Interview with Jan Hocek of JazzPort

For today’s interview we’re handing over to Maggie Samkova, Czech booking agent and jazz publicist who’s worked with Jazzfuel for several years now.

As an expert on the local jazz scene, she’s adding to her existing catalogue of interviews (Jakub Zitko of Jazzdock & Vilem Spilka of Jazz Fest Brno) via this Q&A with music journalist Jan Hocek.

You may know Jan as a prolific and dedicated reviewer for Czech website Jazzport, but he also works freelance for a range of other jazz, classical & world music publications including HIS VOICE,  Klasika+ and Harmonie – he has a seemingly endless appetite for new music of all styles!

As Maggie puts it: “what impresses me a lot each time I read a review – he likes to put biography info in broad context. I spend a lot of time working on Jazzfuel album release campaigns and after Jan reviews an album that I give him, I usually discover so many new things that I had no idea that been connected to this band and their music!”

You’ll find the full interview below, but here are 3 key takeaways that Maggie put together:

  • Include short but catchy biographical info in emails. Reviewers will Google what they want, but first you have to get them interested!
  • Make sure there is enough good info about your band online when they search for you. (Have you Googled yourself recently to see what they’ll find..?)
  • Even from my experience, reviewers like to receive physical copies. So do spend a bit more $ and don’t hesitate to send them the vinyl if they ask…

Hope you enjoy – and if you’re a Jazzfuel subscriber feel free to ask any follow up questions to Maggie inside the Jazzfuel Facebook group!

First things first! I know that you used to be a uranium miner. How did you find your way to jazz music?!

Swing music has been around me since I was a child because my dad used to listen to a radio program called Voice of America by Willis Conover every day. We used to have an old table radio on which he had listened to music with his father during the times of the protectorate.

When I was 12 I got a transistor and started to discover what was going on in jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman. My father pretty much disliked anything related to free jazz so the classic “teenage revolt against parents” played its role in it too, haha.

When did you started reviewing CDs?

My very first review came out in 1992.

It wasn’t jazz, it was about an Indonesian songwriter Iwan False. I’ve been reviewing continuously for 7 years now and it’s mainly jazz / alternative / folk / classical & world music.

Do you check all musicians who email you and send you a download link with their music?

I’m of course committed to review what the redaction assigns to me first. After that it’s physical CDs, LPs (and newly, surprisingly, cassettes!) that I receive by post from the musicians.

Sometimes it’s me who makes the first contact and asks for the new released CD but mostly I get offers from musicians who have been recommended to contact me by another musicians that already knew me and my work from earlier.

This altogether gives me a nice bunch of stuff to listen and review.

What do you need to find in emails to be able to write a review?

Biography, of course, but this is rather to catch my attention because I usually ask Google for more thorough bio info as I like putting things into context. So do write it well!

Then the usual stuff: links to a digital download, ideally MP3/MP4. As I said earlier physical CDs that I receive by post are prioritised.

For the blog we not only review the music but make judgements about sound and booklet/packaging too.

What is the criteria for you to choose gig that you attend and review?

Similar to CDs – some of them I need to attend as the editor assigns me to do so and review them.

Apart from attending gigs of my favourite bands I tend to go and check out a LOT of new bands and unknown artists.

Are there any events or festivals that you regularly attend to check new artists?

I avoid big festivals which churn out tons of music during couple of days. I don’t like masses. I prefer the smaller ones that are less known. In Czech, Jazz Goes To Town and Jazzinec are truly brilliant festivals.

This year I discovered a nice small festival in Slovakia called “Are you Free?” that wowed me.

Very close to where I live there is a small venue called Divadlo29 where the programming is very fresh, I’m quite a regular visitor.

How many CDs approximately a week do you receive, how busy are you with reviewing?

It varies a lot.

Sometimes I receive even 8 titles a day. I still have maybe 30 albums that I need to review by the end of the year! Which I probably won’t make but keeping the ambition for now.

Usually I write one review in 2 days.

Do you write about jazz music only or are there any more genres?

I love classical music equally!

But unfortunately there is not as many new titles coming out as it is in jazz. Or, better said, the classical ones don’t reach my mailbox so often.

Can you actually earn money with writing reviews in Czech?

You mean make a living? No chance.

I’m very lucky that I don’t have to make a living by reviewing. Once I counted that I would have to write at least three reviews a day to earn at least something. This is impossible if you want to write meaningful reviews. Also there are less and less paid opportunities where to publish a review. Most of the reviews I write are for free, out of a pure enthusiasm.

Any CD’s that you particularly liked recently?

I very much enjoyed the brand new album of the Czech band “Otto Hejnic Trio” called Beauties. It’s mostly film tunes in jazz arrangements from Charlie Chaplin to Badalamenti.

Any comment on the contemporary Czech jazz scene?

I think we belong to a European high class!

We do respect and look up to foreign artists and international stars and learn a lot from them, but there is an extraordinary strong new generation of truly great and talented musicians.

A few names for you to explore: Jaromír Honzák, Jan Jirucha, Marcel Bárta, Luboš Soukup, Pavel Hrubý, Michal Wrobleski, Pavel Zlámal, Radim Hanousek, Martin Konvička, Štěpánka Balcarová…

Big thanks to Maggie Samkova for asking these questions and Jan for answering them! If you’re looking for more Q&As, you can check out our Jazz Interviews.

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