Sounding off to the world

There are three days of shows lined up in Jerusalem, and one day (November 9) in Tel Aviv – at The Zone club and Abraham Hostel.

JAZZFEST BERLIN director Nadin Deventer (photo credit: CHRISTOPH NEUMANN)
JAZZFEST BERLIN director Nadin Deventer
(photo credit: CHRISTOPH NEUMANN)
In case you didn’t know it, Israel is very much on the global map in musical terms. Increasingly, our leading world music acts, across a wide range of styles and ethnic baggage, get invites to festivals across the globe, while our jazz players have been up there with the crème de la crème for quite some time.
Barak Weiss is intent on maintaining and even pushing that ante, and for the past eight years he has spearheaded our jazz and world music showcase, with the support of the Yellow Submarine and the Foreign Ministry’s Division for Cultural and Scientific Affairs.
The 2018 edition takes place November 7-10, with three days of shows lined up at the aforementioned Jerusalem venue, and one day (November 9) in Tel Aviv – at The Zone club and Abraham Hostel. Besides local fans of the genres, the ninth showcase shows will be attended by several dozen artistic directors and producers of festivals, and other similar officials, from all over the world, who have been asked over here to check out what we have to offer.
SOME OF the VIP visitors are pretty well informed about our musical talent, while others have only sketchy knowledge of Israeli artists. Nadin Deventer pertains to the latter group but says she is hoping to leave here better equipped to make selection decisions about Israeli musicians before she gets down to putting together the program for next year’s edition of Jazzfest Berlin.
Forty-something Deventer is now in the midst of her first year as the festival’s artistic director, which has just taken place (November 1-4), but she is far from a greenhorn on the European jazz scene. While she gets to sit in the festival top cat chair for just three years – the position of artistic director has been a rotational gig since the festival began in 1964 – she has been on the Jazzfest Berlin staff for over five years as a curator and consultant. Her impressive bio also features a slot on the board of the Europe Jazz Network, and she has some academic training in her wide-ranging locker of skills that also informs her eclectic take on her current position. She was also on the staff of the annual Ruhrtriennale music and arts festival in Germany, curating the “No blah-blah!” international jazz program with 60 projects running in more than 20 cities in the Ruhr region.
Having studied in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam, taking in different languages and cultures, you could say that Deventer is the ideal person for her job. She says she always had a go-with-the-flow attitude to how her professional life was going to pan out, which, if you think about it, is the embodiment of the jazz ethos. “I didn’t plan my life, sitting at home after finishing school, thinking about what to do. If you finish school, you have to think about what to do next, right?”
Deventer kept her options open, and was not afraid to shift her focus, including relocating to other countries, if she discovered that she’d made the wrong choice. She began her higher education with French literature degree studies in Paris, until she decided the curriculum was “too French” for her. A semester on a multidisciplinary program in Berlin, again with the accent on French-leaning content, also fell short of her all-embracing outlook, and she subsequently went the whole expansive hog and ended up doing a degree in European studies in Amsterdam.
That fit Deventer’s personal view of life, music and all the rest. Basically, she feels we’d all be better off pooling and sharing our resources and looking for common denominators, rather than taking the narrow exclusive view.
“Now, with all of this nationalism coming out in Europe, and the lack of solidarity when there’s a crisis, like the refugee crisis, this is partly rooted in this European idea and identity which is not created,” she says. “We, the citizens, don’t know enough about this idea.
We are still too much focused on other things, on our national identity. That’s the problem of the European Union. There’s no soul to it. No one is particularly connected to it.” That is also fundamental to the way jazz artists go about their creative business, which requires open ears, an unfettered mind and an ability to follow tangential pathways.
Deventer’s early domestic ambience helped her along in the requisite artistic direction. “I grew up in a family where music was all around,” she notes. “My father is a musician and a teacher, and we have a case at home which is full of instruments. My father has been playing in bands all his life – rock, of course. He’s from that generation – Eric Clapton and all that kind of thing.”
The youngster followed tried and tested preliminaries. “I did the very classical way of learning music. I started on flute and then with piano.”
Even so, she was able to bend the defined borders of artistic pursuit very early on. “I had a teacher who was very open for improvisation and stuff, and I was very attracted to this.”
The private tutoring was complemented by the formal education system. “I grew up in a village near a town called Ibbenbüren [in western Germany]. There are two music schools there, and one of them had a focus on pop music and jazz,” she recalls. The school also had a student exchange program with a school in the States, and teenaged Deventer got a chance to visit America and soak up some jazz vibes over there for a while.
There was no stopping the youngster, and her musical endeavor just kept on snowballing. “There was a jazz choir in school, so I was in that until the age of 18.”
But it wasn’t only about jazz. “I was also in a punk band,” she laughs. “An all-girl band. I was the drummer. I was very lucky to be in this kind of [creative] atmosphere. Lots of my friends from that time, say at the age of 13 or 14, became professional artists – actors, musicians and some lecturers in philosophy. Can you imagine? All from this little town called Ibbenbüren. That can’t be just coincidence.”
Growing up with all that freedom and music, and the synthesis thereof, naturally led Deventer to where she is today. “I think jazz is one of the most open art forms. There is this element of improvisation and this free spirit in the music, and the variety in jazz is so unbelievably big, and the references in it are so endlessly large. It gives you so many possibilities. For me this is one of the most attractive things about this kind of music.
“People try to define jazz. I’m not at all interested in that. For me, jazz is a kind of state of mind and an attitude and a background. A lot of musicians are trained in conservatories, and they decide they want to have this kind of education and training.”
Then again, they do say that art reflects life, real life. “Once you get out of these schools and get into real life, as a human being and as an artist, you go through a lifelong learning process. For me that is an important tool, as a person and as an artist, to learn to react to what’s going on in the real world.”
THAT, FOR Deventer, also involves getting into politics. “Jazz is a very political art form. In the sixties it was very political. Playing jazz was sort of a statement, a way of living. But I think that has changed. It is a very different approach now.”
Indeed, many of the leading lights of the art form at the time were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, one of the leaders of which was Martin Luther King. King attended the inaugural jazz festival in Berlin, then called Berliner Jazztage, describing the creative process, and particularly jazz, in succinct terms in an address he gave there.
“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create, and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations,” King said.
Jazz, continued Dr. King, is a good vehicle for conveying human experience and offering an optimistic view of events, however challenging they may be. “Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.”
It can also present culture consumers with plenty to ponder, as all good artwork should, and involves a leap of faith.
“Some jazz can demand a lot from the audience, not only from the artists,” notes Deventer. “Sometimes the music might sound complicated, but people should stay there and listen to these kinds of conversations and also accept that sometimes you can’t understand everything. It may be confusing, but this is what I love about all this.”
For more information about the International Music Showcase Festival: