Under the Rainbow of Jazz

28. jaanuar 2007

The name of the festival recalls Estonian folk party jaskar, but on the other hand, it reminds us also of variety of colours in jazz music – like in the rainbow; which all can be put under umbrella of jazz. Jazzkaar is the arc uniting musicians, audience, different periods and styles of jazz.

Anne Erm,
Artistic Director of the Jazzkaar

The rebirth of the Tallinn Jazz Festival was made possible thanks to lucky coincidences. When I visited jazz festivals in the Soviet Union as radio reporter, musicians and my colleagues asked me repeatedly the same question: when can we visit the Tallinn festival again? I promised to organize a one-day blues-jazz event, but instead it became a rather large festival with more than 40 concerts. The first headliner was the quartet of Ray Anderson, trombone and saxophone player.

Nowadays, the Jazzkaar is the star event of Estonian jazz, bringing here the world’s best performers. The name of the festival recalls Estonian folk party jaskar, but on the other hand, it reminds us also of variety of colours in jazz music – like in the rainbow; which all can be put under umbrella of jazz. Jazzkaar is the arc uniting musicians, audience, different periods and styles of jazz.

The goal of the festival has always been the same: introduction of music on as large scale as possible; starting with avant-garde and ending with mainstream jazz, including also the more interesting styles of world music and blues.

When Jazzkaar started in the autumn of 1990, it was titled The Days of Jazz & Blues in Tallinn. Estonia regained its independence in 1991 and the festival’s name changed to Jazzkaar. Transition period was difficult and if people had not enough to eat, except for bread, then who could afford to go to concerts! Yet despite the hard times, Jazzkaar introduced to Estonian public such creative luminaries of international jazz as Ray Anderson, Arne Domnerus, Rune Gustafsson, Steve Lacy, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Douglas, et al.
In 1993, the ticket cost 0.20 – 2 Euros in nowadays currency. Even that price seemed too high then. The standard of living began to rise soon though, and in couple of years the people started visiting concerts more. The former Communist Party meeting hall of Sakala, which seated 1,000 people and where for 16 years the largest concerts of Jazzkaar took place, was full for the first during the concerts of Joe Zawinul and the Real Group in 1994. That year also marked beginning of the tradition of jazz raves and club events for youth, which introduced jazz music based on modern club rhythms and world music performers. These dance events have featured DJ Gilles Peterson, Nils Petter Molvær, Osibisa, Bugge Wesseltoft, Beady Belle, Koop, Manu Dibango, Real People, Exploding Plastix, etc.
Youth constitute the major part of Jazzkaar audience, which in the recent years has reached 25,000.

In 1995, Jazzkaar moved from autumn to spring and since then the festival takes place in the last week of April and sometimes even longer. Grand spring festivals contain ca 50 concerts, performers come from dozens of countries and concerts take place in many Estonian cities in addition to Tallinn, e.g. in 2006 in 13 Estonian cities. During its existence, Jazzkaar has hosted more than 2,000 musicians from over 50 countries. Audience favourites have been next to Joe Zawinul and the Real Group also Toots Thielemans, Mezzoforte, Jan Garbarek, Charles Lloyd, Béla Fleck, Courtney Pine, Eliane Elias, Mike Stern, New York Voices, Richard Bona, Omar Sosa, Bobby Previte, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield, Avishai Cohen, Mike Stern, Diane Schuur and many others.
Of top world music performers, Jazzkaar has seen Finnish celebrities Värttinä and Kimmo Pohjonen, Saami joig-singers Mari Boine and Wimme, Swedish Garmarna, flamenco guitarist Vicente Amigo, bossa nova stars Jacques and Paula Morelenbaum and Joyce, Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, Arabian musicians Dhafer Youssef, Mad Sheer Khan, DuOud, etc. Such an abundant feast for Estonian audience has been possible since the Estonian government and City of Tallinn have acknowledged the festival as a representative event of our culture and thus given it their support.

In addition to the spring festival, in 1996 a more intimate festival, Jõulujazz was born. The impulse came from the concert of legendary Danish jazz bassist Henning Ørsted-Pedersen. He was well known in Estonia thanks to colourful concerts the Oscar Peterson Trio gave here in 1974. The main performers of Jõulujazz are mostly vocal ensembles: M-Pact, New York Voices, Hilliard Ensemble, Singer Pur, Take 6, etc. Several concerts take place in churches in Tallinn; a fundraising concert organized in collaboration with the Estonian Radio has also become a tradition.
In 1997, 30 years after the legendary festival Tallinn-67, Jazzkaar invited to Tallinn many original performers – the Charles Lloyd Quartet (with new members, though), Leningrad Dixieland, Zbignew Namyslowski Quartet. Charles Lloyd as a symbol of Tallinn festivals performed at Jazzkaar also in 2005; his concert at the Kaarli church was one of the most special ones.

In the time between the festivals Jazzkaar organizes concert series Spring Jazz and Autumn Jazz, presenting jazz music meant to be performed mainly in smaller clubs and art galleries. As a concert agency, Jazzkaar organizes 100 concerts a year. In 21st century there have sprung up several smaller festivals, such as Tabasalu Jazz in Harju County, Ladies in Jazz in Haapsalu, Nõmme Jazz in Tallinn containing yearly international competition for young singers, Tartu Improvizz and Rainbow Jazz incorporating yearly competition for youth jazz ensembles, Sillamäe Youth Jazz Festival, Narva Youth Jazz Festival, Children’s Jazz Festival and Muusikatriaad in Viljandi, Saue Youth Jazz Festival Visioon, etc. The fact that youth has such great interest in jazz inspires hope for a new generation of talented jazz musicians.