INTERVIEW: Günther Huesmann (Talking about the SWR New Jazz Meeting - co-publication with Jazzthetik)


Norma Winstone, Karin Krog and Don Cherry
at the SWF Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden 1970
Photo: SWR

Sebastian writes: 

The 50th SWR New Jazz Meeting was recently held in three cities in Southern Germany. I reviewed the third concert in Karlsruhe. I also interviewed the senior producer behind the event, Günther Huesmann. He is head of jazz at SWR, following in the illustrious footsteps of Germany's "jazz pope" Joachim-Ernst Berendt. This interview is a co-publication with Jazzthetik, where this article appears in German in the January/ February issue, published today: 


Günther Huesmann
Photo credit: SWR
Günther Huesmann - The Studio as Laboratory

As a foreign observer it is impossible to avoid comparing the jazz scene of another country with one's own. And one aspect of the German scene which fascinates me is how much of its scale, professionalism and architecture can be traced back at least in part to the energy of one seemingly omnipresent man: Joachim-Ernst Berendt. A conversation with Günther Huesmann about Berendt and one specific legacy, the SWR NEWJazz Meeting:

The final words on the back of the title page of the original edition of Das Jazzbuch from 1953 serve as a reminder of what a combative spririt Berendt was. "This book is a compendium for lovers and opponents of jazz," he wrote. This book has been continuously in the catalogue of the S. Fischer publishing house right up to the present day. With sales approaching the two million mark, it is almost certainly the highest-selling book about jazz. Günther Huesmann has been responsible for the editions of Das Jazzbuch since 1989, and since 2012 has occupied one of what was one of Berend's key roles, as the head of jazz in the Südwestrundfunk (SWR).

Sebastian Scotney: Has Joachim-Ernst Berendt infuenced German jazz in a sustainable way?

Günther Huesmann: Yes. He was the central and influential mediator in jazz in post-war Germany. He was a radio man, jazz critic, author, festival founder and director, record produer and television anchor. What marks him out is that he focused on the progressive strengths of jazz from early on. For Berendt, jazz was a socio-political force that came into its own when it came into direct contact with the concerns of the here and now.

Sebastian Scotney: You are celebrating the 50th SWR NEWJazz Meeting. Was it Berendt who started it in 1966?

Günther Huesmann: Yes, at that time it was called the Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden, and in 1972 Berendt changed the name of the event to SWR NEWJazz Meeting. The meeting should be open to all styles.

Sebastian ScotneyWhat was the idea behind it?

Günther Huesmann: To this day, Berendt's idea has remained the central idea of the SWR NEWJazz Meeting: to give musicians in a radio studio the opportunity to exchange ideas, detached from the constraints of business. The principle of improvisation already contains the essence of the idea of encounter, of spontaneous dialogue. We pick up on this impulse in a radio studio. Berendt understood that one can use a radio studio to do much more than just document finished pieces. The studio can be a framework for facilitating encounters in which musicians can exchange ideas spontaneously. It is a sound laboratory in which they have the chance to try things out for recordings or future concerts. Thus the idea of dialogue, which is an essential part of jazz, became the element of radio and studio work.

Sebastian Scotney: Do you have the same ethos or has it changed with the times?

Günther Huesmann: I feel obliged to the same ethos. Unfortunately, the financial circumsances of many musicians have not changed much in recent decades. Improvisers are often forced to chase after the next gig for economic reasons. The SWR NEWJazz Meeting aims to use the resources of the broadcaster to help them see cherished projects and visions to through to fruition.

Sebastian Scotney: What were some of the highlights from the past?

Günther Huesmann: In 1969 a meeting of important European and American avant-garde improvisers took place at the Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden. Musicians from the AACM in Chicago experimented with European free jazz musicians. That was the first time that anything like that had happened in a studio.

The 1982 Vocal Summit was certainly also a highlight, when Bobby McFerrin was still at the beginning of his career. What this vocalist created together with Jeanne Lee, Lauren Newton, Jay Clayton and Urszula Dudziak still has a spark about it. It had astonishing freshness and the joy of discovery. Both accordionist Vincent Peirani and soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien were virtually unknown in Germany at that time. A year later they both won a major music prize, the French "Victoires du Jazz".

Sebastian Scotney: SWR recorded the meetings. Has the material been published on CD or in other forms? 

Günther Huesmann: Yes, a substantial amount of it. However, the early editions of it were not normally issued on vinyl or CD. The 1982 Vocal Summit with Bobby McFerrin was released on the Moers Music label. The concert by Ingrid Laubrock Octet was released on the album Zürich Concert - SWR New Jazz Meeting and won an award in 2014. Since 2013 we have been documenting the results of the meeting on the SWR Jazzhaus label.

Sebastian Scotney: This year the programme is being performed in three towns in Baden-Württemberg. Has this always been the case?

Günther Huesmann: In the first few years the Meeting happened exclusively in the radio studio in Baden-Baden. But, quite early on, the desire emerged among the musicians to try out the work that they had been working on in the sound laboratory setting live and in front of an audience. So the results have been performed in clubs and concert halls in SWR‘s refion since 1973. And through that the SWR NEWJazz Meeting has become a cultural partner for several significant initiatives, jazz clubs and promoters in the South-West of Germany. This bears witness to a high degree of trust. And we know that we have to keep continuously building and rebuilding this confidence with inspiring and exciting programming.

LINKS: Report on the Radio Jazz Research meeting in Mannheim
Review of the 50th SWR New Jazz Meeting
The Karlsruhe concert on video

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