FEATURE / INTERVIEW: Jazz Travels tour to Jazz à Vienne

The Théâtre Antique during Jazz à Vienne in 2013
Photocredit: Daniel Culsan/ Creative Commons

Jazz Travels is organizing a tour to Jazz à Vienne, one of the most popular summer jazz festivals in the South of France, held in the Roman amphitheatre, the Théâtre Antique. The inclusive tour will combine festival concerts, a cultural city break in Vienne and its Roman sites, with a tour (and tastings) at vineyards in the Northern Rhône region, some also dating back to Roman times. Travel from the UK will be by Eurostar. Sebastian interviewed jazz writer and Jazz à Vienne regular from the region, Sandie Safont.

LJN : For someone who has not been to Jazz à Vienne what is different / special about it?

Sandie Safont: What makes this festival really unique is its breathtaking setting : an ancient open air Roman theatre - built some 2,000 years ago – with a seating capacity of 7,000. Experiencing live music there is absolutely stunning, whether you are in the audience or a performer – and I’m sure every single musician who has played the main stage will second that!

In addition to its ancient theatre, the charming town of Vienne boasts a magnificent Italian theatre as well as world-class Roman ruins and it is located 20 miles south of the vibrant city of Lyon, which makes for a perfect summer city break for lovers of jazz and of antiquity alike.

Jazz à Vienne has developed a solid partnership with nearby cities’ festivals and music venues, which allows it to be an all-year-round festival, offering a wide range of events such as residencies, gigs, conferences, master classes, etc. Not many festivals can afford to do so and that is definitely one more reason why it is so special.

LJN: What about some of the more unusual events? 

SS: In addition to its very eclectic, high standard line-up, the festival hosts a much prized ReZZo Focal talent competition - in collaboration with French label Jazz Village (Harmonia Mundi), French hi-fi designer Focal and the renowned Swiss Studio du Flon – which aims to support and promote emerging musicians and that alone counts for something.

LJN: How did it start, and who's the guiding spirit? 

SS: The festival was co-founded by Jean Paul Boutellier in 1981. The story goes that he wanted to hold a festival in the Parc de la Tête d'Or in Lyon, but residents objected, and Vienne took the festival on instead. Bouteiller was the festival’s artistic director through a period of success and continued to grow it until 2010. He is now, along with four others, on the booking committee which has been assembled by the new director Stéphane Kochoyan – he took over in 2011.

LJN : How many days does it last ?

SS: The festival runs for two - full on (!)  – weeks, from late June to mid-July. This year’s dates are 28th June – 13th July.

LJN : Do we have to adjust to jazz time? What time of day do things get going ? Is there an after-gig scene?

SS:  There’s live music pretty much all day long, as early as 12:30pm til late at night – or early in the morning! There are 4 stage areas : it all kicks off at the Jardins de Cybèle – for upcoming talents showcases and the ReZZo Focal Competition – then things shift over to the Théâtre Antique - main stage - where you can catch headliners and upcoming talents showcases. Comes 11:30pm, you might want to head to the JazzMix stage for underground, electronic-oriented jazz acts or wait til midnight and go to the Jazzclub de Minuit for a more intimate vibe.

And for whose who cannot sleep, there’s an All Night Jazz – on the last day of the festival – with gigs non-stop until 6am and coffee and croissants to keep you going! And finally - for those who always want more - the festival recently added one Extra Night of music! Be prepared for big acts: living legend Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams graced the main stage in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

LJN : Who have been headliners in the past / who are the legends gods of festivals past?

SS: Pretty much every legend we can think of has played Jazz à Vienne : Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, George Benson, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Al Jarreau, Lionel Hampton, James Brown, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Ornette Coleman, Hank Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Kenny Garrett, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Taj Mahal, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Roy Ayers… and the list goes on.

While this year's programme is not yet announced, last year's headliners included Melody Gardot, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Allen Toussaint, Marcus Miller, Sting, Tigran Hamasyan, Snarky Puppy, Roy Hargrove

LJN : Any personal memories ?

SS:  Yes, quite a few. My dad took me to see Al Jarreau in 1984 – or was it 1981 ? I was very little - 6 or 8 years old - and I remember the immensity of the ancient theatre making quite an impression on me.

Herbie Hancock and ‘The New Standard’ All Stars - in 96 or 97 - was really something: John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, Don Alias & Jack DeJohnette: that’s one serious lineup! It was an amazing gig and Herbie was particularly chicky that evening: he confused the band a few times during the set and that was very funny to witness.

Another memorable year was the first All Night Jazz of the festival I went along to, in 2009. It was UK’s Perry Louis & The JazzCotech Dancers’ first appearance at Jazz à Vienne and they did a great warm up show, dancing in the crowd that was standing at the front of the stage and then, together with Don Blackman and Ray Gaskins, they set the stage on fire with Roy Ayers.

UK’s spoken word artist Anthony Joseph was another highlight that same night – I think his performance was scheduled to start at around 2am - and the last act was Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - featuring Archie Shepp!

To my knowledge, the All Night Jazz concept is very specific to Jazz à Vienne and it definitely helps make the festival a unique experience.

This feature is sponsored by Jazz Travels, the UK's only tour operator dedicated to jazz lovers.

LINKS: Jazz a Vienne website
Jazz Travels' Jazz à Vienne tour

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