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This year’s edition of jazzahead in Bremen, Germany, was a 10th anniversary, a not insignificant milestone for the world’s  premier gathering of industry types dedicated to advancing the art and commerce of jazz. During the 3-day conference, musicians, agents, promoters, presenters, media and labels - organized by territories - offered an overview of what the jazz business looks like from a global perspective. The effect is a reminder that there's growth and evolution in art, propelled by both technology and the spirit to create.


Juried showcases from around the world have always comprised the bulk of the conference’s music. These performances are a significant feature of jazzahead, introducing to attendees jazz and related musics informed by world influences. Among the artists I witnessed, Iceland’s ADHD stood out. It is a quartet that waxes dreamy and wistful, with a sound awash in woozy reverb, yet oddly propulsive - think indie rock re-imagined through Bill Frisell.
It is a jazz hybrid, a poster child for the country’s progressive ways.

This summer, JAZZ.FM91’s faithful can experience firsthand the region’s path finding music. The station is leading its first overseas International Safari on Aug 12 - 16. Destination: The Reykjavik Jazz Festival. For those less inclined to update their passports, the station will be airing a 13-week series highlighting jazzahead's regional showcases. Much like last year’s broadcasts, it promises to bring a taste of Germany (and beyond) to Toronto.

Immediately following the conference, Romania threw open its arms in celebration of International Jazz Day. No, Bucharest was not this year’s designated jazz “capital,” as selected by UNESCO. With help from performers Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lee Ritenour, Marcus Miller, Femi Kuti, Dianne Reeves and a cast of, er, thousands, (Yes, a Cecil B. DeMille movie...) That honor went to Paris.

But on that same day, April 30, one could hardly find a more enthusiastic group of jazz lovers than those from Bucharest - earnest, joyful, echoing the “jazz-is-demoracy” mantra that resonates loudly in countries with a history of Communist rule. I was asked to deliver remarks on the business and art of jazz, an event covered by national Romanian television, and I found myself humbled by locals who continue to spotlight the music without much help  from official support systems. These Bucharest gatekeepers include extraordinary hosts Voicu Radescu and Roz Ana from the Green Hours jazz club; pianist-composer Mircea Tiberian, from Bucharest's University of Music; and Tiberiu Tanase, who runs Jazz Pong, a room dedicated to live performance and champion-level table tennis. (Of course he does. Jazz meets ping-pong. So obvious.)

The young musicians I heard deserve special mention, too: saxophonist-educator Catalin Milea, whose work borrows freely from Conduction, Butch Morris’s patented system of creating spontaneous arrangements with large ensembles - in this case, Milea’s Imagination Orchestra; and Michael Acker, a bassist who is seasoned and steady beyond his years. Both presented impressively, especially when working alongside drummer John Betsch, an American living in Paris, and a regular visitor to cities throughout Europe. Betsch’s presence on this scene was a pleasant surprise, a homecoming in reverse. Years ago, I routinely heard him in New York with Steve Lacy and Jim Pepper. This visit gave me a chance to remember those guys.

My time abroad boiled down to basic human stuff - the individuals I met! They represent a fair bit of territory on the world stage.  As jazz warriors, their work is inestimable. Which just might be the message of International Jazz Day.

The spirit of jazz is the spirit of them. Search the world, and they tend to show up.

Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, consultant and jazz columnist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat, Billboard and the Blue Note jazz club in New York. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition in Washington DC, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, Randy Brecker, Lee Konitz, Savion Glover, Esperanza Spalding and Bill Frisell. He has produced and/or supervised 13 Grammy albums - 2 winners, 11 nominees. He is a member of the Blue Note management team, consulting on club programming and international development. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and enjoys the company of jazz musicians.

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