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Jazzed up in Stuttgart

Buttoned-down Stuttgart might appear to be an unlikely jazz mecca, but the venerable music genre is making a comeback in the southwestern German city after being popularized by American GIs after the war. Tracy Moran reports.

Jazzed up in Stuttgart
Photo: DPA

When thinking of Stuttgart, the sounds of Porsche and Mercedes’ engines are more likely to fill the imagination than syncopated piano notes. A closer look, however, reveals that the capital of Baden-Württemberg is a city full of jazz lovers.

Jazz started to take off in the region just prior to the Second World War, when folks sneaked into illegal clubs to hear unique music from America. After the war, the US Armed Forces Network played hours of jazz over the airwaves, creating more German fans with each broadcast.

“Swing and bebop first got us hooked,” said Professor Mini Schulz from Stuttgart’s State School for Music and Performing Arts. “The American forces were hip. They were sexy and they brought this sexy music with them. It was the music of freedom.”

Stuttgart’s own jazz culture took off with Erwin Lehn’s Orchestra, SWR Big Band, and their “Treffpunkt Jazz” concert series in the mid-1950s. Lehn popularised his band’s music via radio and television, playing live shows with greats like Miles Davis. Meanwhile, clubs began hiring jazz bands, and the bigger venues drew famous international performers.

Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane, for example, played at the Gustav-Seigle-House, retiring afterwards to the famed Atlantic Bar. Stuttgart’s own Wolfgang Dauner, the house pianist at the Atlantic Bar, had direct contact and even jammed with these well-known artists. Armed with these experiences and great musical talent, Dauner went on to become “one of the main developers of European jazz,” said Schulz. Lehn and Dauner served as trailblazers for German jazz, and their influence is still felt throughout the region.

But jazz started to lose its audiences in the 1970s when artists took to more abstract forms. “Free jazz bored people because it had no more structure,” said Eckhart Fischer, the president of Esslingen’s Jazz Club.

Today, however, jazz is enjoying a comeback in the region. Small town jazz cellars are brimming again, and Baden-Württemberg is now home to several important clubs and annual jazz events, drawing crowds by the thousands.

“Stuttgart really needed a big concert space again to complete the revival,” said Schulz, who along with other investors launched the Bix nightclub in 2006. Housed in a section of the old Gustav-Seigle-House, the Bix holds up to 250 people and has put jazz “back into the hands of the people,” according to Schulz.

Unlike the smaller venues, which offer weekly or monthly performances, the Bix can offer jazz concerts several times a week. Six years after opening, it has become the modern-day Atlantic Bar of Stuttgart, as it is here where big performers come after their concerts to relax and jam with local music lovers and musicians.

Martin Lynch, of Esslingen, who works with the Stuttgart Opera, was amazed he was able to get so close to the talent at the Bix. “Such a small club and you have these living legends casually jamming,” he said. “You forget you’re in Stuttgart. It’s like being in Chicago or somewhere.”

Another ingredient in the local jazz comeback is the events on offer throughout the year. Since 1994, the city has played host to the Jazz Open each summer. Attendance skyrocketed from fewer than 10,000 in 2006 to 30,000 this year.

Other events include the Stuttgarter Jazz Days, which take place each autumn and focus on local musicians. This year’s event runs from October 18 through November 6, 2011. Also on offer are the Internationale Theaterhaus Jazz Days each spring.

Jazz Open organizer Jürgen Schlensog said they shunned a rigid focus on hardcore jazz to make the event more accessible.

“We have moved onto a wider line-up in terms of genres. Jazz is the common platform for various artists performing soul, pop or rock,” he said. “We try to arrange unique shows as seen with Joss Stone/Solomon Burke at Jazz Open 09, or Katie Melua with Stuttgart Philharmonics or Patti Austin with SWR Big Band.”

This more commercial and open approach has been met with some criticism, but musicians and planners seem to think this trend is helping popularize jazz again.

“It has always been a bit odd to think of hard rock bands and singers like Michael Bolton as part of the Jazz Open bill, as he was this year, but for a lot of these bands, whether they know it or not, their music is entirely indebted to jazz,” Stuttgart-based musician Tom Carlson said.

“In the end, the organizers have to make money and if some of [Bolton’s] fans get the chance to hear some “real” jazz of any type and decide they like it, it strengthens the base of listeners for all kinds of jazz.”

Esslingen Jazz Club’s Eckhart Fischer agreed, noting that he believes venues like the Bix and big commercial events like the Jazz Open are good for jazz in general.

“They can only help spread jazz appreciation,” he said. “Today you might see a free jazz drummer play alongside a commercial trumpeter, and they can mesmerize the audience.”

For your chance to enjoy the region’s jazz revival, be sure to check out the events and venues listed below.

Events

jazzopen Stuttgart: Opus Veranstaltungs-und Management GmbH, Alexanderstasse 3, 70184 Stuttgart (0711) 50990-0, [email protected]; http://www.jazzopen.com Mainstream, modern and popular jazz and blues.

Stuttgarter Jazz Days: IG Jazz Club Stuttgart, [email protected]; www.igjazz.de

Internationale Theaterhaus Jazztage: Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Siemensstraße 11, 70469 Stuttgart, (0711) 40207-0, [email protected]; www.theaterhaus.com

Clubs

Arigato: Kolbstraße 2, 70178 Stuttgart (0711) 602459, [email protected]; www.arigato.de. Mainstream and modern Jazz.

Bistro 21: Arnulf-Klett-Platz 2, 70173 Stuttgart (0711) 299-8489, [email protected]; www.bistro21.de.

Traditional jazz,

Bix-Jazzclub (at the Gustav-Siegle-House) • Leonhardsplatz 21, 70182 Stuttgart, [email protected]; www.bix-stuttgart.de.

Varied offerings covering most genres.

Kiste: Hauptstätter Straße 35, 70173 Stuttgart (0711) 553-2805, [email protected], www.kiste-stuttgart.de.

Mainstream and modern and popular jazz and blues.

Kulturwerk: Ostendstraße 106a, 70188 Stuttgart (0711) 48065-45 or (0711) 48065-44, [email protected]; www.kulturwerk.de .

Modern jazz.

Laboratorium: Wagenburgstraße 147, 70186 Stuttgart (0711) 505-2001 or 505-2002, [email protected]; www.laboratorium-stuttgart.de.

Mainstream and modern jazz and blues.

Merlin: Augustenstraße 72, 70178 Stuttgart (0711) 618549, [email protected],; www.merlin-kulture.de.

Modern and popular jazz.

Traditional Jazz Hall (im Gasthof Ketterer): Marienstraße 3b, 70178 Stuttgart (0711) 297551, [email protected]; www.ketterer-stuttgart.de

Traditional and mainstream jazz and blues.

Treffpunkt Rotebühlplatz; Rotebühlplatz 28, 70173 Stuttgart, (0711) 6607-120, [email protected]; www.treffpunkt-rotebuehlplatz.de.

Traditional, modern and contemporary jazz.

Regional jazz cellars

Jazzkeller Esslingen: http://www.jazzkeller-esslingen.de/

Ludwigsburg JazzClub: http://www.jazz-fun.de/jazzclub-ludwigsburg-ev.html

Heilbronn’s JazzClub Cave 61: http://www.cave61.com/

Tübingen’s Jazzkeller Club: http://www.jazz-keller.eu/

Weinstadt’s JazzClub Armer Konrad: http://www.jak-weinstadt.de/

Pforzheim’s Domicile: http://www.domicile-pforzheim.de/de/home/

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MUSIC

Dancing like there’s no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig

For techno enthusiast Philipp Koegler, it almost felt like a normal Saturday night again as he joined 200 fellow revellers at "Distillery", the first German nightclub to reopen since the start of the pandemic.

Dancing like there's no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig
A file photo of a disco ball in a night club. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Tonight, there are no rules,” the almost 30-year-old told AFP, whipping off his mask on his way to the dance floor.

Despite more than a year of closures forced by the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for the thumping beats, low lights and buzzing crowds to reawaken the much-missed club atmosphere.

“It feels like I’ve come back after being away on vacation for a week,” Koegler beamed.

But of course there are some rules to restarting the party, even in Germany where coronavirus infections have declined steadily in recent weeks as the pace of vaccinations has picked up.

The Distillery club in the eastern city of Leipzig, which bills itself as the oldest techno venue in Germany’s former Communist east, is taking part in a pilot project supported by scientists from the Max Planck institute and the local university hospital.

Just 200 club-goers are allowed in instead of the usual 600 and each person must take two different kinds of coronavirus tests earlier in the day, with entry granted only if they test negative both times.

Once inside, the masks can come off and revellers don’t have to socially distance.

Each participant also agrees to being re-tested a week later, to uncover potential infections despite the precautions taken.

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Organisers hope the project can serve as a blueprint for further club re-openings to help the hard-hit sector back on its feet after a devastating year.

Although several venues in Germany experimented with open-air parties, club-goer Konny said it “just isn’t the same”.

“In the club, you’re in a different world,” she said.

Growing influence

Distillery manager Steffen Kache expressed pride at being the first club in the country to reopen indoors.

“Everyone is jealous,” he told AFP.

Kache said that if there has been an upside to the pandemic closures, it was that politicians had woken up to the social and economic importance of Germany’s vibrant club culture.

Lawmakers last month agreed to reclassify nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, putting them on a par with
theatres and museums to provide more protection and tax benefits.

Germany’s nightlife capital Berlin alone – home to iconic clubs Berghain, KitKat and Tresor – usually attracts tens of thousands of foreign visitors each year who generate over a billion euros in revenues.   

Many observers fear that when the pandemic dust has settled, not all of Germany’s clubs will have survived the lengthy shutdowns.

The collaboration with local authorities that made Distillery’s pilot project possible was “unthinkable before the crisis”, Kache said, and evidence of a “reconciliation” between underground club culture and the political establishment.

He said he hoped the next step would be “the nationwide reopening of cultural spots and clubs, without Covid restrictions”.

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