Interview with Swiss Jazz Days’ Simon Petermann

Today’s industry guest is a long-time member of the Jazzfuel community and yet another example of a musician who makes things happen!

We knew him primarily as a Swiss trombone player and bandleader, involved with projects including Moon Mot and the Fischermanns Orchestra, but he more recently founded the industry event Swiss Jazz Days.

We thought this relatively unique perspective – both from the musician and conference/industry side – would provide some useful takeaways for fellow Jazzfuel pros, and we were not wrong!

So read on for some fascinating insights into a true musician-entrepreneur…

As always, feel free to use the comments section at the end.

You’re organising Swiss Jazz Days, can you please give us a little bit more about the event?

Swiss Jazz Days is a two-day event in Switzerland where all the people that consider themselves to be part of Jazz in in Switzerland meet and discuss current topics and challenges. I came up with this idea in 2020, after I quit my day job, I had for 10 years. I thought about what I could do now with my free time, and what would be an interesting project to work on. That’s where I decided, that I want to create a project that serves as many people as possible.

There is also a personal motivation in this. As a musician and entrepreneur, most of my working hours are spent on my own. Whether it is practicing, or whether it is organizing touring concerts or producing albums. But every time I get into a conversation with someone else who is doing similar work, I always learn a lot about how other people are conducting their projects! These conversations have always been very fruitful to me.

At the same time, we face a lot of challenges, that are too big for one musician or one group to solve on their own.

Maybe this is my one big goal: I want that jazz people in Switzerland to be allies. And creating a gathering that happens once a year, where all the people from all over the country come together and meet and talk is a first step into this direction.

What sort of goals should musicians have from attending a networking event, in terms of best possible outcomes?

I think there are various aspects to this question.

First, I think it is very important to go to these events and to learn what other people on the scene are thinking. Go to the talks, connect with people, and enjoy yourself to be part of something bigger. Going to such an event is a possibility, to feel that other people pursue the same goals and are successful in it.

Second, it is a possibility to find like-minded people. People who can maybe become part of a future project because they are sharing the same ideals in music and in collaboration. You can get to know a lot of people in a short amount of time, and sometimes you can feel that there is a special vibe to this connection. Then you should absolutely try to stay in contact and set up a follow-up meeting online.

For example, my band MoonMot only exist because friends of mine met people from London at the Jazzahead in Bremen, and later invited me to play a show with them. Or my projects in Egypt that happened last year only exists, because eight years ago I met the booker of the Cairo Jazz Festival in Bremen.

Thirdly, you can try and speak to a person you are looking up to. I am convinced, that out there, there is always a person who already solved your biggest problem. If you can find this person and talk to them, your life will become much easier immediately.

And lastly, you may have already solved the biggest problem of someone else. So, it is important for all the other people that you go there and you contribute to the common cause we pursue as allies.

How should jazz musicians prepare for music industry events if they don’t have an agent or manager?

I think the most fruitful moments in such events are happening at the bar in the informal part of the event. So, when I go to such events, I try to be open-minded, ready for stay up long nights, have fun with people I might meet there, and be ready to get engaged in conversations.

In my experience, it is hard to fix a gig on such an event. But I think it is possible to make friends who will like to be helpful and create possibilities for one and another.

And I think it’s a great possibility to meet people personally you’ve been in contact before online.

What skills have you learnt from organising this event that is applicable to your work as a musician too?

I actually think it’s the other way around. Everything I learnt from organising concerts, tours, producing albums, conducting projects in a different continent, I can now apply on this big, big project.

It is about getting the people excited about your idea, it is about finding partners who are supporting actively, it is about creating a concept that is meaningful to people, it is about creating a team that follows a common goal.

I would have never been able to create a Swiss national network event, without all the productions I did in the last 15 years.

But what I learned, what is also applicable to my work as musician is: the better the team, the better the social skills of everyone involved, the more personal involvement into the common cause the team has, are maybe the most important aspects of every project.

And another thing: having people on a team, that have a different background as you have yourself, will widen the horizon and you might find solutions that you didn’t expect.

What should a jazz musician know about trying to break into the Swiss market?

One thing about Switzerland is, that everything is super expensive. But if you get a good gig on a good festival, you can also get a really high fee. Now this causes the problem for international musicians, that literally everyone wants to come and play in Switzerland.

There are a lot of places where you can actually play, but as in other countries in Europe, there are clubs and venues that only book a certain kind of jazz.

So, if you want to break into the Swiss market, I think it is best to actually talk to Swiss musicians that listen to your music, and can recommend you to places where they like your kind of jazz.

Online you can find directories of Swiss Jazz venues and jazz festivals, but normally these are only the big names, and it will be hard to get such a gig without having played in Switzerland before at all. But you can always try and send out booking emails, but then make sure you did proper research of the places you are pitching to.

And also, your booking game, how are you’re presenting yourself, how your EPK is structured has to be on top notch, because clubs and festivals in Switzerland get a lot of very high-quality pitches.

You’re also a teacher. Is there anything that you recognize in today’s students that – in their perception of music, significantly differs from when you were younger, trying to build your career path?

Not really. The time where you do your study, is a time where you want to internalize everything that is shown to you. At the same time you make friends with the people who will later be your most important collaborators.

I also think, that it is important to get things going as early as possible. So if you are a student now, you should start your own band today. Get a band together, get some repertoire, and then start to reach out to people.

Everyone I know who is 10, 15 or 20 years into their career as a players, started with their first bands during their studies. It’s not that being a musician starts after you finished your studies. It actually starts before you start your studies. So when you are studying music at the moment, you’re already a musician. But a musician that is currently doing his/her studies.

So, you should also act like being a full grown musician and create your projects, try to reach out to an audience, write to clubs and venues and festivals. The earlier you start, the easier it will get over time.

I am convinced that the success of a career depends very much on the work you are doing as a musical entrepreneur.

Of course, it is absolutely crucial, that you know how to play your instrument, and that the music you create is creative and independent. But most of the musicians I see who are finishing their studies actually have these abilities. And those who succeeds in having a career as players, are those who are actually willing to do the work that comes with being an entrepreneur.

If you were a new artist on the jazz scene with a brand new album and $1000 to promote it, what would you spend it on?

I would spend it on time to reach out to media. And I would try to keep the money in the band, and split it amongst band members, who are investing their time in to reaching out to media. So the connections to the journalists also stay inside the band.

If you are doing this for a long time, you will build connections to people who are journalists, or writing about Jazz. If you start doing this early, by the time you are 40, you have a huge network of people you’ll have personal connections with.

And then they will actually approach you, and ask for your next release, so they can play it on the radio show or presented in their magazine.

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

I think my biggest achievement is, that I still follow my passion for music and spend as much life-time on this as I currently do.

Life always offers us ways that seem to be easier, but that will draw us away from our real passions. I think my biggest achievement is, that I did not taste too much of that comfortable life, and therefore always stayed true to myself and never put my passion for playing the trombone in danger.

About Simon Petermann

 
Simon Petermann is an exponent of the adventurous contemporary jazz music scene of Switzerland.
 
As musical director of the Fischermanns Orchestra, as band leader of the international sextet MoonMot and a member of the trio Inside the Baxter Building, he focuses his work on dealing with contemporary forms of improvisation, researching live electronics and interdisciplinary music projects.
 
He has been Producer of the radio programme Jazz am Sunntig on Radio RABE under the motto “Today’s and yesterday’s great jazz from Switzerland and abroad” since 2012.
 
He teaches at the Swiss Jazz School Bern and the Hochschule der KĂĽnste Bern and performs in concert with various formations all over Europe and beyond.
 
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