Nordic jazz organizations on the spotlight

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Nordic Jazz Network has worked already for 20 years to collaborate and make Nordic jazz heard all over Nordic countries and even further. The network’s main tool is an annual Nordic Jazz Comets showcase event which offers young jazz bands a way abroad. The network members are five Nordic jazz organizations: Jazz Finland, Jazz Danmark, Norsk jazzforum, Svensk jazz and FÌH Music School.

Nordic jazz organizations each have their own focus which they work on, but in many parts they are very similar. Both the collaboration within the network and local operations aim to bring live music as widely as possible at Nordic countries and internationally and encourage diverse jazz culture. All of the jazz organizations operate on productions and projects, granting financial support, counseling and sharing information and promoting the interests in the jazz scene of their country. The biggest differences are in the projects they compose and who their members are.

 

The network of organizations represents and developes the scene of Nordic jazz music

Jazz field in Norway divide in five regional jazz centers all managed by Norsk jazzforum. These regional jazz centers produce events, local and international projects and distributes funding and stipends for musicians and concert organizers. The organization works for the benefit of Norwegian jazz by strengthening the public funding, creating collaborations and speaking for equality. The members of the Norsk jazzforum are jazz clubs, festivals, orchestras and musicians.

The Norwegian jazz scene today is vibrant, and it manages to challenge the more traditional jazz. “It seems like there is a great will to create music that have not yet been made”, describes the Norsk jazzforum’s head of program Øyvind Skjerven Larsen. “The biggest challenge is our small markets, and so many musicians making great music. This is why the Nordic Jazz Comets and other international projects and initiatives are so important for us.” In addition to the Nordic networking, Norsk jazzforum works closely with the export office Music Norway to expanding their markets abroad. Lately they have brought Norwegian jazz know-how to Knoxville Tennessee, New York and this year to Bremen as the partner country at Jazzahead. Also, Norsk jazzforum gives musicians financial support for touring outside and inside of Norway.

Svensk Jazz in Sweden is quite similar to Norsk jazzforum in terms of members. There are over 170 members: community and association members such as jazz clubs, festivals, agencies and other jazz actors in the country, and also musicians. Association offers support to members and works for jazz as a musical form in Sweden in collaboration with other organizations and authorities. The biggest member group is jazz clubs. The Svensk Jazz’s producer Terese Larsson thinks that despite the already large amount of jazz clubs, there is a need for bigger professionally organized jazz clubs in the Swedish jazz scene. As it is in other Nordic countries, also in Sweden another daily challenge for jazz actors is funding. “Intensive efforts are continuously being made to seek cooperation and support from municipalities, educational associations, county music foundations and sponsors. Svensk Jazz’s primary mission is to support the clubs in this work, to prepare and present large audiences around the country with high-class jazz experiences.” For Larsson, at the core of Swedish jazz there are clubs but also talented musicians: “Sweden has a lively jazz scene. Lots of great musicians finish music school every year.”

There are no members in Denmarks jazz organization Jazz Danmark. While other jazz organizations rely both on public funding and member fees, Jazz Danmark operates with 4-year funding from Danish Arts Council. Jazz Danmark is one of the four genre-organizations in Denmark. The Danish Arts Council has defined each of the genre-organizations tasks such as counseling, information and network activities, project activities and financial support activities. In addition to these services, Jazz Danmark aims to bring Danish jazz all over Danmark and abroad and to urge forward diversity in the field of jazz. “Danish jazz scene is diverse in terms of the styles of jazz that are represented. That is also one of its strengths, I think. There is space for everybody”, describes Jazz Danmark’s project manager Lars Thor Jensen.

Jazz Danmark works on local and international festival and tour productions, education and camps for kids, youths and professionals. In addition to Nordic Jazz Network, Jazz Danmark have also some export projects of their own. The organization internationalizes in two ways: they support bands playing abroad by offering money for transport, and they collaborate with international festivals, venues or promoters by setting concerts and showcases for Danish bands. Also, Jazz Danmark arranges seminars about the music industry abroad for artists. 

There is no jazz federation in Iceland. Instead, Iceland’s member in the Nordic Jazz Network is Reykjavik-based FÍH Music School, that is run by the musician union. In addition to educating jazz musicians, it is an active jazz actor that collaborates with local jazz scene. “Despite a small population we have some really talented and creative jazz musicians in Iceland, and I would say the jazz scene is quite diverse”, the FÌH teacher Ólafur Jónsson reflects. There are weekly jazz gigs in Reykjavik, at restaurants, concert hall and jazz clubs – although Jónsson thinks there could be more places for concert-like jazz events.

Education has a significant role in Icelandic jazz. “Up until recently the FÍH was the only place to study jazz music in Reykjavik. The school have good teachers, and it serves an extremely important job in keeping the scene alive. Thanks to school there are always new players emerging”, Jónsson continues, “and talents from the school are usually chosen to take part of the Nordic Jazz Comets.” He sees the benefit of Nordic network in a concrete way from the viewpoint of education of jazz musicians, since the young musicians from a small country gets to network with other Europeans. “It's not possible to study jazz performance at a higher academic level in Iceland. That’s why many young players have studied in places like Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany or the United States, and bring influences and players from these places to Iceland”, he explains.

 

Testimonials of Nordic collaboration

Nordic Jazz Network has been fruitful for the Nordic partners. “We have learned a lot from each other and got to know much more about how the different Nordic markets operate. Also, having worked together for such a long time, we have become trusted colleagues and can ask each other for advice”, reflects Øyvind Skjerven Larsen from Norsk jazzforum. The international contacts have probably been the most significant benefit of the co-projects. “In Sweden we have benefited a lot from the Nordic network, since it is our only regular international project. We have established international contacts for Svensk Jazz and the attending groups and clubs”, Terese Larsson from Svensk Jazz lists. Creating contacts increases the information about the jazz markets in the neighboring countries, which helps taking jazz across borders. “Nordic Jazz Network has definitely given us insights into the jazz scene in each country and also strengthened our network within the Nordic countries”, ponders Lars Thor Jensen from Denmark. Nordic collaboration has been an important step for internationalization also in Finland. “Jazz Finland and other organizations have limited resources to do international projects, but this kind of joined efforts increase expertise and establish networks. Certainly in the future we come up with cost-effective and influential ways to do cultural exchange also in a wider spectrum”, produced-publicist Raisa Siivola from Jazz Finland sums up.

For the last 20 years, the most apparent part of the Nordic Jazz Network has been Nordic Jazz Comets project. At first it was a band competition for young jazz musicians and nowadays a showcase event, where young jazz bands get to perform and network with other Nordic and European jazz professionals. Most of the representatives of Nordic jazz organizations have been part of the project for a long time. Especially the turning points of the Nordic Jazz Comets are remembered as rewarding experiences. “I managed the Danish side of Nordic Jazz Comets for the first time in Trondheim back in 2013. It was also my first real introduction to the Nordic network and all the nice people in it.” Jensen from Denmark recalls. “From there on there has been a lot of great experiences. Getting to transform the Nordic Jazz Comets from a competition into a showcase and taking it outside of the Nordic countries was a great experience. I’m looking forward of doing more Comets-showcases and experiencing the different bands from the other countries. It’s always exciting to get a feel of what is going on with the jazz scene outside of Denmark.” Terese Larsson from Sweden tells about the 2014 Nordic Jazz Comets, that was organized at Europe Jazz Conference in Helsinki. “It was the first year we took the concept from a club in one of the Nordic cities and made it on a different stage with all the attendees at the conference. It was a necessary and good step for the project. And thereafter we have brought the project outside the Nordic countries, which is also improving the project forward.” Also Raisa Siivola from Jazz Finland thinks that the direction to Central Europe was an important change. “These last years at Scope festival in Berlin, London Jazz Festival and now in Paris we have composed the program together with the local artistic committees. This offers Nordic countries also some reference on what kind of music are the local audiences interested in”, Siivola explains and then takes a look to the future: “While we as jazz organizations have introduced ourselves to the European jazz scenes and live operators, we have also established pretty good insight on what kind of collaboration we could do in the future, where and with whom.”

During the 20 years, Nordic Jazz Comets project have answered many needs that the member countries are facing. While jazz markets in Nordic countries are often limited, the showcase have offered a concrete way to widen the market areas to neighbor countries and Europe. International operations are key parts of strategy of the jazz organizations in Denmark and Norway, but for a long time Nordic Jazz Comets was the only regularly executed international project in Sweden and Finland. For the bands involved, showcase has been an important step in the path to internationalization: for many it has been a stepping stone to an international career and has offered young musicians a possibility to expand their networks outside homelands. The characteristics and operations of each of the Nordic jazz organizations have shaped the collaboration – and for its part network has inspired the member organizations to develop themselves new international functions.

The strengths of the Nordic jazz ­­– diversity, freshness and creativity ­– are advantage points that Nordic Jazz Comets are exporting to Europe. According to Øyvind Skjerven Larsen from Norway, both the Norwegian and Nordic jazz field have benefited from getting to present the younger side of the jazz scene in the Nordic region and further in London, Berlin and now Paris. “I believe that over the last few years we have made the NJC brand stronger, and I look forward seeing this develop. Also, the project we are doing with our new French partners AJC, by combining the French equivalent Jazz Migration with the Nordic Jazz Comets is something I´m looking forward to seeing the results from”, Larsen concludes.

Jazz Finland presents a three-part article series to celebrate 20th year of Nordic Jazz Network. This second part put the spotlight on member organizations of the network. First part covered the history of the network and upcoming third part will open up some of the future plans.

First part ”20 years of Nordic Jazz Network” available here.

Photo: Represenetatives of Nordic Jazz Network and Association Jazzé Croise planning the future collaboration in Paris in December 2018. From left to right;Tiphanie Moreau, AJC; Terese Larsson, Svensk Jazz; Antoine Bos, AJC; Øyvind Skjerven Larsen, Norsk jazzforum and Raisa Siivola, Suomen Jazzliitto.

 Text by Jenni Köykkä