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Music

Bert Noglik: "Jazz is a spirit"

At the Jazzfest Berlin 2012 - November 1 to 4 - Leipzig jazz critic Bert Noglik takes control of the program as artistic director. The experienced festival director spoke with DW about his new approach.

DW: Has the Jazzfest Berlin always been something special for you personally?

Bert Noglik: I grew up in East Germany, in the GDR. We couldn't travel to West Berlin. I was a jazz fan early on and was always interested in jazz. And due to this interest, I looked to the Jazzfest Berlin - but it was an unreachable destination. It was thanks to radio transmissions that we were able to get a sense of what was going on. There was a lot of important and significant stuff. Later the festival was televised, and we watched it. We collected the programs. So for me as a person growing up in the East, it was like a lighthouse. Berlin was always something very special!

You say "Jazz is a spirit" and have made this saying a key part of the program this year. What spirit do you have in mind there?

I think this is a great choice of words because it's so open and actually has a magical quality. You can't really define it, but there's a lot that comes into play. Spirit can refer to a reflection of the age, spirituality as well as taking what's going on as your reference point. It's simply a piece of vocabulary that comes from the African-American tradition. And jazz there was always more than just entertainment. Of course it was entertainment too, but it was also something bound up with a very strong approach to life!

You honor the pianist Jutta Hipp, the first successful German woman in jazz during the 1950s. The German drummer Günter Baby Sommer and his "Songs for Kommeno" recall the horrible massacre by German armed forces in 1943 in the small Greek town of Kommeno, where 317 civilians lost their lives. The German-Danish-French trio "Das Kapital" takes an unconventional approach in memory of musician Hanns Eisler, who died 50 years ago in Berlin. You say that jazz and society represents a major theme for you. What's the connection between all of this?

Jazz and society have always been  bound up with each other in the most intimate way. Actually jazz was born of an impetus that has a lot to do with social circumstances. I believe strongly that not all jazz music must be politically or socially relevant. My aesthetic views are much more complex. But I think it's really great that we can present three projects at this Jazzfest that take up German history or politics in a serious way.

Founded in 1964, the Jazzfest Berlin is among Europe's oldest and most renowned festivals of its kind. It has often been viewed as a forum for jazz in Germany, where artistic leaders like jazz critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt, drummer George Gruntz, trombonists Albert Mangelsdorff and Nils Landgren as well as music journalists John Corbett and Peter Schulze showed how things stand in the genre.

Interview: Peter Zimmermann / gsw

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