PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Paul Zauner, Director of Inntoene Festival, Austria - May 22-4

Paul Zauner. Photo courtesy of Inntoene

This year is the 30th Inntoene Jazz Festival. It takes place from May 22nd-24th in a functioning agricultural building, a barn seating over 800 people on an organic farm in Diersbach, Austria. Inntoene has often punched above it is weight. It was one of the first festivals in Europe to progamme Gregory Porter. Alison Bentley talked to trombonist and Festival Director, Paul Zauner.

London Jazz News: I wanted to ask you about yourself as a musician first. I enjoyed your CD, "Great Voices of Harlem". How did that happen?

Paul Zauner: I’ve been working for nearly 30 years with many great American jazz musicians and I’ve often been to Harlem, where some really unusual talent lives- both hidden talent and well-known. I have a very good, soulful connection to many of these great musicians there. I’ve worked with many of them for a long time. One of the projects we did together was the Great Voices of Harlem.

LJN: Is Harlem the place where you find most of the new musicians that you invite to your festival?

PZ: It’s one of the main places, because I feel good there, I like the people- there’s a feeling in Harlem. And even many musicians who don’t live in Harlem come to the clubs there.

LJN: Are there any new musicians that you’ve discovered elsewhere since last year?

PZ: For me, totally new is a young pianist Kaja Draksler from Slovenia- she lives in Amsterdam. I just heard her a couple of months ago. New for me but not for you is Sarah Jane Morris. I just discovered her a month ago- I’d never heard of her before. Another one who is new to me is Stéphane Belmondo. I heard of him years ago, but I never heard any music, and then I heard him play once. He’s a great trumpet player. He lives in Réunion, near Madagascar, and he’s really one of the great European jazz players. He’s one of the best trumpet players alive, I would say, both musically and technically. I found out when I talked to him that he knew Chet Baker very well, and Chet Baker liked him and guided him in his early years. He has a feeling I haven’t found yet in any other musician. It’s definitely not the same as Chet Baker but he’s so authentic and relaxed- a fantastic musician. And there’s a singer from Texas in Chicago- her name is Sharon Lewis. She’s really great- a blues singer going in different directions.

LJN: It’s a fantastic line-up. You have lesser-known musicians but also some famous American musicians- Kirk Lightsey, David Murray, Steve Grossman, Kenny Werner, and so on. You’ve played with many of them?

PZ: When I started out playing, I just had an idea of the sound I liked. Somehow I got in touch with Leon Thomas a great singer- he’s not with us any more now, but in the 60s and 70s he was one of the great jazz and blues singers. And he liked me, and when I went to New York we played together. Another was [saxophonist] George Adams- we got to know each other, and I played a lot with him in the US. He took me on tour there and so I played with many American musicians. Somebody brought David Murray in one day, and [saxophonists] Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, all from the World Saxophone Quartet. So one thing led to another- people from Chicago and New York- it’s just an ongoing thing. Later I was also able to get to know many of the Polish musicians who make up the great jazz scene there. For a long time I worked with the best Polish musicians- maybe 10 years. And then I really wanted to concentrate more on the musicians who live in Austria, because I was playing all the time in Poland, or Indonesia or America. I wanted to develop some music with people from my home. And I’ve been doing this for the last 12-15 years. We still play with some of these other musicians, but not so much. We do play regularly with Kirk Lightsey. I have a couple of different projects- basically 8-10 people. I try to play music from the totally traditional to absolutely contemporary- just whatever I like to do.

LJN: So it’s a very personal choice who comes to the Festival?

PZ: I choose all the musicians absolutely personally – it has nothing to do with anything else.

LJN: You don’t specifically aim to be commercial?

PZ: No. If I like it, I like it! It can be contemporary; it can be in; it can be out; it can be soul or blues or whatever- but it’s absolutely personal, and nothing to do with any record company, even my own! [PAO Records] Sometimes, when I was producing more CDs, some of the guys I released on CD couldn’t understand why I didn’t programme people from my records at my Festival! But that’s a totally different thing.

LJN: In one interview you talked about ‘musical justice’. I wondered what you meant by that when choosing musicians?

PZ: That’s very important for me- not just in the Festival, but in all of life. I want to be treated the same as everybody else. I treat everybody, whoever it is- old, young, rich, poor, good-looking, not good-looking- I treat everybody the same. I think this is very healthy for the Festival because I’m not spending money on just one or two groups, so-called headliners, like regular festivals do. I have some Austrian musicians or English musicians or whatever- the basics are the same for everybody. If somebody very well-known is coming and needs a little bit for his ego, I’m not totally strict but I keep it absolutely in proportion.

LJN: You have an organic farm- I wonder if you apply some of the same principles to your Festival?

PZ: Yeah, it’s the same. We have to treat nature and animals right in order to have surroundings where we feel good and eat things that taste good. That’s very important for me. If I eat something that tastes good, I have to put a lot of effort into quality. And it’s the same in music. If I have a certain budget and I want to have good quality, I need to treat everybody fairly, in the same way, in order to get good quality from everybody. And the less-known musicians respect this, and there’s quality when they play- they feel treated well, and as important as others. It’s very good for the music and communication.

LJN:The Festival started very small- do you feel now that it’s reached the right size?

PZ: Yes, it’s not really too much in my hands. It can’t get bigger anyway, and I hope it doesn’t get smaller! But what I can do is not programme special names. Sometimes it’s possible for me to book famous people I like musically. Financially, I could book them. I could get Gregory Porter but maybe it wouldn’t be good- there’s too much attention on the name now, and I don’t want to take all the attention from the others. In the music scene, some people I know are big for a few years- it comes in waves, and that’s normal in life. It’s better to book them at a point where they need it more- it’s better for everybody.

LINK: INNTOENE WEBSITE

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