: What is the main piece of friendly advice you would like to give to bands who are thinking of applying?

IS: The most important thing is the quality of the material the musicians provide with the application, to underline the professionalism we are looking for. This not only says something about the musical quality, but also whether the artist/band is able to perform at an international level.

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LINK: Jazzahead! 2024 Showcase applications

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