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Andrea Motis
Spanish trumpeter Andrea Motis will play at the Jazzfest Bonn 2022Image: Clara Ruiz
MusicGermany

Jazz in Beethoven's city

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
May 9, 2022

Founded more than a decade ago, the Jazzfest Bonn has grown into one of Europe's major jazz festivals, bringing the musical genre to bigger audiences in Germany.

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The Jazzfest in Bonn has a definitive feel to it. Like other cultural events that take place here, the festival in Ludwig van Beethoven's city of birth follows a rich tradition of music.

The Jazzfest Bonn is a nonprofit collective that was founded in 2008-2009 by Peter Materna, an internationally renowned jazz saxophonist who is now the CEO and the artistic head of the festival.

"The impulse and also the desire for a sophisticated and internationally oriented jazz festival came from the head of Bonn's culture department at the time," Materna said. "Bonn had long been a city which offered a large variety of good classical music. What was missing was a first-class and ambitious format with contemporary music to complement that," he added.

Since then, the Jazzfest Bonn's intention is to make this multinational and integrative art form accessible to as many people as possible, Materna explains. "Jazz music, with its typical qualities, fits perfectly into our society today."

Peter Materna
Jazz saxophonist Peter Materna heads the Jazzfest BonnImage: Bundesstadt Bonn/Sascha Engst

Jazz in Europe

In the US, jazz emerged as a musical form in the late 19th and early 20th century, tracing its roots to African slaves who were brought from the continent to the Americas. According to  the Digital Encyclopedia of European History published by the University of Sorbonne, the word "jazz" appeared in written form only in 1913 and the first recording establishing the genre in its own right was made in 1917 in New York.

From this point on, jazz musicians from the US toured to cities in Western Europe, the Americas, China and Japan. Jazz made inroads into the UK, perhaps because of its linguistic and cultural connection to the US, and into France and Germany, where African-American musicians became established.

Shortly after the first World War, jazz created waves in western Europe, with many classical musicians, including Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud and George Auric warming up to the music and seeing it as a source of "renewal." 

Clarinetist Rolf Kühn (second from left) with his band members
The Rolf Kühn Quartet Image: Harald Hoffmann

Beginning in the 1920s, European musicians began developing their own styles of jazz. Periodicals such as Jazz Hot were created in France, while the music label Swing aimed to produce exclusively jazz.

Jazz musicians were not tolerated by the Third Reich as well as in the Soviet bloc, but it did serve as a cultural marker representing Western liberal ideals.

Jazz began gaining traction in Europe in the 1950s, and musicians such as Django Reinhardt stood up on their own in the global jazz scene.

Today, according to the Digital Encyclopedia of European History, Europe alongside Japan is a global region where jazz is taught and actively practiced, possibly even ahead of the US.

Currently, the jazz landscape of Europe is rather heterogeneous, says Peter Materna, noting that a number of important jazz festivals take place on the continent every year. 

France hosts the Jazz a Juan-les-Pins at the Cote d'Azur, partnering with New Orleans, considered the birthplace of jazz, and the Nice Jazz Festival, which began in 1948 and is one of the oldest in Europe. Switzerland hosts the Montreux jazz festival. In the UK, the Love Supreme Festival in Lewes, Sussex, is one major jazz event among several others across the country. Other prominent festivals include Jazz Middelheim in Belgium, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and several more in the Ukraine, Poland, Norway and so on.

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"In the meantime, Jazzfest Bonn has also developed into one of the biggest jazz festivals in Europe and has an excellent reputation worldwide," Materna says.

Jazz for the future

This year's Jazzfest line-up features several star musicians, including Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, Portuguese singer Maria Joao, musical ensemble the Estonian Voices, Dutch pianist Jasper van't Hof, Japanese pianist Aki Takase and Spanish trumpeter Andrea Motis. 

German guests include pianist Michael Wollny and jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Rolf Kühn, who has been compared to the jazz maestro Benny Goodman; he is a "living legend," says Materna.

"Jazz is tremendously multilayered, it has many traditional styles, but also very modern tendencies," Materna says. 

The last weekend of the month-long Jazzfest will take a look at the future of jazz in Germany, which "is characterized by young people — the artists as well as the concert-goers," points out Materna.

Bands like the Berlin-based LIUN and the Science Fiction Band, Hamburg's TOYTOY and Munich's Jazzrausch Bigband are representative of new directions taken in jazz and are influencing and promoting jazz internationally. 

With a line-up of stars and acts for all ages and tastes, Materna is quite convinced that the Jazzfest Bonn will remain an important event in the future. "My wish is that, together with the artists and our great public, we are successful in bringing more attention to our region. I am not at all worried about the future success of the Jazzfest Bonn," he concludes.

More information on the Jazzfest Bonn, which runs until May 28, can be found here.

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Manasi Gopalakrishnan Journalist and editor from India, compulsive reader of books.
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