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.
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
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.
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 .
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/