Jazz Celebration with Belgrade Jazz Festival

“Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”
Louis Armstrong

That’s why we don’t ask, we just listen. We’re packing our bags for next-door Serbia, and our destination is Belgrade Jazz Fest. From 22 to 28 October, jazz will be pouring from the Danube to the Sava at the 35th anniversary edition of the festival under the theme “Jazz celebration”.

The festival was founded back in 1971 as a link between Yugoslavia and the world. The first 20 years were more than successful, but due to the political situation in the country a break of almost 15 years followed. And when the Belgrade Youth Centre, with the support of the Municipality of Belgrade, re-established the Jazz Fest, it had to prove itself again: in front of the audience, the musicians and the international public.

The key to this for the organizers is “recognizing the next generation of artists, just stepping onto the world jazz scene, bringing a new aesthetic – they not only interpret the standards in a new way, but also bring with them a new kind of jazz, adapted to the new times. Virtuosity was implicit in them, but emotion, attitude, vision and artistic message came to the front again.”

The main stars of this year’s edition will perform in the Kombank Hall, a hall that is extremely tied to the history of this event. There we will have the opportunity to see some absolute jazz legends – on 23 October, bass guitarist Stanley Clarke with a band that features some brilliant young talent, and on 24 October, jazz diva Dianne Reeves. The last night of the festival, 27 October, is reserved for the music of giants who laid the foundations of modern jazz trends – the programme will be opened by the Mingus Big Band with a selection of compositions by the unforgettable Charles Mingus. Next up will be Charles Lloyd, a living jazz icon and one of the greatest improvisers of all time, an inexhaustible thinker and innovator. This remarkable visioneer, important for the development of jazz philosophy in the 21st century, comes to Belgrade for the third time – now with his new project Kindred Spirit. In addition, some of the most intriguing young bands from our continent will also perform at Kombank Hall: the totally unconventional Flat Earth Society from Belgium (23 October), as the first modern European big band at the festival for a long time, and the biggest talents from the East at the moment – the Russians Ilugdin Trio feat. Tanya Balakirskaya (24 October).

The other main location of the festival is traditionally the Youth Centre in Belgrade, whose laid-back and alternative atmosphere attracts young and new bands from all over the world.

A highlight of the programme is the increasingly influential contemporary German jazz scene, from which comes the remarkable pianist Michael Wollny with his trio (26 October), as well as drummer Max Andrzejewski’s hugely talented band Hütte (25 October), with a programme celebrating the great English rock outsider Robert Wyatt.

We can’t wait to hear the latest album “Love and Liberation” by American Jazzmeia Horn, who won us over last summer during the A to JazZ festival in Sofia.

photo: Jazzmeia Horn during the A to JazZ festival in Sofia, Bulgaria

The piano jazz sensation from Canada, Laila Biali, and her trio will be heard on October 26, followed by the big name of contemporary American jazz, Steve Coleman, with the band Five Elements (October 26) – they will offer us an exciting combination of jazz and hip-hop.

The festival programme is literally overflowing, but we can’t help mentioning two of the big new names. From the UK comes the super-talented young trumpeter Henry Spencer with the band Juncture (26 October), and from Poland the exceptional pianist with a special sensibility, Maciej Obara, together with the quartet Unloved (24 October). Maciej Obara is one of the greatest hopes of the renowned ECM label (with its 50th anniversary this year).

It’s exciting to also listen to current bands from our region like Dragon’s Fuel from Novi Sad, which this year jammed in Plovdiv not just anywhere, but at the Russian Market (a local version of the Sofia beatac) during the Hillock Carnival festival.

The Belgrade Jazz Festival will also have a PLUS program this year: on Monday, October 28, we will see one of the most important European jazz artists, pianist Ketil Bjørnstad from Norway. This cult artist, when it comes to the Scandinavian jazz school, and the already mentioned ECM label, will give a solo concert in the large hall of the Youth Centre in Belgrade.

Tickets at surprisingly affordable prices for the whole festival, as well as for individual concerts, can be found here: www.tickets.rs.

And as we count down the days until the start of the jazz celebration, we recall last year’s edition and tap to the beat with the music of Jimi Tenor, Chucho Valdés, Kurt Elling, Youn Sun Nah, Enrico Rava and Joe Lovano.

text and photos Sofia Hussein for Dinya

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