Despite the notorious circumstances prevailing worldwide for months due to the pandemic, the 36th Belgrade Jazz Festival was again successfully held this year – with international musicians and the audience – from December 16 to 21, organized and produced by the Belgrade Youth Center.
The thirty-sixth edition was among the few European and Serbian jazz festivals held live in front of the audience during 2020, earning a special place in the event’s history. This year’s slogan “Jazzistance” highlighted the persistence and resilience of jazz music throughout history, manifested during the pandemic, but also clearly implies one of the most frequent words this year: physical distance, something we all had in mind while enjoying jazz during the Festival!
The responsibility was great, and it is not immodest to say that just holding the Festival was a real organizational feat. The selection itself was already difficult, and the concert logistics were a challenge. The main priority was the health and safety of all participants and the audience. The realization of the program required new procedures. The goal – a safe environment for quality live music events – was achieved with the understanding and satisfaction of all: participants, audience, and team members. We managed to handle all extraordinary tasks while preserving the already acquired high artistic level and manifestation form.
The Belgrade Jazz Festival, recognized as a top European art event and a leading regional jazz event, confirmed its reputation in this smaller format, presenting various currents of traditional and contemporary jazz – legends of the genre, authentic creators at the peak of their careers, as well as emerging artists on the global stage, from the country and abroad.
Five performing days (with a break on December 19, due to St. Nicholas Day) saw seven concerts in terms adjusted to the epidemiological measures (from 2 pm and 3 pm), mostly with artists from abroad.
Following the tradition, an original production opened the Festival in the Belgrade Youth Center Great Hall. Serbian prominent bassist and composer Nenad Vasilić had a Serbian premiere of his music inspired by Serbian folklore in arrangements for string quartet, with the support from the local band Wonder Strings, and his longtime music partners Marko Živadinović (accordion) and Austrian Romed Hopfgartner (soprano saxophone).
As expected, the first concert collaboration between two great musicians from the former Yugoslavia, guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski and pianist Matija Dedić (Northern Macedonia/Croatia), drew the largest attention. During the only act in Kombank Hall, the artists presented a mixture of original songs and impressive arrangements, a popular repertoire with an appropriate touch of top artistry.
Fresh encounters with contemporary European jazz representatives brought great pleasure to jazz gourmands: Ulrich Drechsler LIMINAL ZONE: Azure (Austria) and Filippo Vignato Trio (Italy/France/Hungary). Seasoned clarinetist and saxophonist Drexler, one of the most prominent European jazz artists today, led the Azure Quartet in the sphere of highly stylized fusion of jazz, pop and electronic music.
The young trombonist Vignato evolves into the true successor of Gianluca Petrella, combining introspective and expressive music, romantic images and dissonant passages, strict style and elaborate improvisation. In speeches at concerts, neither Drexler nor Vignato could hide enthusiasm at the fact that they were performing in front of a live audience in Belgrade, a rare privilege of artists during the covid pandemic.
A combination of youth and experience also characterized the selection of local participants. Inspired by the just-published monograph Belgrade Jazz Festival: 1971–2020, the Serbian Jazz Legends program provided the book’s soundtrack. Lazar Tošić, Vlada Maričić and Jovan Maljoković, with their ensembles, Miloš Krstić (solo), as well as guests Nenad Jelić, Branko Marković and Nenad Petrović evoked memories of the glorious Festival past – only the participants of this program performed at the event over seventy times!
On the other hand, we peeked into the bright future, listening to intriguing concerts organized by the Ivan Radivojević Quartet and Gorica & The Grooveheadz. Fresh graduates from the Belgrade Faculty of Music Jazz Department and without a released album, both trumpet player Ivan Radivojevic and vocalist Gorica Sutic already show extraordinary performing and artistic talent following modern trends, announcing further strengthening of Serbian jazz position on the global stage.
This year, the Belgrade Jazz Festival again attracted the audience numbers allowed by the valid epidemiological measures, responding to our invitation to get together again – the most important thing in these circumstances.
Traditional Patrons of the Belgrade Jazz Festival are the City of Belgrade – City Authority – Secretariat for Culture; the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia.
This year, friends of the BJF were Lukoil, SOKOJ and Voda Vrnjci and Java Coffee. Festival supporters were the Italian Institute of Culture, Austrian Cultural Forum, The Tourism Organisation of Belgrade, The Tourism Organisation of Serbia, Faculty of Music and Alma Quatrro.
The Belgrade Jazz Festival, as a manifestation of special cultural interest for the City of Belgrade and a member of the European Jazz Network, is a prestigious international world music event and an authentic cultural brand, specific to only several European capitals.
Preparations for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Belgrade Jazz Festival are already on their way!