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Neil Byrom

An Englishman in Munich


Betrachtungen über die Jazzstadt München

Munich considers itself, with some justification, a World city (if I remember correctly "eine Weltstadt mit Herz"). It has two world-class orchestras in the classical field and yet, unlike other broadcast regions of the former Western Germany, it has never had a subsidised professional Jazz Orchestra on a par with the WDR Big Band or the NDR Big Band, to name but two. Yet my mind easily finds examples of other permanently established professional Jazz ensembles on the stages of major cities of this world: the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis or the many years of residency of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl.

 

Jazz is one of the major musical art forms to emerge in the twentieth century, and it has taken its place in the hearts and minds of the concert-going public. It is of major historic interest as well as providing a continuing motivation for composers and performers to expand its boundaries. At the same time, never in the history of the Bundesland have so many young people been educated in Jazz performance and groomed for the concert platform, whether through the Jazz departments at the Conservatoires, the excellent network of youth Jazz orchestras or the respected Jazz Colleges over in the States. Munich, as a relatively prosperous City and Hinterland, sends more than its fair share of talented young people to these institutions. Yet as they graduate they encounter reduced opportunities here to play Jazz, with fewer Jazz Clubs evident and a diminishing commercial gala scene.

 

If we are serious in educating the most talented of our young people to learn the skills and the traditions of Jazz, should we not also provide some institution comparable to the world of classical orchestral playing that the most tenacious and interested home-grown players can aspire to? I am talking about a permanently-established high-quality Jazz Orchestra in this town, as a means by which the most outstanding and mature artists who are interested in ensemble playing can find an opportunity to perform at a standard comparable to anywhere else in the world.

 

Similar formations do exist here, providing for the devotees of the Big Bands and giving professional jazz musicians an opportunity to play the music with like-minded peers, but with the best will in the world, and with all the respect to the leaders who bring their love of the music and their expertise to bear upon their own very special concerts, these bands are limited - both in their repertoire and in their standard of performance - by the fact that they are ‘telephone bands‘. By that phrase I mean that they occasional ensembles where the musicians get together only to rehearse for a particular concert performance, often on the very day. They are together for perhaps seven hours of rehearsal and performance and for very little money (you will laugh, but it would not even pay the call-out fee for a workman to come to your washing machine, never mind repair it.)

 

It would be so good to see the establishment of a Jazz ensemble funded by a foundation, the city or the State on a similar footing to that enjoyed by classical musicians - with paid rehearsal time to establish the highest standards of performance. What I envisage is a permanent orchestra of eighteen musicians - eight brass, five reeds, rhythm section plus a chief musical director. A office would need to established for the musical director, with a manager and secretary responsible for the organisation and marketing. A residency should be established at a major venue, such as the Gasteig, and regular rehearsal space would be needed. The repertoire might range from that of the concert jazz ensembles of Ellington and Basie through to major writers of recent years in Europe and abroad, such as Bob Brookmeyer or German arrangers such as Jörg Achim Keller or Jan-Peter Klöpfel.

 

One might propose a series of twenty to thirty concerts a year. Ten of these would be scheduled in Munich over a period of October to May each year, with additional concerts in nearby towns or further afield at Festivals in Europe, thereby promoting the city’s cultural richness. This could be achieved with scheduled rehearsal of around twenty-two hours in a week over a thirty-six week period, with the musicians paid a pro-rata salary (0,6 of a full-time position). Without more than a ‚back of an envelope‘ calculation, I am sure that I could deliver a similar organisation on a budget of a little over one

million Euros per annum.

 

If you think that this sounds a lot, I am told that this sum of money is precisely what it costs per year to transport the

musical instruments of a classical orchestra funded by this city. One million Euros per year to move the harps and timpani of one orchestra of seven classical orchestras in this metropolis.

 

As an emergent art form of the last century, a niche market has clearly developed for jazz. It, like classical music, is now associated with the concert stages of the world and a generation of successful people in business and the professions have discovered its enduring appeal. As a city priding itself on its rich cultural life, Munich rightly subsidises the professional

classical arts - both orchestral and operatic - to ensure the maintenance of the highest artistic standards which commercial considerations might otherwise preclude.

 

I am in no doubt that the cultural scene as a whole is suffering in the midst of a recession as much as the rest of the economy, but all the more reason to be interested in managing change. The poor jazz musician, traditionally at the bottom of the pile in terms of subsidy compared to the classical field, may just start to look attractive in terms of value for money. A world class Jazz ensemble for relatively little money has to be an interesting proposition.