Fiona Talkington reflects on the visit to Molde of students from the Trondheim/Birmingham jazz exchange programme, and the importance of creative international relations for musicians.
“When you mix two types of jazz identity it’s like opening a can of pickles and allowing everything to breathe”. Wise words from a young jazz visitor to Molde. Harry Bolt is a piano student at the Birmingham Conservatoire in England and already making a name for himself touring with the Clark Tracey Quintet. I met him just as he arrived in Molde, his first visit to Norway apart from stop-overs while working as a musician on visiting cruise ships. He’s wide-eyed as he looks around Plassen, and out onto the streets of the city. “It’s like an upgraded England” is his reaction. “This is what England should be like.”
Some of the students from Birmingham are here to meet up with students from the jazz department at the Trondheim Conservatoire. They first got together three months ago at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in the UK as part of an exchange, now in its 5th year, set up by one of the key figures in the British jazz scene, the indefatigable Tony Dudley-Evans along with Erling Aksdal, visionary head of the jazz programme in Trondheim.
Cheltenham is a major festival in the jazz calendar, and has many similarities with Moldejazz: a commitment to new music, to young musicians, to new collaborations and providing an arena where audiences can be both entertained and challenged. It also has a strong relationship with Norwegian music through Tony Dudley Evans’s own passion for the Norwegian scene, and the active support of the Norwegian Embassy in London. Tony’s involvement in the Birmingham Conservatoire (and the Birmingham scene in general) has helped to spark the exchange project which, for me, is always one of the Cheltenham highlights. The Trondheim and Birmingham students have just a few days together to forma few ensembles which are then showcased at Cheltenham.
Their enthusiasm is infectious and it’s always interesting to ask them what they learn from the experience. I’m reminded, as I talk with Harry, about a Trondheim student a few years ago who told me “the Birmingham students know more, but we’re more daring” which echoes Harry’s words about mixing the “jazz identities”. “We all listen to the same music but when they [the Trondheim students] come over they sound different. In Birmingham it’s like living in a fishbowl, our lifestyle and culture is different, it’s like a Big Brother house, they don’t have that. The world of jazz is a tight knit family, but this brings a freshness and we have a good time!”
I put the idea of ‘knowledge’ versus ‘daring’ to Erling Aksdal. “Or maybe syllabus versus potential. I look for potential in my students” he tells me.
Potential and possibilities are key words in the programme at Molde. The festival is full of well known figures on the Norwegian jazz scene – Tord Gustavsen’s here, Thomas Strønen, Ståle Storløkken, Kjetil Moster, Frode Haltli, Sjur Milljeteig, Solveig Slettahjell, Erland Dahlen…..I could list several more but many of their names don’t leap out of the programme schedule. A number of musicians are here playing with new projects whose titles don’t readily reveal who’s in the band (take ‘supergroup’ Reflections in Cosmo for example). There are new collaborations, they’re always seeking out new ideas, trying out creative possibilities. What so many musicians tell me is how important the international exchange possibilities are for them both for touring where they meet new people all the time and get new ideas, but it’s also vital to bring
musicians from other countries to Norway, to key festivals such as Molde to nurture creative relationships, inform audiences and to fuel the seemingly unstoppable bullet train of Norwegian music. Musicians work so very hard, they are great ambassadors for their country, and they are respected worldwide for their music and for the way in which they work. The Trondheim and Birmingham students are on the threshold of learning this, and the exchange project is an important piece of the puzzle. By inviting them Moldejazz is certainly doing its bit for the future of music.
[Fiona Talkington presents Late Junction on BBC Radio 3, was curator of conexions for Nasjonal Jazzscene, and Scene Norway for Kings Place in London]
photo: Ann Iren Ødeby