The Jazz.com Blog
August 26, 2009 · 0 comments
Below we continue Thierry Quénum’s eye-opening report on the funding of jazz in France. Here you will encounter many wonders unknown to Americans: a city that allocates 23% of its budget for cultural events? a government agency devoted to assisting the export of homegrown music? a tax on CDs that is funneled back into supporting live music? a jazz promoter who becomes the city mayor? This is the second and final installment of this two-part article. (Click here for part one.) T.G.
Historically, most of the French jazz festivals flowered in the early eighties, when the newly elected left wing government of François Mitterrand launched a new cultural policy that saw, among others, the birth of the nationwide “Fête de la Musique” (Music Day, on June 21st), a Museum of Rock, and a Bureau of Jazz and Innovative Music at the Department of Culture.
Elated by this whiff of fresh air from Paris, many “associations” got born with the goal of starting a festival most anywhere in France, with the support of their local mayor and some sponsors. Those who had already started years earlier usually profited by this new spirit too. It’s only when some of these festivals became bigger, more famous, and covered by the national press that the Régions started to get interested in them and to open their wallet to make sure these cultural events taking place on their territory would be associated with the banner of the local political power.
Thus, in a small town like Coutances (10,000 inhabitants), a couple of miles from the D Day beaches and 100 kms from Caen, the main city of the Région Basse-Normandie (Lower-Normandy) the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival (Jazz under the Apple Trees) became the biggest cultural event of the entire Région. No wonder that the Conseil Général de Basse-Normandy’s (the local political authority) has steadily sponsored it for more than two decades. Even more significant, further South, the Jazz In Marciac (JIM) festival, in the big village of Marciac (5000 inhabitants) made famous by its permanent host, Wynton Marsalis, also became the biggest event of the Département (an administrative section of a Région) du Gers, otherwise renowned for its “foie gras” (fat goose or duck liver) and Armagnac (grape brandy).
As the size and reputation of JIM grew, the director of the festival (whose day job was headmaster of the local lower high school), progressively became mayor of the village, then member of the Conseil Général. The Ministry of Education allowed him to start a jazz class in his school (guess which trumpet player opened it, surrounded by TV cameras?). Thanks to the heavy sponsoring of the Département and the Région, JIM is the only jazz festival held in such a small place yet that can cover the walls of most French big towns with its king size posters—including the walls of the Paris underground stations.
But bigger towns have their jazz events too. Strasbourg, for example, by the German border, which hosts its Jazzdor festival in November, started small—its activities restricted to three days in a jazz club, some 23 years ago. Now it lasts two weeks and programs 40 bands in 18 different places in and around Strasbourg, including some across the Rhine river, where it has developed a partnership with neighboring German cities. Says its Director, Philippe Ochem: “Our actual budget is 500,000 €, which is three times what we started with 23 years ago. Beside other local institutions the City of Strasbourg (250,000 inhabitants) has helped us right from the start and its help has increased consistently over the years. It can be noted that this city devotes 23% of its budget to culture at large, which is huge compared to other French cities.”
Maybe because Strasbourg is proud to host the European Parliament, the city is Jazzdor’s first sponsor, followed by the Département du Bas-Rhin, then the Région Alsace, and finally the French State (whereas in most other festivals the State is the 2nd sponsor). Behind the general idea of “public money”, there lies indeed a complicated network of local and national political and financial choices made by people who’ve been elected or hired on different basis. Some cities or départements, for example, will grant a very limited support to their local jazz festival(s) because they chose to favor theatre or ballet.
Of course, like the ONJ or the regionally sponsored orchestras, the festivals have obligations that go with their being sponsored by official institutions. These duties might include organizing master classes, workshop or residences in local music schools for some of the internationally renowned musicians programmed in the festival. Or they can involve featuring a certain amount of local players in the festival’s program; or organizing concerts in culturally disfavored suburbs or small villages; or having a certain percentage of “creations” (concerts with newly written music — often commissioned — or bands with special guests, etc.). . .
As one sees, one of the main goals of the various institutional sponsors is to educate the audiences as far as musical diversity is concerned, and to spread live music in places where it is scarce. Besides, they often want to promote “new” challenging music as opposed to commercial music—which can also be programmed during festivals, but doesn’t need any public money to attract audiences. These “cultural actions” are of course not totally devoid of personal interests: they are good for the image of these institutions as “patrons of the arts.”
Even more complicated is the sponsoring of the Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin festival that Ochem has been directing for three years in the German capital. It is partly sponsored by the City of Strasbourg, which considers it good for its image, but was originally devised by its main sponsor, the Bureau Export de la Musique Française (French Music Export Bureau). This institution draws its funds from both public and private sources: the National Departments of Culture and Foreign Affairs, the record producers and the SACEM (more or less the French equivalent of BMI or ASCAP in the US). Its job is to help French record labels sell their products abroad.
One last thing about French Jazz festivals: around 30 of them have united in a powerful “association,” the AFIJMA, that allows each of them to have more power in negotiating with the various potential institutional sponsors, including the State, the Régions, the Départements and the Cities, the “institutional associations” and the “sociétés civiles,” of which the SACEM is an example. The AFIJMA works as a network, and though each of its members is independent, some of them often decide to get together and help a musician or a group by supporting a “creation” and having it tour some of their festivals.
I’m not sure there’s an equivalent to the French name “société civile” in English. The SACEM is more than a century and a half old and doesn’t only collect and distribute composer’s copyright money. It also favors musical “creation,” gives awards to artists and does a lot of sponsoring. The SPEDIDAM is only half a century old and does about the same as the SACEM for the rights of the performers, with support and sponsoring actions too. The ADAMI, the most recent of these “sociétés civiles,” was born thanks to a state tax that was set in 1985 to cope with the private copying of records or concerts on tapes, CDR and DVDR. The State doesn’t collect directly the money brought in by this tax (which is included in the price that each buyer of one of these products pays at the shop). It’s the ADAMI that collects it and it uses part of it to foster artistic projects, or support festivals that invite creative musicians.
So one sees that this idea of “government money” that’s often used by foreign observers to explain the flourishing of jazz in Europe doesn’t do justice to the diversity of “patrons of the art of jazz” that France hosts. In a country that is more and more decentralized as far as administration and political power are concerned, the function that was formerly devoted to the kings, emperors or presidents has been extended to almost any local elected representative of the French Republic’s institutions, and to a couple of non-profit organizations all of whom seem to want the best for the audiences and the artists who play for them.
How much freedom to evolve artistically in their own right is left to the musicians in these conditions? It’s hard to tell, but the reproach that’s sometimes made to young French jazz players that some of them tend to behave like employees clutching to a secure income rather than like adventurous followers of the pioneers of jazz is far from being untrue. As for their elders, given their behavior and relationships with the powers that be, some of them could well be considered like present day heirs of the counts, dukes, marquees and barons who moved in the fashionable circles of the king’s court, hoping to grab the sovereign’s attention and the fame and fortune that went with it.
This blog entry was posted by Thierry Quénum.