WBGO Blog
  • Oui Et Oui: Montreal Jazz's French Connection

    June 27, 2013. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    Caravan Palace. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Montreal is a city of two cultures: French and English, usually commingling, sometimes colliding. In their fight for cultural relevance, they are often at odds. In literature, they call this "two solitudes": part English, part French, but not quite either.

    Yet as Montreal modernizes and these divisions become less noticeable, one thing remains clear: Music, art and food still belong to the French. From chanson to Monet to foie gras, let's face it, France wins.

    So, naturally, the Montreal International Jazz Festival — Canada's grandest music event of the year — props up the city's elite Francophones. (See: the new Grévin museum.) Some are formed at home and others come from abroad, yet Americans have no clue about the majority of these artists. Most French musicians, and let's throw the Quebecois in that category, can't find gigs in the U.S.

    For American first-timers to the festival, this can be a revelation. Here are five French or Quebecois artists featured this year. Follow WBGO for more annual coverage from Montreal.

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  • Jazzahead! Highlights: 5 New Bands From Europe

    April 26, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

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    Turkish-German vocalist Esra Dalfidan sings in several languages with her band FIDAN. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Bremen may be best known for its love of soccer and Beck's beer, but every April, its Jazzahead! festival turns the German port town into a capital city of jazz for a weekend

    What began as a small trade fair and showcase for German jazz nine years ago has grown into a four-day festival with more than 80 concerts and 600 exhibits, attracting 20,000 jazz fans and professionals. What sets Jazzahead! apart from other festivals — and makes it a magnet for young performers and industry insiders — is its focus on artist development. Organizers host matchmaking sessions that pair musicians with bookers, agents and the media.

    "Everybody who comes gets that positive energy, because they meet, network and make plans about how to improve the situation for jazz together," says Peter Schulze, the festival's artistic director.

    Jazzahead! has a European focus, but more and more visitors come from around the world. Many artists premiere new projects — and come from as far away as Finland, Albania and Brazil. A dozen acts are coming from the festival's partner country this year, Israel.

    Since many of these artists aren't well-known in the U.S., I've been exploring the Jazzahead! roster at the jazz bee, WBGO's HD2 stream for emerging artists. WBGO is hosting an around-the-clock showcase of recordings by groups at this year's festival, and will broadcast concert highlights on producer Josh Jackson's weekly music magazine, The Checkout, on May 7 and 14. Here's a sneak peek at five acts which surprised me, and may surprise you.

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  • South By South Africa: 5 Jazz Acts From The Rainbow Nation

    April 12, 2013. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    The pianist and saxophonist Kyle Shepherd is one of Cape Town's most highly tipped musicians. (Image Credit: freelenz/Flickr)

    Brilliant art often hides in plain sight. Such is the case in South Africa, where, for centuries, the country turned its back on black and "coloured" musicians.

    In the mid-'60s, the apartheid government made it impossible for its best musicians to operate or make a living. Being a true jazz musician in the apartheid era was particularly dangerous; artists who played music that symbolized empowerment, integration and freedom posed a direct threat. This is why so few "classic" South African jazz recordings exist in the first place. Now, as South Africa enters a modern age, many of the same problems that frustrate American jazz artists actually plague South Africans. Recording contracts for its elders are few and far between.

    That said, there's one bright light in the country: The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, one of Africa's largest music events. Last weekend, jazz — and all that it represents — was celebrated as a vital component of South African identity. This "grandest gathering," as it was called, not only drew a massive audience (26,000 people in two days), but also attracted Africa's top business leaders and dignitaries, including South Africa's president himself.

    Here are five South Africans — all featured at this year's festival — whom every jazz aficionado should know.

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