If, like us, you were preparing for Jazzahead! last year, we know how disappointing it was to hear it was being postponed to 2021. 

As one concert after another was cancelled with the onset of the pandemic, we waited anxiously for the inevitable news from jazzahead!

No late night hangouts, no informal meetings with our jazz friends around the world and no rushing between venues for a seemingly endless stream fo showcases.

But now, a year later, the organisers are gearing up for Jazzahead! 2021 and the very first digital edition of Europe’s largest jazz conference.

How will such a huge networking & showcasing event – a meeting that all jazz professionals, supporters and fans look forward to all year round – be transformed into the online world? How will it alter the dynamic of the showcases? How will exhibitors create interaction and conversation?

Well, we will see from April 29 to May 2, but we caught up with longtime jazzahead! project manager Sybille Kornitschky to ask a few questions in advance.

2020 must have been a real blow for the jazzahead! team; how did you start to regroup and come up with the plan for the 2021 edition?

Indeed, 2020 was a brutal blow: after a year of work, we had to cancel everything four weeks before the start.

In the early summer, after we had processed and reimbursed everything, we made two key decisions: to carry over the showcase selection to the following year and to use the free capacities gained in the team to work even more intensively in terms of content.

So we started the new blog, developed an ongoing online program with sessions, podcasts, band recommendations and expert talks (check it out here).

In November we had to make a far-reaching decision for the trade fair due to the again increasing Covid-19 numbers: the hybrid approach became a purely digital concept. We had thus created clarity and planning security for our international participants.

From that moment on, the jazzahead! digital edition was our plan A. We wanted a solution that would keep the network going.

How did you select the platform for this edition (Talque) and what are the features which attracted you to it?

Fortunately, there had already been a big congress as part of MESSE BREMEN, which also had to be implemented digitally.

Our colleagues had already explored and analysed the market for providers of digital platforms. We wanted good solutions for exhibitors and participants alike, intelligent solutions and services to easily find the best contact persons and also possibilities of interaction.   

The fact that 2021 is all online makes it more feasible for non-Europeans to ‘attend’ for the first time. How would you explain jazzahead! to these musicians who have never considered it a possibility before? 

One of the great advantages of the digital world is certainly the low-threshold conditions of participation.

Digital also means no travel or hotel expenses. This is certainly an advantage for a first participation.

For a young artist who wants to make a professional career in jazz, it is very important to get to know the international network and the people involved in it. Above all, it is crucial to create your own network.

In addition, jazzahead! also provide professional tips and enables helpful exchange with colleagues.

The 2021 digital edition of jazzahead! has already started with virtual meetups; do you have any initial feedback or tips on how these can work for musician participants?

The digital Matchmaking session we organized in March was meant to enhance and strengthen the relations between the European and overseas markets. For musicians it was probably the moment to get to know some of the important players in the business.

Could you explain a little bit more about the matchmaking possibilities for 2021?

The platform through which we are streaming jazzahead! digitally turns the whole trade fair into a big matchmaking event.

We have decided to make the platform available to registered users until the end of July. This is an immense advantage and gives everyone involved enough time to contact potential interlocutors.

Performing a showcase takes on a new dimension this year, with it being viewed exclusively as a livestream. What additional considerations do you think artists need to have when planning this, for maximum effect?

This year bands have the opportunity to give interviews before or after their concerts; we also give them exhibitor status.

That requires a lot more work on their own profile.

Going digital also means that there is much more direct interaction with registered professionals watching the concerts. This is certainly a special challenge for one or the other and requires a lot of preparation, but it’s worth the investment.

Are there elements of this virtual edition you feel will be continued in future years, to add an extra dimension? 

Definitely! We have already learned some lessons from last year and want to keep the ongoing digital program between the events, for example.

You’re celebrating 15 years of the conference this year. What’s been the key to it becoming such a long-standing and important event on the international jazz calendar?

An industry must always be able to exchange ideas and negotiate its interests, this is also true for the jazz industry.

Festivals in the whole world make a good contribution to this, but they cannot replace an annually growing international network like jazzahead!

15 years ago, there were some music branch events and trade fairs, but none of them were focusing on jazz. On the contrary, jazz played a subordinate role for most of them. With jazzahead! that was suddenly different and the annually increasing number of participants confirmed our work.

Showcase concerts will be available to the public from mid-June onwards. Do you already have plans on how you’ll be promoting these for maximum attention?

Not yet. But we have decided to do this on June 21st, the day of the so called Fête de la Musique.

We want to celebrate this day with good music and will definitely find some good ways of promotion together with our media partners.

Are there any particular panel discussions or talks you feel are particularly well-suited to independent artists attending the conference?

There are panels dedicated to young artists like the one from Stingray DJAZZ under the title: “What should emerging artists do today?” or the presentation of the French association AJC concerning their young artist career development program Jazz Migration.

There will be a workshop for musicians interested in the integration of improvisation and jazz in elementary schools and numerous country portraits to get a deeper insight in other country scenes.

Thank you, Sybille, for taking the time to answer our questions!

You can check out the professional program of jazzahead! 2021 here and if you’re considering taking part, you can register here.