Interview with Tina Heine of Jazz & The City

Today’s interview guest is Tina Heine who, after founding and running the Elbjazz festival in Hamburg for many years, now runs the Jazz & The City Festival in Salzburg, Austria. 

It’s certainly not a conventional festival – with ‘blind date’ concerts, unusual gig spaces and specially curated projects – so we wanted to find out more about what goes into building an event like this. 

You’ll find some interesting insights below, but the one piece of advice that really stuck out for me (and which actually came from her ‘other’ work owning a cafe/bar) was this:

“My advice to jazz musicians: don’t start with a perfect plan in your head! But listen carefully, be interested in people – your colleagues, the audience, the artistic directors and club promoters – find common goals with them, partner, learn, participate, stay connected and curious. And things will develop.”

Jazz & The City really does take over Salzburg for a few days; how do you create that ‘festival’ atmosphere and are there other festivals you look to as inspiration for this? 

I always sense the city itself as my inspiration.

There is still so much to ask, so much to look at. Cities are such exciting “objects” or systems to observe artistically. Also the audience is challenging in terms of finding new audiences, surprising the old and bringing artists and audience together in a common playground.

The festival spirit develops through the free entrance and immense variety of spaces that people can discover and the intense music they can explore while wandering around, while strolling instead of planning.

There is a lot of spontaneity in the Festival concept: Blind Date concerts, spontaneous interventions in the streets, projections on walls, improvs in the park…it’s fun and challenging at the same time.

Other festivals which are inspiring to me are Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige, of course my continuous exchange with Mario and Jazzfestival Saalfelden and festivals from other fields of arts such as Ars Electronica for example.

What are the very first steps in building a new edition of a jazz festival programme?

Looking back at the last edition and looking at work in progress and ideas we’ve gathered.

Also I love to re-invite artists to come again and keep on working on the “site”.

Then of course I do normally check my calendar and plan the travels to see other Festivals and showcases because I really need to see artists and projects in a live situation before starting to work with them.

Also I meet with my curating team Götz Bühler and Klaus von Seckendorff from time to time and we exchange our thoughts: on artists, venues, new formats.

You run a cafe/bar in Hamburg; what skills have you learnt from the business world that are applicable to jazz musicians today?

Puh, that is an interesting one.

To be honest, I’ve never considered what I did there, as a business model. I was never interested in business models!

But I am interested in creating good places. And to create rooms, where people meet in ease and comfort and trust.

Which in my observation leads to collaboration and creativity.

The rest came by “accident”…meaning the business.

But I have to admit – once I took the business part seriously and started to learn from my experience and observations and formed those into structure and strategy: the business got better, there was more freedom, more room, and even better ideas.

My advice to jazz musicians: don’t start with a perfect plan in your head! But listen carefully, be interested in people – your colleagues, the audience, the artistic directors and club promoters – find common goals with them, partner, learn, participate, stay connected and curious. And things will develop.

Booking a festival must require a really broad knowledge of the world’s jazz scene. How do you keep up with this and discover new music?

As I said before – through visiting festivals, talking to colleagues and people I trust musically and also – very often I invite artists to come back again, bring new projects or tell me who else they think would fit in our festival spirit.

The last edition was a mixture of my invitations and artists that have been invited by others artists – co-curating so to speak.

When you receive an email from a band leader/booking agent who you never met and whose music you never heard, what makes you start a conversation with them for a potential booking?

Almost nothing. I know this is a really sad answer. But I really go through live concerts, meeting people at showcases, e.g. jazzahead or others.

I have a problem with booking through mail from somebody I don’t know at all. But that doesn’t mean anything. Others do so. It’s me and the fact that I really dislike any minute I have to spend in front of a screen.

How do you balance your personal preferences and musical styles with what you think your audience will like?

First of all I have quite a free mind concerning music, although my focus is rather on improvised music instead of groove jazz.

But we have a mixed curator team with different approaches and then again – I like to watch what happens live: not only because what is happening on stage but also about the atmosphere in the room with the audience.

Checking if they connect.

Does the fact that the festival entrance is free give you more freedom to experiment with the programmation, without the pressure of ticket sales?


And therefore I feel obliged to programme much more free and improvised music, to expose work in progress to give room to the artists for spontaneous collaborations.

And really don’t book ‘big names’ for the box office.

What are the differences between the jazz audiences in Hamburg and in Salzburg?

You can feel that Salzburg is a cultural city.

It’s about their identity, that – actually through Salzburger Festspiele – this small city has developed such an international crowd, classic and modern music interprets from top of the world.

People go to concerts quite regularly. It’s part of their habits. They seem open and embracing, and also somehow competent listeners.

The audience in Hamburg was similar but for my impression a bit more excited about the event itself now.

We started with lots of small venues, experimental stages and also the big main stages. And I would program Joachim Kühn on an open air main stage.

People had some hard times but also I could sense the curiosity…I think we were on a good path towards a more and more experimental festival that has not to compromise too much.

The audience needed a bit of time to get used to some of the stuff. I guess that is one of the reasons why I finally had to leave – our artistic approach from the curation side had been too different from my partners.

Do you consider a gig at a showcase like jazzahead as a career booster in a jazz band’s life? What steps should a band take before/after they play this gig?

Yes I think so, in many aspects.

There are lot of people to see your concert and they talk about you right away with lots of colleagues and they are in the mood for booking or pencilling shows: that’s what they’re there for.

You should try to see people randomly at a trade fair. Check what other musicians play and what people say.

  • Mix and mingle – get to know people: don’t stab them with the CD the first second you see them!
  • Ask questions about the idea of the festivals
  • Check Festivals and bookers before you go to Bremen and be informed about their booking and if you really fit in the artistic concept at all.

Many musicians struggle with the fact that they have to do lots of different roles as a freelance musician. How do you manage to juggle such a busy CV?

I used to work 24/7 but that was never good for my kids and family. And maybe not even for myself.

Now I am more structured, I take weekends off sometimes, or a day in between. I sleep as long as I need and start with coffee and book or newspaper – that’s where I am already collecting ideas and thoughts.

I realised the more relaxed I am the more work I get done once I work. I am more effective.

But it would not be like this without my parents-in-law who raised my kids basically and my excellent team I am working with – I can delegate and trust.

That helps a lot to let loose and be better.

Big thanks to Tina Heine of Jazz & The City in Salzburg to take the time to take part in this Jazzfuel interview!

As I’m sure you’ll agree, it gives a good reminder of the fact that every festival and every promoter is different. So really doing your research about each one and trying, over time, to connect or meet them one by one, can really pay off in the long term.

If you’d like to learn more about Jazz & The City and the types of gigs they’re presenting, head over to the official website here

You can also learn more about Tina’s rich and varied CD via

And, as always, you can dig into our archive of jazz industry interviews.

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