Czech It Out! Interview with Jakub Zitko of Jazz Dock in Prague

Jakub Zitko – today’s guest – was already an established musician before he became programme manager of Jazz Dock. Dissatisfied with the tourist-oriented set ups of many venues in town – primarily restaurants with jazz on the side – he helped start a club where people would come to listen to music in the first place.  And so, Jazz Dock opened 8 years ago and he’s been the programme manager ever since.

This Q&A is a bit different than normal because it’s not me asking the questions!

A lot of my day-to-day work is spent booking shows for a roster of international jazz artists and, for this, I collaborate with Maggie Samkova who is from Prague. As such, she is super hooked up on the Czech jazz scene and took the lead on this interview with the programme manager of one of Prague’s most famous clubs, Jazz Dock.

As well as presenting top Czech names, Jakub and Jazz Dock have booked many of the world’s most famous jazz musicians. I guarantee that whenever you are reading this, you can visit the current Jazz Dock programme and see some big names coming up. As I’m writing this, in early May, there’s John Patitucci, Carla Bley and Anat Cohen, to name just 3..!

Maggie Samkova
Maggie Samkova – asking the questions!

Before we jump into the full interview, here are a few key takeaways from Jakub’s answers that Maggie and I think are worth flagging up… 

  • The best piece of content you can have to get gigs is a high quality live performance video
  • When touring as a band, it’s important to keep working on your own personal PR too.
  • Not only do you need to play great and have interesting PR activities and marketing, they also all need to be CONNECTED.

How do you choose bands for Jazzdock? Do you read all e-mail offers? How do you choose bands for Jazzdock? Do you read all email offers?

Yes, I go through all of them!

I try to check out and listen to everything, consider our financial possibilities and consider how attractive the artist would be for our audience.

I get around 150 emails per day – interest to play in Jazzdock is enormous! Of course I spend different amounts of time with each e-mail.

Word of mouth is very strong though; I take recommendations from other promoters or musicians very seriously.

What elements of an email can really persuade you to book the band? What elements of an email can really persuade you to book the band?

The best thing is having a live video so I can check what the band is going to look like on stage. Or, if you don’t have such a video, just an mp3 from a concert is fine too.

It’s definitely worth having a cheaper live video, more than an expensive videoclip.

Good reviews are also important. I mostly receive these by email but sometimes I also look them up.

Do you choose bands only from incoming emails, or actively search and invite bands?

I do both. I cooperate with a few agencies/agents who regularly send me their rosters and if I choose a band, they keep me updated when they are building up the tour.

Prague often works like a ‘via’ point – we’re in the middle of Europe so when there’s a band touring night by night, Prague is a strategic city to play.

Sometimes of course I also pick a band myself, drop them a line that I’d be interested to book them and then, when the right time comes, we start negotiating.

Are you in touch with other promoters?

There are a few festivals that I’m in touch with and sometimes we make our plans together. At the moment it’s for example Jazz Fest Brno which is happening right now.

Do you find new artists on showcase festivals?

Unfortunately I’m too busy for that – I’m myself a touring musician. But sometimes I try to keep up with jazz websites and blogs; I want to keep myself updated about what’s happening, who released a new album etc.

How do you think can an unknown band gain an international recognition?

With a huge amount of work!

It’s not only practising an instrument. It’s also creating PR activities and doing the maximum amount of marketing. Then these things need to be well connected together.

But I think in jazz it’s more important to get the attention as an individual musician rather than as a band. It’s invaluable when the musicians tour with others across Europe or America and they work on their personal PR.

This is fundamental.

So when there’s a musician playing as a sideman in many projects, is it easier for him to get gigs with his own project?

Definitely. If he’s a good musician, sought after by even better ones, he’ll improve and his name will get known. Playing as a sideman helps a lot indeed.

Can you highlight one up-and-coming Czech jazz artist that you think will make an impression on the international jazz scene in the coming months or years?

For now, it’s definitely Ondrej Pivec who plays Hammond organ in the band of Gregory Porter.

But there are plenty of others playing across Europe: Michal Wroblewski who is in Norway, Jan Uvira in Rotterdam, Vaclav Palka who studies in Basel and is just about to go on tour with Mark Turner.

Young jazz musicians just need to get out of the country to get experience.

Best concert in Jazzdock?

That’s a tough one – we’ve had many great gigs here!

But possibly the concert of my favourite guitar player, John Schofield. Or Bill Frissel, Chris Potter, Mark Guiliana, Medeski, Martin, Woods …It’s really difficult to only pick one!

Of course, the original band of the jazz giants are always much more attractive, but it makes sense when the unknown musicians are locals – that’s a good combination for the PR. Kurt Rosenwinkel played here with some students some time ago and it was great.

Thanks to Maggie for putting this together and to Jakub for his time and thoughts on these questions!

More About Jazz Dock & Jakub Zitko

Jazz Dock sits on the Vltava river in Prague and hosts a mixture of intimate concerts and larger scale productions covering jazz and all the genres touching this. In the 8 years since it opened, it has built a reputation for hosting some of the biggest names on the scene, as well as rising stars from Czech. You can join them on Facebook right here.

As well as booking the international programme at Jazz Dock, Jakub Zitko is still an active musician, performing as the keys player in Muff and in the band of the famous Czech pop/rock singer Aneta Langerová.

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