Jazz Connective - Grass Roots work for jazz in Europe

While populist politicians are working on European des-integration on a large scale, cutting down on cultural lifelines, global non-compliance with climate agreements is fueling frustration, and anti-European sentiments spreading in many countries - meanwhile small, but subtle, grass root initiatives are working on a sort of re-integration of Europe, also and especially in the field of jazz and improvised music.

Jazz Connective - Grass Roots work for jazz in Europe

Jazz Connective is one of those initiatives, founded in August 2018, mainly by Pierre Dugelay from Lyon, France. The project organizer, who has been awarded a "Host Entrepreneur" by the European Commission, is the head of Le Périscope / Association RESEAU. Périscope was created in 2007 and sees itself as an alternative offer to classical venues, as a music laboratory and a place of discovery in terms of jazz and improvised music. (“Rassemblement d’Énergies pour la Sauvegarde d'un Espace Artistique Utopique”). Dugelay is networking in many directions. As an active member of the European Jazz Network (EJN) and Vice President of the AJC, a network of French festival directors and European jazz promoters.

But back to Jazz Connective. As much as it looks, from the outside, like a loose team of cultural workers, promoters, tour and label managers, journalists and musicians, it does primarily groundbreaking work at the roots. Many musicians and organizations are facing challenges today: lack of support, difficulties in defining their careers and their relationships with institutions, and a sort of disconnectedness from the audiences.  „Faced with these questions, we believe that a European approach can contribute to building new strategies for the defence and promotion of these aesthetics. Based on transnational mobility, the Jazz Connective project therefore aims at generating a common reflection on these changes as well as promoting a culture that is both more inclusive and influential of innovative economic models.“ Jazz Connective wants to sustainably strengthen the scenes. Producers, musicians and professionals should examine these issues on a European level.

The activities supported by the EU under the Creative Europe Project revolve around the cities of Łódź , Dublin, Ljubljana, Lyon, London and Birmingham. Now they met in late October in Helsinki, the life center of Charles Gil. There does not seem to be anything that can dissuade this never-rushed and cool multi-tasker from his path. As a producer, tour manager, promoter, he is specialized in innovative jazz. Gil co-ordinates and organizes "Mini-Festivals On Tour" for French artists in Finland, Scandinavia and the Baltic States, in collaboration with the Finnish Jazz Federation. After moving from France to Helsinki, Gil founded Vapaat äänet (free Voices, free sounds) in 1996, an agency quickly known for its originality and high quality. Already in 2012, the magical number of one thousand concerts was exceeded. And vice versa, he brought Finnish jazz to France and other European countries. So the audience could listen to such great collaborations as those by Sylvain Darrifourcq (dr), Verneri Pohjola (tp) and Eero Tikkanen (b), or the Irish duo Insufficient Funs with Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen, performed at the Jazz Connective show cases in Helsinki, among others.

For Jazz Connective, "Europe" is not only a noble political goal - rather, they are working as a very efficient kind of do-it-yourself network. Wherever the events take place with concerts, workshops and panel discussions, local and regional institutions are involved. The whole project is financed by an intelligent funding mix from European pots, own resources as well as foundation funds.

2019/20 was a year of action for Jazz Connective, with activities in Ljubljana and Łódź. Recently "Go Northward" in Helsinki, very soon "Irish Time" in Dublin and "The English Session" in London and Birmingham. The last stop during the Jazz Connective journey will be Lyon in April. There, Le Périscope will take care of events, conferences and artist residencies.

 Essential for jazz and improvised music as a form of lived connectivity are two things: financial support and mobility. For all jazz musicians, touring is the greatest thing. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly absurd to jet aimlessly from A to B. And for musicians it's just possible to decide whether to fly overseas for a one-off show or not. Sustainability in the touring plan was the topic at the Jazz Connective Round Table at Helsinki’s WHS Teatteri Union. Parallel to the "Take the Green Train" manifesto of the EJN, Jazz Connective is working diligently on the project Slow Touring. Gil explains: "Specifically, with my French partners and producers, we have tried to reduce flying to an absolute minimum, wherever possible." So, with Vapaat äänet he organized tours for French bands with 15 to 20 appearances in Finland and the Baltic States, with only one return flight to the region. Gil is now also planning the international Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution-Tour 2020 in this style. Six countries are currently in the Jazz Connective boat. Early 2022 should continue with another series of mini-festivals - and maybe with new partner cities in other countries?

Jan Kobrzinowski

To be published in JAZZTHETIK, issue January/February, 2020 (Dec 20, 2020)