Jazz Festivals in Europe - 1964 to 2013
May 13, 2013
My first gig in Europe was in 1964, at the Comblain-la-Tour Jazz Festival in Belgium, while I was a member of the Stan Getz group. The festival was started by an American GI, who had been sheltered by the villagers in this small town during World War II. In appreciation, he created a jazz festival, which brings in a ton of people each year. It is still going, after 50 years! In some ways, playing jazz in Europe is much the same as it has always been, but in other ways, things have changed.
From its earliest days, jazz was always popular in Britain and Europe, but it became much more widely available after World War II, thanks to the large presence of American troops and American influence in general. In the ’50s, there also was an ex-patriot migration of a number of prominent American jazz musicians who moved their careers to various European capitals, many to Paris, but others to Copenhagen and several cities in Germany. African-American musicians, especially at that time, often felt more welcome in Europe than in the USA. Europeans treated musicians, of all kinds, with real respect, even as far back as the 40s and 50s. Today, jazz musicians are usually considered to be important “artists,” but in mid-20th century America, jazzers were usually regarded as just entertainers in bars and clubs. Europe was ahead of the USA in this regard.
Until the mid-’60s, concerts by American jazz stars were still fairlyrare in Europe and fans were very excited about seeing concerts by performers they usually only heard on recordings. However, now all the name bands routinely tour throughout Britain and on the continent at least annually, so the rarity factor has diminished. In that respect, there is not as much difference between the European audiences and American audiences as there used to be.
Still there are some noticeable distinctions. Typically Europeans attend more concerts than do Americans; whether it is classical or jazz or other music; Europeans, generally, are frequent concertgoers. European society also makes a greater commitment to supporting the arts.Most performances are subsidized by city and state governments, and/or state broadcasting.
And, talk about jazz festivals! Wow, is the word that comes to mind. In the USA, we have a few big, long-established jazz festivals such as those at Newport, RI and Monterey, CA., and a number of smaller regionalfestivals that take place during the summer months. But in Europe, it seems almost every town, every little region of the continent has their own jazz festival, literally hundreds of them. Some are large and known world-wide like Montreux Jazz in Switzerland, Umbria Jazz in Italy, and the biggest of them all, North Sea Jazz in Holland. But there are many, many small festivals, as well. The summer months eventually became overcrowded with competing festivals, so many towns now hold their festivals in the autumn or spring seasons, making jazz fests almost a year round phenomenon.
Consequently, a typical European tour schedule includes a number of festival dates. My current Europe tour, from May 5 to 25, includes festival dates in England, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal. And it isn’t even summertime yet!
One of the fun aspects of touring the festivals in Europe is that youget to see a lot of musician friends. A hundred or more musicians are touring around the continent at the same time, each band on their own schedule as we go from festival to festival. You never know who you aregoing to run into at the next stop, who might be on the same show as you, or who you might cross paths with in an airport or a hotel lobby.
And that brings me to a final point. For quite a few American jazz musicians, it can often seem that they are more appreciated in Europe than they are at home. While some musicians achieve fairly wide-spread success, and draw ample audiences wherever they go, others, whose music may be more esoteric or simply less established with fans, may well findmore sympathetic listeners among the European fans. Many musicians will tell you this has been their experience. Perhaps because jazz is America’s national music, we tend to take it for granted at home. Not sofor international audiences (particularly in Europe and Japan, the two biggest jazz markets besides the USA). And personally speaking, I always enjoy visiting the great cities of Europe, even if I am on a tight schedule and working most of the time. There’s nothing like a spring day in Paris, visiting a historic cathedral in Barcelona, or taking a break at a sidewalk café in Rome; just a little job perk for ustraveling musicians.
Join the discussion about European Tours on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/OfficialGaryBurton.
Did they just say, “39,000 students enrolled in my Improvisation course?” OMG!
April 30, 2013
Clearly the new frontier of education is online. Back at the dawn of the internet, no one imagined such a possibility, so let me fill you in on some history.
By the year 2000, online education was starting to appear around the USA. First it was a few colleges offering academic courses commonly required in the first year or two by many schools. At about this time, my alma mater, Berklee College of Music, began to consider the possibility of offering music instruction online. I am proud to say that during the final years I served as Executive Vice President at Berklee, my main project was creating an online music school. (I retired from Berklee in 2004 just after the online school was launched).
To accomplish this I worked with a team of very talented Berklee educators and technicians to create the structure and technical design for the courses, an effort that started pretty much from scratch, being as music is much different from traditional academics. In 2003, Berklee’s online music school, known as Berklee Music Online (www.berkleemusic.com), was launched, and now ten years later it is safe to say it has been a huge success. The program boasts over a hundred courses created and taught by Berklee professors and instructors, covering subjects from guitar playing to record production, music business, arranging, song-writing, and so on.
Watching this venture grow into a vibrant educational program, I suppose it was just a matter of time before I wanted to get in on the action. Before I was a full time administrator, my favorite Berklee activity was teaching improvisation. So with encouragement from Berklee’s current leaders, I set aside some time to prepare my own online course, creating 95 demonstration videos, along with text explanations, play-along tracks, and so on – everything that could help communicate the skills and thinking involved in jazz improvisation. My course launched in January 2012, so I am now completing my fifth semester teaching online. My classes include students from a virtual United Nations of countries: Australia, Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, India, Great Britain, Russia, and pretty much every European country, along with plenty of USA and Canadian students, of course.
What is unique about teaching online is the interaction that takes place between the students, as well as with the teacher. Students learn as much from each other as they do from the lesson materials, I think. And, I have had a ball with the course, holding weekly online chat sessions and grading assignments from wherever I happen to be while I am on tour. As long as I have internet access, I can teach.
I will continue with my Berklee course well into the future, I am sure. Meanwhile, a new movement that started a few years ago by some Stanford University professors called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), has taken off like a rocket. Coursera the Stanford-based consortium for online education (www.coursera.org), now offers over 300 courses for approximately 1.5 million students world-wide, in this format: All courses are completely free and open to anyone. Among those 300-plus courses now on offer is a new one: “Introduction to Improvisation by Gary Burton.” My new Coursera MOOC launched on April 29th, and already over 39,000 students have enrolled! That is almost impossible to fathom, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I created all new videos and content for this course, and I will oversee it along with teaching my already established Berklee course. So, hey, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about improvisation, check out one of my courses.
Join the discussion about these courses on my Facebook page,http://www.facebook.com/OfficialGaryBurton.
March 7, 2013
As you may know, Chick Corea and I won another Grammy award in February for our recording HOT HOUSE (our 6th as a collaboration). The category was Best Improvised Jazz Solo.
There are five Grammy categories for jazz: Best Jazz Ensemble (we were also nominated in this category and the winner was our long-time friend and collaborator Pat Metheny), Best Large Ensemble (the winner was Arturo Sandoval for a CD on which I appeared as guest soloist), Best Jazz Vocal (won by Esperanza Spaulding, one of my students when I taught at Berklee), and Best Latin Jazz recording (won by The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band). This is my 7th Grammy win, spaced out over the past five decades -- at least one Grammy each decade.
People often ask me what it means to win a Grammy and the answer is easy. This is an award chosen by our peers, not the public, not a poll of critics, or an institution.
There are approximately 12,000 voting members in the Recording Academy. To join, you have to be a creative participant in six recordings as musician, arranger, composer, engineer, producer, or liner note writer --- in short, any creative aspect of making records. All members can vote in the major categories like Record of the Year, Best New Artist, Song of the Year, etc. Other categories are grouped according to genre, five for jazz, eight for classical, and so on covering blues, country, etc. Members can select the categories in which they wish to vote, limited to a reasonable number. The idea is for members to vote only in categories with which they have expertise.
The voting takes place in several rounds. First is an open entry process, during which members and record labels can submit any recording released commercially during the eligible year (Oct 1 to September 30). The academy screens all the entries to make sure they are placed in the correct categories (typically about 10% are submitted in error and are moved to the correct categories). The list of entries then goes out to all the members to vote in the nomination round. Next, the top five vote getters (occasionally there are ties so it becomes the top six vote getters), called nominees, are sent to members for their final decisions. On Grammy day (February 10, in the case of the latest telecast), the winners are announced during the national Grammy telecast, and the pre-telecast.
The national telecast only includes award presentations of about a dozen major categories. The rest of the Grammys are presented in a pre-telecast event, broadcast live on the internet, taking place over three hours prior to the national telecast. It makes for kind of a long day if you are there in person, given 3-hours for the pre-telecast, an hour break, then 3 and a half hours for the Grammy telecast, and the after party that goes for another couple of hours. An audience of about 4,000 attends the pre-telecast awards. The evening Grammy telecast brings together an audience of 12,000 members and their guests. No tickets are sold to the public.
To sum it up, there is something special about all these people in our industry voting for the artists, singling out their expert choices. Winning a Grammy is simply the top award a musician can look forward to. While nothing tops the applause and enthusiasm of the audiences at our concerts, winning a Grammy comes pretty close.
New Online Improvisation Course:
My brand new project is an online music course, GARY BURTON: JAZZ IMPROVISATION, which I have just finished creating for Berklee Music, the online music school at my old college, Berklee College of Music. The creation of Berklee's online school was one of my personal projects during the last years I was Executive Vice President at the college, and I am very pleased that it has become a roaring success in its first decade. I just couldn't pass up the chance to be part of this marvelous educational venture. When I was a Berklee professor, my favorite activity was teaching improvisation, so it was pretty natural for me to translate my teaching approach into the online format. I look forward to working with students who enroll in the course this year.
I am now finished with my touring schedule for 2012 and the requirements of taking on a wide variety of projects over the past year turned out to be a little bigger than I expected. Last year, I toured a fair amount with Chick Corea and we released our latest CD, Hot House, released on Sept 4, 2012 (released a few months earlier in Europe). Hot House has been nominated in three Grammy categories (best jazz ensemble, best improvised solo, and best arrangement), and on February 10, the final results will be announced. We'll see what happens!
I toured with Chick for 21 European concerts in the spring as we marked the European release of the new Hot House CD (a few sample tracks are here on the site under discography). And we managed to have a full house for every concert on the tour! Next we toured the USA over the second half of the year, performing with the Harlem String Quartet, a collaboration we premiered at the Blue Note in New York. Current projects include a jazz cruise in January, a Europe tour with the quartet in May, a Japan tour with pianist Makoto Ozone in June, a USA tour with the quartet in September/October, and guest appearances on a few records with various musician friends. My newest CD, Guided Tour, with the Gary Burton Quartet, is scheduled for release in Europe in May and in the USA in September, to coincide with our touring schedule.
Watch for "Learning to Listen," my autobiography, scheduled for publication in September, 2013. I wrote every word of it, and I am wondering what you all will think about it.
As always, I appreciate your interest in my music and the support I receive from audiences wherever I go.