Bremen may be best known for its love of soccer and Beck's beer, but every April, its Jazzahead! festival turns the German port town into a capital city of jazz for a weekend
What began as a small trade fair and showcase for German jazz nine years ago has grown into a four-day festival with more than 80 concerts and 600 exhibits, attracting 20,000 jazz fans and professionals. What sets Jazzahead! apart from other festivals — and makes it a magnet for young performers and industry insiders — is its focus on artist development. Organizers host matchmaking sessions that pair musicians with bookers, agents and the media.
"Everybody who comes gets that positive energy, because they meet, network and make plans about how to improve the situation for jazz together," says Peter Schulze, the festival's artistic director.
Jazzahead! has a European focus, but more and more visitors come from around the world. Many artists premiere new projects — and come from as far away as Finland, Albania and Brazil. A dozen acts are coming from the festival's partner country this year, Israel.
Since many of these artists aren't well-known in the U.S., I've been exploring the Jazzahead! roster at the jazz bee, WBGO's HD2 stream for emerging artists. WBGO is hosting an around-the-clock showcase of recordings by groups at this year's festival, and will broadcast concert highlights on producer Josh Jackson's weekly music magazine, The Checkout, on May 7 and 14. Here's a sneak peek at five acts which surprised me, and may surprise you.