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The jazz family keeps growing and evolving


When I participated in my first Europe Jazz Network conference in Istanbul in 2005, the network had 52 member organisations and it was easy to fit everyone into the family portrait. Since then, EJN has been steadily growing and in our board meeting this March it was noted that there are now 164 members.

Compared to many other international networks, EJN enjoys very active attendance, which in my opinion can be credited to its membership fee structure, set up at the early stages of the organisation’s history. With a membership that covers accommodation and a travel subsidy for one person to attend the Annual General Meeting, nearly every member organisation will send at least one representative to the meeting each year. This enables members to meet each other regularly and the network to expand.

During the last six years, the EJN Annual General Meeting has been organised in conjunction with a jazz conference which is open to anyone and which features a series of showcase concerts presented by the host country. At the 2019 Europe Jazz Conference in Italy’s Novara, over 350 attendees were squeezed into the traditional group photo. Although the crowd keeps getting bigger, the focus is still on meeting new people and strengthening the network. The conference is not meant to be a marketplace where desperate gig promoters chase evasive concert presenters.

While the jazz family keeps growing, the fundamentals remain the same. What brings everyone together is jazz and all the promotion work that is being undertaken across Europe. EJN colleagues are often invited to visit and to learn about their host country’s music scene, thus leading to a growing knowledge of European jazz. It is easy to continue these friendships outside of the official meetings. Once you have established each colleague’s musical tastes, you can swap tips about interesting ensembles. Some countries have even decided to present the same group of featured performers across the spring jazz festival circuit in different countries. Thanks to these collaborations, many smaller events have managed to secure high-end performers for their concerts.

With help from increased EU funding, EJN has been able to launch specifically themed group meetings throughout the year, responding to the interests of its member organisations. One central discussion topic has naturally been artistic communication. Small working groups have flowed on to artistic co-productions and tours, which will resume once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. One of the meetings focused on promoting musical involvement as music experiences should not just be restricted to ticket-buying audiences who get to hear live performances. Since the network’s inception in 1987, many EJN members have been interested in exploring the opportunities jazz music can provide for different communities. One of the meetings was themed around gender issues. While jazz has traditionally been a very male-dominated music genre, there has been growing awareness about the gender divide. A joint effort has been made to pause and reflect the reasons behind this, as well as coming up with new policies to improve the situation. Small group meetings two or three times a year will not change things rapidly, but various conversations and research work have already begun.

When the Tampere Jazz Happening was given an award by EJN in 2017 for adventurous programming, I was glad to see how proudly the festival’s volunteers welcomed the acknowledgment – our own festival was chosen to be recognised internationally. An international award is always significant as it attracts media attention, reminds funding bodies of a job well done, and may even pique the interest of new audiences. In a bid to attract attention to jazz professionals, Europe Jazz Network has established three annual awards. The award categories are Adventurous Programming, Music & Community, and the Zenith Award for young virtuoso performers.

Through our many network meetings, our jazz family has provided a wide perspective into international phenomena. Budget cuts experienced by my EJN colleagues helped me to anticipate the upcoming financial crisis a few years ago, and in the current Coronavirus climate it has been useful to predict our own government’s decisions based on the directives already implemented in other countries. The pandemic has further strengthened the existing collaborations between Europe Jazz Network and other European cultural networks, as well as general lobbying efforts on behalf of cultural funding. All arts professionals have been hard hit by the pandemic, but no-one has to try to survive on their own. EJN has offered its members an opportunity to share thoughts, access information and take initiative for the future. In the coming weeks, Europe Jazz Network will provide free public online webinars each Monday and Thursday between 18 May and 11 June, starting at 6pm (5pm CEST). The future feels brighter when we face it together.

Minnakaisa Kuivalainen
Executive Director
Tampere Music Festivals (Tampere Jazz Happening, Tampere Biennale, Tampere Vocal Music Festival)