Jazz Fest Wien 2012

All That Jazz: Jun. 2012

Columns | Philip Ellison | June 2012

Charles Bradley kicks off the Vienna Jazz Fest 2012 at the WUK (Photo: Kisha Bradley)

Readers of this column will recognise that its very existence is a tribute to the vibrant Vienna jazz scene. While a national capital and historical metropole, Vienna is a comparatively small city of 1.8 million and far from what one could call trendy. All the same, a good case can be made that this is truly a jazz lover’s paradise.

Of course, any city with a decent power grid and broadband access can accomodate those willing just to cocoon with their iPod or CD-player, mollifying the aurally jazz-deprived. Vienna, however, has the distinction of having a lively year-round tradition of live music, including a wealth of venues catering to all jazz tastes. From Jazzland to Porgy & Bess, to Zwe across the canal, to Miles Smiles, Reigen, and more, the "live music is better" devotee can be very happy. Still, it’s an insider scene, our private "New Orleans on the Donau" that we acknowledge but, as Cros’ would suggest, with a wink and a nod: let’s "keep it shady" and between us.

Once a year, though, jazz hits Vienna’s big stage with Jazz Fest Wien offering a lavish palette of talent representing the flavors, hues, dimensions, and scale of jazz musicians today.

Fritz Thom, the impresario responsible for this premier jazz event in Vienna, has done a lot of coaxing in his 22 years as Festival Director. Getting his start nearly 40 years ago, promoting live jazz in the hinterlands, "placing musicians in front of audiences in everything from clubs to the Wiesen open air stage," he came into his own in the mid-1970s. At the invitation of then-Vienna Mayor Helmut Zilk, he began the journey toward what is now an urban celebration of jazz.

Zilk shared with Fritz Thom his belief that while music in public places has always been a part of life in Vienna, jazz in its many forms could inject new life into the city’s summer nights. Faced with competing demands on arts funding, and a wealth of summer stages and other public venues, the Mayor parlayed an investment of ATS 500,000 (about €37,000) into the continuing legacy of the Vienna Jazz Festival. Thom credits Zilk with seeing that a "rising tide lifts all boats", pushing him to craft an inclusive musical ride that loosely interprets the term, and comprises idioms and performers from around the world, all delivered in the warm early summer, filling the air with music in concert halls all over town.

In the era of the Sparpaket it is worth noting that Jazz Fest Wien generates a consistent audience of 70 – to 75,000 locals and visitors, with a median age of 29. Even for a commercial venture, these are enviable demographics for sponsors and for insuring the future of music as a "consumable" good. The cultural life of this city, as everwhere, depends on audiences. Whetting the appetite with a very palatable array of live music, Vienna, with a smart programmer at the helm, makes an investment in its, and our, future.

Among the expected highlights of the 2012 Jazz Fest Wien:

Charles Bradley – 25 June / WUK

Wolfgang Muthspiel "Vienna Naked" – 30 June / WUK

Terez Montcalm – 2 July / Porgy & Bess

Melody Gardot & Band / Gregory Porter & Group – 4 July / Wiener Staatsoper

Rufus Wainwright – 6 July / Wiener Staatsoper

John Scofield & Hollowbody Band / Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos – 7 July / Rathaus-Arkadenhof

Herbie Hancock and His Band – 7 July / Wiener Staatsoper

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack Dejohnette – 8 July / Konzerthaus

Silje Nergaard – 8 July / Rathausplatz (free entry!)

Ambrose Akinmusire – 9 July / Porgy & Bess

For complete listings, visit www.viennajazz.org/en.

Other articles from this issue: