Budapest Bop: European Jazz Network hits Hungary for 2015 Jazz Conference and showcase concerts

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The skies may have been leaden and the tragic refugee and migrant crisis never far away, but the city on the Danube is a welcoming charmer and the jazz was suitably hot as over 200 jazz and improvised music professionals from 38 countries gathered at the Budapest Music Centre for the 2015 European Jazz Conference and Hungarian jazz showcase.

The Europe Jazz Network is now in its 28th year and the annual conference is an important and unique event where festival and club promoters, national jazz organisations, musicians and media come together to strengthen the development and diversity of jazz in Europe and beyond, build relationships, develop new projects and artistic collaborations, share expertise and spread awareness of the music as a cultural and educational force.

All meetings, panels, networking sessions and performances took place in the breathtakingly beautiful Budapest Music Centre, a specially designed, acoustically perfect building founded by Hungarian trombonist, businessman and academy professor László Gőz, which houses a concert hall, recording studio, the BMC record label, library and archive plus rehearsal rooms, meeting spaces, bars and the wonderful, galleried Opus Jazz Club. Among the hot topics at the conference were Take The Green Train, which tackled environmental sustainability in music; Jazz Across Europe, which encouraged the growth of jazz festivals as a tourism destination; Jazz For Young People, which explored programming for younger audiences and Education Beyond Institutions, which looked at jazz education and careers.

As host country the Hungarian jazz scene was armed and ready, stepping up to the plate with four showcase gigs each night shared between the concert hall and jazz club, with only the briefest of refreshments stops between. Among the highlights of a vibrant and agreeable programme were the Dresch Quartet, featuring the remarkable flute and cimbalom dialogue of Mihály Dresch and Miklós Lukács; the intense M-Base interplay of saxophonist Kristóf Bacsó’s Triad; the spiritual guitar aesthetic of guitarist Gábor Gadó’s Quartet; the impressive young trio Santa Diver featuring a star in the making with astonishing violinist Luca Kézdy; the Modern Art Orchestra featuring the Hungarian sax legend Tony Lakatos, and the robust Hammond B-3 swing of the Viktor Tóth Tercett who wrapped up the conference with a smoking, gritty take on the Blue Note label’s finest.

Given the inclusive, barrier breaking, anti-nationalist and supportive fundamentals of the Europe Jazz Network, it should come as no surprise that the refugee and migrant situation figured on the agenda, particularly in this very city where the EJN manifesto was approved in 2004. Following a meeting of the EJN board, led by president Ros Rigby of the Sage’s Gateshead Jazz Festival, the following statement was discussed and approved by the members during the EJN General Assembly, and is being published on the EJN website, circulated to media contacts, presented to relevant EU Institutions, National Governments and other European Cultural Networks. The EJN kindly ask for your help in disseminating it as widely as possible:

 In 2004 the EJN Manifesto was approved in Budapest – the same city in which we are gathering now. In the Manifesto jazz is described as a catalyst against any kind of nationalism, as an art form that has broken through barriers of language race and class, as a driving force creating a Europe of the 21st century with a diversity of language regions and cultural heritage where mobility and flexibility are essential.

Over two decades ago populations across Europe celebrated when walls and barriers separating Eastern and Western Europe came down, enabling free travel between countries. As a result of the influx of refugees and migrants now entering Europe, we are now witnessing new barriers being erected and people being stopped at borders.

As the leading network of 106 jazz promoters from 31 European countries, we celebrate the fact that jazz has always broken down barriers, developed new musical forms through collaboration between cultures, and provided a context in which musicians fleeing persecution in their native countries have been welcomed in other places where they can thrive and develop their art. As a network we pledge that collectively and individually we will do all we can to influence national and European policy and public awareness by demonstrating positive examples through our work of the benefits of cross-cultural collaboration.


See the November issue of Jazzwise for a full live review of the live performances in Budapest

– Jon Newey