Why Jazz Fans Should Avoid Illegal Substances

What if your great moment in jazz arrived, and you slept through it. Walter Kolosky relates the story below. T.G.

My approach to the appreciation of jazz, and all the arts, has been shaped by a series of illuminating personal experiences and unique tales relayed to me by friends. These events and stories have become part of my human fabric. There is not a day that goes by that I do not benefit from these unexpected lessons, which I can pluck like apples from a tree. I hope you may get some use from them as well. That is why I periodically offer them to jazz.com readers.

My good friend Chuck swears to me the following story, told to me in the 1980s, is true. For the record, Tim and Joe are made-up names because Chuck couldn’t quite remember their real names.

Sometime in the 1960s, Chuck and his buddies, Tim and Joe, had spent a long day at work. After putting in their grinding shifts they decided to fight their fatigue and go out and grab a few beers and enjoy the nightlife the city had to offer. On the way to their underdetermined destination, the guys most likely lit up a joint, as this was their routine in those days.

Roland Kirk

As they drove through the streets of downtown San Francisco, Chuck saw a marquee that read, “Roland Kirk Tonight.” “Hey, hey guys. Look. Roland Kirk is playing! We got to check it out,” he said. Joe waved the suggestion off, but Tim and Chuck outvoted him and they headed in for a few.

The club was small and the food was nothing to talk about. At least the beer was cold. Chuck, who was a real Kirk fan, told Tim and Joe about Kirk being blind and how he used a circular breathing method that allowed him to sustain a very long note without taking normal breaths. He explained that sometimes Kirk would actually play two saxophones at once and that he would often shout out political rants to the crowd to get a reaction. Joe and Tim kept their eyes focused on Chuck so they wouldn’t nod off. A few beers didn’t help much. All three were in danger of drifting off at any time.

By the time the band finally came out, the guys were barely awake. The greatest moment of Chuck’s life as a jazz fan was about to happen—and he would have to be told about it later.

After the set, Tim and Joe woke up Chuck. “Hey, Chuck. You missed the whole set,” Tim laughed.

“Why didn’t you wake me up, you bastards?” Chuck asked.

“Well, we tried a few times at the beginning, but you just wouldn’t wake up, and it would have ruined the show anyway,” Joe said.

Chuck was groggy and confused. “What do you mean ruin the show? What does that mean?”

Joe explained, “You should have seen and heard it. But if you did, it wouldn’t have happened, so we didn’t want to wake you. We couldn’t, so we didn’t. You missed a great show. The band was on fire. You sure were right about Roland. That cat is from another planet! Man, he can play the hell out of those horns. I can’t wait to go buy a record.”

Chuck grunted. “Get to the point. What do you mean waking me up would have ruined it?”

Joe continued, “About two or three tunes into the set, while Kirk is playing this amazing solo, he looks out and sees your big head in your arms and notices you are sleeping like a baby. He keeps wailing away but also keeps looking at you. Then he picks up one of those wooden flutes. I think you call it a recorder. He steps off the stand and slowly starts walking over to you. As he got closer, he lowered his volume and slowed down the tempo of his playing.

After a minute or two, the audience realizes what he is doing and they all start smiling at you. Tim and I are amazed. Kirk sort of gives this look to us that we understand means not to wake you up. He gets closer and closer and his music becomes soft and soothing. Chuck, the crowd was dead silent as he stuck his horn right next to your ear. I am not kidding you. He put it right next to your ear and started playing a gentle lullaby. It was amazing. He stayed there for about three minutes playing just for you man. Just for you. He finally looked up a bit, smiled, and made his way back to the stage to end the tune. The crowd went nuts clapping and laughing and waving to us.”

“Yeah,” Tim added, “you should have been awake for that, but if you were, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Over forty years later, that unheard music is still with Chuck. But he still can’t explain how a blind man could have seen him. Music and dreams can mix you up that way.

This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky

November 24, 2009 · 0 comments


Anita O'Day on DVD

Thomas Cunniffe covers the world of DVDs for jazz.com. His most recent review here looked at Charles Mingus's Epitaph and Town Hall Concert. Now Cunniffe turns his attention to two videos featuring the late vocalist Anita O'Day. T.G.

Anita O'Day

In a vintage interview from the Today show, Bryant Gumbel questioned Anita O’Day about her life filled with rape, abortion, substance abuse and jail time. When he presses her about how she could stay upbeat in the face of such turmoil, she finally replies, “Well, that’s the way it went down, Bryant”. The quote shows up early in the O’Day documentary The Life Of A Jazz Singer and then turns up in full much later, and it aptly characterizes how the film handles the often difficult nature of its subject.

While O’Day momentarily loses her composure when talking about the drug-related death of arranger Gary McFarland (and in the interview out-takes, the deaths of Judy Garland, Zoot Sims and her father), she never expresses any remorse about the courses she chose for her own life. Even the other interviewees seem taciturn when it comes to making judgments about Anita’s lifestyle. Nothing is denied, yet no one really emphasizes the damage.

O”Day’s questionable life choices were not limited to drug abuse, of course. Oddly enough, some of her best performances were made between the mid 1950s and early 1970s, when she was in the midst of a heroin addiction. In her later years, long after she was sober, O’Day’s intonation—never a strong point for her—got worse and worse, and on her last recordings, she was barely able to croak out a melody. Yet the film staunchly defends her late performances as if they were the equal of her earlier work. As a long-time admirer of O’Day’s music, I can tell you that trying to listen to her late recordings is nearly impossible—her voice is so battered that all one can do is ask why is she still singing?

O’Day’s interview clips come from a variety of vintage sources, including 60 Minutes, Tomorrow With Tom Snyder and The Dick Cavett Show. By far, the best interviews of O’Day come from Billy Taylor’s 1990 profile of the singer for Sunday Morning (including several minutes of out-takes not used in Taylor’s piece). The filmmakers of the current documentary also interviewed O’Day, and while the information presented is essential, the footage is harder to watch due to uneven lighting and O’Day’s habit of suddenly going out of frame. The other interviewees include George Wein, Gerald Wilson, Margaret Whiting, Annie Ross, Will Friedwald, James Gavin and Phil Schaap. In one of the best sequences of the film, O’Day talks about her classic LPs for Verve, and each of the surviving arrangers are interviewed in turn, including Buddy Bregman, Russ Garcia, Bill Holman & Johnny Mandel.

There are plenty of fine performance clips and thankfully, the DVD includes the uninterrupted clips in the special features section. There are two soundies with Gene Krupa and Roy Eldridge (“Thanks For The Boogie Ride” & “Let Me Off Uptown”), a forgettable ditty with Stan Kenton (“Tabby The Cat”), two renditions of “Let’s Fall In Love” (these two and a couple of other versions are brilliantly edited together in the main documentary), and versions of “Boogie Blues”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Love For Sale” and “Trav’lin’ Light” with a Japanese big band. Also included is the classic “Four Brothers” from the 1958 Timex jazz special, “Tea For Two” and a spellbinding “Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” from a 1963 Swedish performance, and the quintessential “Sweet Georgia Brown” from Jazz On A Summer’s Day. By far the most illuminating film clip is of O’Day’s version of “Body & Soul” from Art Ford’s Jazz Party. In the first chorus, her interpretation is so abstract that the pianist is momentarily thrown off-course. All is back in order within a few seconds, but O’Day reins in her interpretation for the rest of the performance, a fact she acknowledges when she says “This is for the piano player”.

The 1963 Swedish set is included complete on Anita O’Day: Live in ’63 & ‘70, from the latest set of Jazz Icons DVDs. The bookends of the Swedish program are the same two songs from Jazz On A Summer’s Day: “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea For Two”. While there are subtle differences between the Swedish and Newport performances, O’Day sticks to her well-worn arrangements. However, the disc includes two versions of “Let’s Fall In Love” that are even better than the versions on The Life Of A Jazz Singer. It seems that this Arlen classic was a constant source of inspiration for O’Day and both the Swedish version and the one from the companion Oslo concert include rare half-chorus scat solos (she usually scatted 4 bars at a time in exchanges with the instrumentalists). The Oslo concert also includes a splendid medley of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” and the Jerome Kern standard “Yesterdays”, and a beautiful rendition of “I Can’t Get Started”. The closers are the old standbys “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea For Two”, but while O’Day acknowledges their presence in Jazz On A Summer’s Day, the performances in Oslo bear only passing resemblances to those recorded 12 years earlier in Newport or 7 years earlier in Stockholm.

Like Jackie Paris, Anita O’Day died before the release of the documentary made about her. However, unlike Paris, O’Day has many recordings still in print, so those who want to hear more O’Day have plenty of choices. The Verve recordings are uniformly excellent, and all of them are still available as single discs. There was also a Mosaic 9-CD set of the complete Verve recordings, but that set is now out-of-print, so the only hope of getting a copy is to find someone willing to part with theirs. Considering the intense adoration of Anita O’Day’s fans, that’s not too likely.

ANITA O’DAY: THE LIFE OF A JAZZ SINGER AOD Productions 101819. 91 minutes, plus 91 minutes bonus material. Directed by Robbie Cavolina & Ian McCrudden. With Anita O’Day, Phil Schaap, Margaret Whiting, George Wein, Gerald Wilson, Joe Wilder, John Pietranowicz, Will Friedwald, Billy Taylor, Annie Ross, Freeman Gunter, John Cameron Mitchell, Denny Roche, Mark Morris, James Gavin, Amy Albany, Charles Britton, Maynard Sloane, Ken Druker, Buddy Bregman, Russ Garcia, Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, Bert Stern, Nancy Fields O’Connor, Mary Sellers, Dr. David Boska, Karen Kramer, Eddie Locke & Joe Franklin.

ANITA O’DAY: LIVE IN ’63 & ’70 Jazz Icons 2.119015. Sweet Georgia Brown, Let’s Fall In Love, A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, Fly Me To The Moon, Honeysuckle Rose, Green Dolphin Street, Tea For Two. Anita O’Day (vocals), Göran Engdahl (piano), Roman Dylag (bass), John Poole (drums). Stockholm; June 25, 1963. Let’s Fall In Love, Yesterday/Yesterdays, Four Brothers, I Can’t Get Started, Sweet Georgia Brown, Tea For Two. Anita O’Day (vocals), George Arvanitas (piano), Jacky Samson (bass), Charles Saudrais (drums). Oslo; October 21, 1970.

This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe

November 14, 2009 · 3 comments


How We Got to Be Cool

I’m still a little fuzzy on how I became an authority on acting cool. But sometimes one simply must accept the destiny fate hands out. In any event, I am sharing the wealth with an extract below from my new book The Birth (and Death) of the Cool. I am also doing double duty this week as a guest blogger at Powell’s. Finally, I am making cool appearances (or approximations thereof) next Tuesday (Nov. 17) at the Tattered Cover in Denver and a week from Saturday (Nov. 21) at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Be there or be square! T.G.

 The Birth (and Death) of the Cool

Henry Louis Gates relates the story of a group of black high school students in North Carolina who, dismayed over the rigidity of standardized achievement tests, devised one more to their own liking. They convinced a group of employees at publisher McGraw-Hill to take this exam, and these custodians of the written word all received Cs and Ds.

A typical question: “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” The correct answer, the Harvard scholar tell us is “Your mama.” Gates, in his characteristically dry manner, adds: “It is difficult to explain why this response is so funny.”

When cool captured the American imagination in the fifties, such unexpected resolutions would constantly come to the fore. Cool would be embedded in a series of paradoxes. It would reveal while keeping things hidden. It would be emotionally involved while maintaining its distance. It would be obsessively focused on style and attitude while always showing its total disdain for these same superficial attributes. And even when it amused, it was sometimes difficult to explain why it was so funny.

    Mug Shot a Cooler Credential than an Ivy League Degree?

No wonder cool came to conquer the world. An approach this flexible, this adaptive to every situation, was a sure winner at the midpoint of the American Century. In the 1950s, everyone was dishing up some new recipe for self-actualization for the general public, but all the others—from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking to L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics—were ninety-eight-pound weaklings at the beach compared to this new, slick approach that worked for everybody, high and low.

Were you rich? Well, you needed to hone that cool image to match your bank account. Were you poor? Well, my friend, you needed a dose of cool even more than Mr. Moneybags. “Cool is about making a dollar out of fifteen cents,” Donnell Alexander has astutely explained in his provocative essay “Cool Like Me: Are Black People Cooler Than White People?” Cool is “an industry of style that everyone in the world can use. It’s finding the essential soul while being essentially lost.”

Were you beautiful? Then cool for you was like water for a mermaid, the medium through which you swam to show off your finer points. Were you plain or even ugly? Well, cool was your best friend, because with the right attitude and accoutrements you could rise above that pug nose, that double chin. Were you happy? Then cool would make you happier. Were you sad or desperate or resentful? Well, cool could even turn that into a type of allure, making angry young men into something chic and happening.

The American fixation with coolness may seem like a sign of shallowness—until you realize how much this attitude fit in with the essence of the national character. After all, the American dream was all about breaking through the limitations of class, birth, personal history, family—all the baggage that kept the Old World in thrall to the powers that be. Perhaps America didn’t always live up to its aspirations. Yes, there were individuals and groups shut out from its promises. But coolness was, in some odd way, the truest embodiment of what America dangled in front of its huddled masses. It represented the possibility that you could radically reinvent your life, achieve some level of personal heroism and respect, without anyone caring about your family tree or the balance in your checking account or what schools you attended. Cool was the great equalizer. And if you doubted it, just look at the icons of cool—blacks and beatniks and bohemians and a bunch of other folks who were at the bottom of the heap and rose to the top…through sheer hipness. How cool is that?

This was exactly the message that Americans wanted to hear after surviving the Great Depression and World War II. For postwar society, cool was a panacea, a secular sermon with more happy endings than the beatitudes. The cool shall be comforted and have their fill and inherit the earth. And look very stylish in the process.

But a change like this needed role models, and not the usual suspects. Which cool icons could you find to emulate on Main Street in Anytown, USA? Mom and Dad? The mayor or the police chief? The minister? Teachers at the schools? None of these fit the bill. Where do you turn when you want to leave the old ways behind and embrace something cool? What fills the gap when you leave small-town life behind? If you are a farm-raised boy in, say, Davenport, Iowa, and you want to break out and start a new life, who is your role model?

James Dean

The cool ethos in American life was destined, it seems, to be shaped by bad boys and dropouts. We have a new tone set by Jack Kerouac (dropped out of Columbia), Miles Davis (dropped out of Juilliard), James Dean (dropped out of Santa Monica Junior College), J. D. Salinger (dropped out of NYU), Allen Ginsberg (dropped out of Columbia), Chet Baker (dropped out of El Camino College)…not to mention the legion of high school dropouts (Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Bix Beiderbecke, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and others) who never even got enough education to become college dropouts. But if Ivy League degrees were in short supply among this group, the vast majority of these individuals had an arrest, a felony, or even a jail term to their credit. Welcome to the new topsy-turvy world of the cool, where all the traditional measures of suitability and credentialing are turned upside down! Forget the diploma; show us your mug shot!

This is an extract from The Birth (and Death) of the Cool, a new book by Ted Gioia published by Speck Press. All rights reserved.

November 11, 2009 · 0 comments


The Anatomy of a Jazz Festival

Below we conclude Stuart Nicholson’s two-part article on the inner workings of the Molde Jazz Festival—a hugely successful event that brings 100,000 visitors to a city with only 25,000 residents. For part one of this piece, click here. T.G.

Molde Jazz Festival

Certainly, away from the big festival stage it is impossible not to notice the striking diversity of the Molde Festival programme. All genres of jazz are represented, from New Orleans through to futuristic electronic jazz using laptops and samples. “That has been the tradition before I took over in 2001,” says Jan Ole. “We try and put together a program that shows the whole history of jazz, from New Orleans music to music you might hear in the future. Elvis Costello—when he came to the festival he was playing with Allen Tousaint. They did this project which was based on the Hurricane Katrina, so it was a modern, New Orleans based program they did [on the big festival stage]. And then we present artists that have been influenced by jazz. Stevie Wonder, for example, who we have presented, has influenced jazz musicians and jazz musicians have influenced him.

“Sting used to play with jazz musicians in the 1980s, and started off as a jazz bassist, and Jamie Cullum who is now more a pop star than a jazz musician, is also a guy who is influenced by jazz. What happens is that a lot of young kids come to the festival and see that guys they like are playing things influenced by jazz, and they start checking out the jazz concerts, it’s a kind of education thing bringing those kind of acts to the festival.”

It has been widely reported, most recently in the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, that audiences for jazz are getting older. Yet there is no shortage of young faces at Molde, and a feature of the festival is the way it works with young people. The Arvelyden is a workshop for kids of all ages held every weekday of the festival at 12.30pm with the artist-in-residence Arve Henriksen; while every morning at 11.30am there is a street parade through Molde, featuring a school children.

Jan Ole explains the festival’s philosophy: “At Molde we have a big children’s recruit program for playing and coming to the festival. Then there’s a street parade starting every day of the festival at 11.30am with 70 youngsters who have four seminars throughout the year, learning how to improvise and play music. Then there are concerts for children during the festival. Here we try and give them a mix of what they can hear at a real concert, and what they are used to hearing on children’s TV or something like that. So we are sneaking the jazz elements into what they are used to. We also have a freestage just outside the Town Hall, where the youngsters are allowed to play. If they have a band, or they play alone, they can perform. And we’re co-operating with the schools in Molde, we have teachers going out in the music lessons to prepare them to play on the freestage.

“This year we have a special project with Arve Henriksen [the festival’s artist in residence] called The Sound of Arve, a workshop where he and [keyboard player] Ståle Storløkken and other musicians are doing samples, and the kids are doing samples of themselves—a kind of mini Punkt—and they are mixing samples themselves and we put them out on the website, so the kids can hear themselves on the Internet. Tonight we have a jam session to end the workshop series, where Arve and Ståle and other musicians come in and join them. All for children, from small children to older kids—it’s open for everyone actually, school children like me!”

Wherever you go in Molde, it is impossible not to notice the army of young, willing and helpful volunteers that help make the festival tick, from stage hands to sound mixers, from lighting engineers to ushers, from administrative staff to stage managers. I met one volunteer who was a doctor at the local hospital who annually takes two weeks holiday in order to help out in the festival office. From him I learned that volunteering was often a family tradition. A grandfather who originally volunteered for the festival in its early days might be working alongside his son or daughter plus his grandchildren.

“Yes, this is often a family thing,” confirms Jan Ole. “We only have five full time festival staff retained by the festival the year around. Then we have 70 people we call ‘key persons’ who are responsible for a venue, or a committee, and so on. And they work with us the year round, and they are volunteers. Then we have the volunteers who work just at the festival week, and they are 750, so altogether there are 820 volunteers and we have a waiting list, this year we had to say no to over 100 people. And we have some guys working from the first festival [49 years ago]. Two of the founders of the festival are still in the organisation, one of them is in the program committee and he meets me every week to discuss the program. He’s retired now so he’s always checking all the jazz websites from around the world for talent, the ones I don’t get a chance to read, and he’s also on the board of directors of the festival. And then there’s sons and daughters and so on. There are seventy leaders who recruit for their own committee, and the key persons, they are all recruiting their staff. Often being a festival volunteer is in families, the grandparents did it, then the parents then their children, jazz is very much part of the community.”

Next year, Molde will celebrate its 50th anniversary, making it one of the longest consecutively running festivals in Europe. It seems as if their annual jazz festival has put this small town on the cultural map of Europe. “That’s true,” says Jan Ole. “If you ask people all over the country about Molde, they will say two things. First jazz, and then roses. The climate here is very good for roses, there are always a lot of roses here! Currently, Molde has 25,000 people living here and during the festival between 80,000 to 100,000 people come to town either to go to the concerts, or check out the festival atmosphere, the free concerts and so on. These people are coming from all over the country, [the jazz festival] is a tourist destination, they come by plane, train, road and in the harbor people come by boat, to be part of it.”

And looking at the festival program, there is little wonder they come in such numbers. It’s a festival with a sure sense of its identity, exemplified by a dawn concert on the final day. “In the 1960s there used to be a jam session in a small café called Varden in the mountains overlooking Molde,” explains Jan Ole. “From the first session in ’61 until the early 1970s it used to be jam sessions late at night, starting when the concerts end, so from 1am to 2am in the morning until 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning they played up there.

In ’69 Karin Krog [the Norwegian vocalist] was there and she and her husband came out at seven in the morning and the sun was rising, and later that day they drove back to Oslo and on the way they played “Ida Lupino,” the Carla Bley tune, on the car radio and Karin started to sing her own words. When they got home, her husband sat down and wrote those lyrics which became the song, “Break of Day in Molde,” and that was recorded as a single the year after. It has become quite a famous song in Norway, and it has been played a lot on the radio, especially around the festival time, and Norwegian Broadcasting always open with “Break of Day in Molde,” so last year [2008] I got the idea we should do a concert early in the morning, inspired by the song named ‘Break of Day in Molde.’ So we did that on the last day of the festival at seven in the morning.

Karin Krog wrote a third verse to this song, and she sang it, with Arild Andersen on bass, who was on the original recording, and then Marilyn Mazur and some other musicians came in and did a concert at seven in the morning. It was amazing, 1,500 people were sitting up there having their picnic breakfasts. So it was quite a moment. Tomorrow at 7am, we have a special project with Arve Henriksen, Jon Balke, Terje Isungset, Svante Henryson and Therese Skauge and a dancer and they will do their version of ‘Break of Day in Molde.’ So the slogan for the festival was ‘Where music meets nature,’ so this was really a contact point between nature and music [since the concert was held in a performing space on the side of a hill surrounded by pine trees on three sides and a view of coast on the other].”

What Sir Thomas Beecham would have made of music festivals today, let alone a jazz festival is anybody’s guess. But if his adage of attracting trade to a town is true—and this is increasingly the reality for many festivals today—festival producers must more than ever preserve their artistic independence from the pressures of commerce or the result will be safe, but unadventurous programming. Dictionaries describe a festival as “a joyous celebration; a merry making; a musical entertainment on a large scale” and Molde is exactly that. It shows how the not-for-profit jazz festival may be the way of the future, allowing festival producers to back their aesthetic judgement without having to watch the bottom line at every turn.

Clearly, with large amounts of public and private money at stake, they have to balance the books and not work at a loss. But, as Molde shows, using profits accrued here to produce imaginative and creative programming there, plus a long term audience development program is rewarded by public support. More importantly, it leaves artists free to develop their music without having to shape it to appeal to the profit orientated businessmen. Sir Thomas may well have approved.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson

November 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Inside View of a Jazz Success Story

Stuart Nicholson looks at the inner workings of one of the most successful jazz events in the world�the annual Molde Jazz Festival. Now in its 50th year, the festival draws 100,000 fans to a city with a population of only 25,000. Below is the first installment of Nicholson�s two-part article. T.G.

Sir Thomas Beecham

From the early 20th century until his death in 1961, conductor Sir Thomas Beecham transformed musical life in the United Kingdom. And while London still has two symphony orchestras that were founded by him, The London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic, he is often remembered today as much for his mordant wit as his musical achievements.

A master of the double entendre, some of his best quips can be found in Beecham Stories, published in 1978. In classical circles in the UK, Beecham stories are traded like Benny Goodman stories in the jazz world, the only difference being Beecham was his own one man Monty Python show fifty years before the TV series. His admonishment of a cellist during an orchestral rehearsal is pure Python: "Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands - and all you can do is scratch it." He was equally unforgiving of festivals, "They are for the purpose of attracting trade to a town," he said dismissively. In many cases the latter judgment still holds true today. The challenge, of course, is on what musical terms 'trade' is attracted. How do you produce a festival of musical integrity and vision while still managing to draw the crowds?

It's the $64,000 question. With many festivals put together for the purposes of profit, there is a need to maximize ticket sales by appealing to the broadest possible constituency. The result is often a lowest common denominator approach that results in a roster of big names and safe bets at the expense of more challenging artists or up-and-coming talent'since there is a general market perception that more adventurous or lesser known musicians do not generate the same box office returns as players in more mainstream realms. One way around this conundrum is the not-for-profit festival, which is a way many European festivals are structured.

Not-for-profit festivals are possible with subsidy and in Europe it is often a mix of national, regional and local governmental grants plus an element of private sector sponsorship. They are able to attract such funding lines because, as dear old Sir Thomas presciently noted, they "attract trade." But they also bring added value. This is seen in terms of the cultural and artistic prestige a successful, critically acclaimed festival can bring town or region. It can put them on the map of Europe, enabling them to portray themselves as a desirable tourist destination or the sort of place in the global economy that that is attractive to inward investment, an agreeable environment in which to transact business and a vibrant and exciting place to live.

More importantly, not-for-profit festivals provide a degree of artistic freedom from the ubiquitous bottom line when programming. As Bo Gronningsaeter, former director of the Molde Jazz Festival and the Bergen Nattjazz Festival and currently director of the West Norway Jazz Centre and General Secretary of the Europe Jazz Network points out, "Because European festivals have public funding there's more idealism among festival organizers as they have a fixed salary," he says. "You're not in it for the money. If you have a successful festival you don't get a huge bonus, your pay remains exactly the same, but of course you have the satisfaction of creating something audiences want to see. You relate to jazz differently from a profit-orientated businessman. It's not a question of maximum profit; it's a question of making a good program and being able to make the wheels go around financially.

"We're not in the business of making money, but we have to make the books balance. There is an opportunity to aspire to aesthetic balance in the composition of the program because you're not in it for personal profit. You're actually doing it because you're interested in it, even though you're being paid less than you would be in another job!"

One of Europe's oldest and most successful jazz festivals is held annually at Molde, on the west coast of Norway. Its director is Jan Ole Otnaes, and we talked recently about the lines of funding necessary to produce a festival like his. "This year's budget for the festival was 27.8 million Norwegian Krone ($1 = 6.1 Norwegian Krone, August 2009)," Jan Ole begins. "That was made up of a number of funding lines, and, of course, ticket sales which this year amounted to 10.5 million Norwegian Krone (NOK) which represented 37.8 % of our overall budget. Then we have our restaurant and merchandizing facilities which brought in a revenue of 4.3 million NOK (15.4%). Private sponsors are very important to us, and they provide 4.5 million NOK, representing 16.2% of our budget. The balance is then made up of national funding, which accounts for 5.1 million NOK (18.3%), regional funding amounting to 1.7 million NOK (6.1%) and finally local funding 1.7 million NOK (6.1%)."

Given big numbers like these, I asked Jan Ole if there is any room for idealism when programming a festival as big as Molde'since it was impossible not to notice some headline artists, past and present, had a somewhat tenuous connection with jazz, such as Leonard Cohen on this year's festival roster. "Oh, there's room for idealism," he says with a smile. "Look, tonight we've sold almost 10,000 tickets for Leonard Cohen, and he is not cheap! But we try and make a profit and that allows us to do things with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a brand new commission, for example, and various other projects we commission. So any profit we make goes back into the festival by way of subsidising some of our jazz presentations."

This is the end of part one of Stuart Nicholson's article on the Molde Jazz Festival. Check back soon for the second and final installment.

November 03, 2009 · 2 comments