An Amsterdam good time

I had the pleasure last week of being in Amsterdam for the Dutch Jazz and World Meeting. A biennial event which used to be the Dutch Jazz Meeting, the 2010 version included World music for the first time. It was a great few days, full of stimulating clinics, outstanding music, and all kinds of new connections. Some highlights:

Exploring jazz collaboration throughout Europe
By far the most interesting clinic for me was a session called "Jazz.X: new moves into media presentation of jazz(related) music." The title's a bit of a mouthful, but the content was excellent. Five presenters discussed various ways to collaborate and engage with musicians and music lovers from around Europe:

  • Judith Kobus and a colleague discussed Jazz.X, a media outlet with (eventually) print and online components. The idea is to have correspondents from countries around Europe submit writing about what is happening in their respective countries, and to have it translated into various languages so that there is one central resource for what is happening jazz-wise in Europe. There would also be a youth component, encouraging young and aspiring jazz journalists to participate in the same way. This was both interesting and encouraging - I'm always buoyed by the spirit of collaboration, and it's something that could easily be set up in this city or even across the country.
  • Francesco Martinelli, a teacher at the Centro Studi sul Jazz of Siena in Italy, discussed the challenge of getting young jazz students to truly engage with the music they are performing in this age of digitally-reduced attention spans. His main point (and one well-taken) is that students must be encouraged to engage with jazz standards in the same way they engage with the pop (etc.) music that they listen to on a daily basis.
  • Two musicians (I forget their names!) then discussed two different musical collaboration projects. Music Kitchen brings together an ensemble from Germany and an ensemble from The Netherlands for a mini-residency, performing for each other, creating music together and ultimately performing together. The Jazz Plays Europe Laboratory brings together six musicians from six different countries to live, work and ultimately create new music together. Here again, I like the idea of the musical collaboration and especially the musical incubation that these programs create; definitely something we should try here in Toronto.
  • Madli Liis Parts from Estonia then talked about a program for young jazz journalists she set up about ten years ago. What started as a bit of an experiment has blossomed, with dozens of young journalists participating each year, some of whom have gone on to professional journalism careers. Essentially, these young journalists are given a free pass to festival concerts and the opportunity to interview musicians. The benefits to the students are clear - some fantastic, real-world experience - but the benefits to the festival are also clear: a wider audience base, more writing about the festival and the artists, and a way to engage a younger demographic. Definitely something we'll be exploring in Toronto.
  • The final presenter in the session was Thierry Quenum, a freelance journalist in France who writes for (among others) JazzMagazine in Paris. He discussed ways to engage young jazz musicians and jazz fans by showing the evolution of the jazz standard: he played us two recordings of Struttin' with some Barbecue, made by two different musicians, separated by several years; he did the same with another jazz classic (of course I now forget which it was). His presentation was well-made and well-taken - even though much of the "standard" jazz cannon was written many years ago, the fact that musicians continue to record them, in the unique style of the day, shows the importance of these tunes, while at the same time clearly demonstrates the evolution of the music. A neat educational tool!

Music, music and more music
Opening night of the festival featured a performance by the duo of Guus Janssen (piano) and Lee Konitz (alto sax), and then three-guitar and drums group The Ex. Then, on each of the two nights of the conference, up to 16 ensembles performed short showcase concerts (40 minutes or so) - so there was lots to take in. The showcase concerts featured a mix of jazz and world music (and the wide variety each of those two terms encompasses) and I tried to check out as much as I could. As definitions expand and change, there are fewer and fewer boundaries between genres. Some performers clearly would be better suited for a World Music festival, but there were also some great crossover ensembles. Highlights:

  • Maghreb Mania, and their fusion of Maghreb sounds (primarily from Morocco and Algeria) with jazz and pop
  • The Harmen Fraanje Avalonia Trio, who played a beautiful mixture of free and straight-ahead jazz
  • Knalpot, the drum and guitar duo (really!) who use electronics to great effect and move between jazz, rock and noise
  • The Artvark Saxophone Quartet, who play mostly in the jazz tradition and seem to have so much fun while doing so
  • Combinatie XVI, a high-energy group playing Afro-Surinamese Winti music
  • KiT, in all their youthful exuberance, demonstrating some pretty high-caliber street percussion skills
  • And many more...

Venues a-plenty
If a city's dedication to culture is demonstrated by its cultural venues, then Amsterdam is proving itself to be quite dedicated! On opening night, dinner and the musical performances were hosted in the Bimhuis, the city's hippest jazz room, and which looks like a protrusion from the Muziekgebouw, a beautiful five-year-old building dedicated to the performance of contemporary music. These venues are the stuff (my) dreams are made on: sparkling new, fantastic acoustics, amazing sightlines, lots of wood and natural-feeling elements, flexible seating arrangements, etc., etc. The showcase concerts were held in the Melkweg, a very cool building with four spaces: large and medium-sized concert spaces on the main floor, plus a theater and small cinema on the third floor. It's apparently a year-round destination for music, theatre and film of all sorts, and I can see why - every space is inviting and intimate in its own way. We've got some great venues here in Toronto - so it could be "the grass is always greener..." - but I also feel that we could use another multi-discipline venue or two in this city...(Then of course there is the Concertgebouw, recognized as one of the greatest concert halls in the world, which I got to for a free noon-hour show, and the wide variety of other musical spaces I didn't get to see in person...)

New connections
Lest you think it was all fun and games, there was also the hard work (?!) of meeting some pretty outstanding presenters from around the world. A quick count of my list shows delegates from at least 40 countries representing four out of five continents (Australasia didn't make it...). It was so cool not only to realize that music truly is a universal language, but to find that the challenges and innovations in, for example, South America are in some ways similar to what we experience here at home. There are lots of differences - culturally, socially, economically - but ultimately we're all trying to figure out how to present interesting, innovative programming, and draw in a new and younger demographic. This part of the conference - making new connections, meeting new people - was perhaps the greatest part of all.

Of course, being in Amsterdam is not that bad either! It's a beautiful city and I managed to convince my wife to come along. When I wasn't at the conference we were exploring the city together, and though five days is not nearly enough time, we made the most of it.

Our Dutch hosts were outstanding, we were well treated, and they put on a great show. Congratulations to everyone at Musiek Centrum Nederland (and whomever else was involved in the organization) and a hearty thank you for helping to make it an outstanding experience.

For more information about the Dutch Jazz and World Meeting visit Musiek Centrum Nederland's website.


P.S. - While I was in Amsterdam I heard some great news via this year's Grammy nominations - Canadian Darcy James Argue and his Secret Society have been nominated in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category. Darcy's big band is one of the more important ensembles on the scene, and I encourage you to check it out. Congratulations Darcy!

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