The spine of jazz. Richard Williams zum Jazzfest Berlin 2016

Richard Williams, when presenting the program of this year’s Jazzfest Berlin, you’ve said that the festival wouldn’t be complete without Americans. Why do you think so?

Richard Williams: The African American contribution particularly to jazz is still the spine of jazz, it’s the core of jazz. It’s the core, the heartbeat and the conscience of the music as well. Obviously German, British, Russian musicians have just as much right to play jazz now. There is no doubt that jazz is an international music but what made it special originally and what continues to make it special in my view is specifically the African American contribution. I couldn’t envisage putting together a program that didn’t acknowledge that.

There’s a certain focus on musicians from New York City and Chicago in the program.

R.W.: Quite a lot of the musicians that I was interested in are living in Brooklyn. And it’s coincidence that they are not from Brooklyn. Like New Orleans musicians tend to be from New Orleans. With Brooklyn it’s more like Berlin, they’re kind of drawn here by the scene rather than coming up organically.

Hier müssen wir in Teilen widersprechen. Zwar sind die meisten der Brass Band-Musiker_innen in New Orleans geboren und die Tradition der Wissensweitergabe zwischen Mentor_innen und Nachwuchsmusiker_innen ist tiefer in der Musikkultur der Stadt verwurzelt als jeder Grundpfeiler eines Gebäudes in ihrem sumpfigen Untergrund. Aber die meisten Musiker_innen, die in New Orleans Trad Jazz spielen, sind ,transplants‘ aus allen Teilen der USA, aus Europa und Asien. Zudem erlebt die Szene der improvisierten Musik in New Orleans seit Hurricane Katrina einen regelrechten Boom, auch durch den Zuzug von Musiker_innen aus anderen US-Bundesstaaten und von anderen Kontinenten. (Many thanks to P. from New Orleans for some enlightening remarks on this topic – to be continued in this blog)

There’s also a notable gender balance in the program. How come?

R.W.: I didn’t want to make it the headline, it’s not a gimmick, it’s not a trick but I think it’s a good thing. I didn’t have to make an effort to fill a quota, it created itself in that way. Matana Roberts to me is the most interesting musician around. I suppose somewhere in there, I thought it would be a good idea to balance it and what will of course be very interesting, see if we can do it again next year.

The program also represents five groups that are associated with a certain record label.

R.W.: It’s not a coincidence, it’s my sensibility. Mette Henriette, Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette, Nik Bärtsch and Julia Hülsmann do have records on ecm. I was the first person to review an ecm record outside Germany in 1970. I like Manfred’s attitude to European jazz, I like his validation, the way he has consistently, over the decades, validated certain kinds of European jazz and I happen to like that kind. But he never forgets the African American core and it would be very easy and probably more commercial for him not to do that.


Jazzfest Berlin 2016

Discussion (in German): Die „Gläserne Decke / Glass Ceiling“ – Einbildung oder Realität? Wie offen, gleichberechtigt und divers ist der Jazz heute wirklich?


Franziska Buhre
Lucia Cadotsch (Sängerin)
Nadin Deventer (Jazzfest Berlin) – Moderation
Dr. Wolfram Knauer (Jazzinstitut Darmstadt)
Nikolaus Neuser (Trompeter, 1. Vorsitzender IG Jazz)


Eve Risser – piano

Alexander von Schlippenbach – piano, Axel Dörner – trumpet

  • Dienstag, 18. Oktober, 19:00 Uhr, Haus der Berliner Festspiele
  • Eintritt frei

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