Ljubljana’s Open Air and Historical Jazz Festivals

Jazz became one of the fathers of modern music. Some people still enjoy the sound of live instruments that play in swing using blue notes, visiting events, and concerts. Some others listen to some modern genres like pop, electronic, or rock. Interesting enough, but if you like any of the mentioned genres, you like jazz. In fact, modern music took a lot of things from jazz. Slovenians were the first Europeans to bring jazz into the masses.

Ljubljana Jazz Festival is the oldest jazz festival in Europe. It was established in 1960. Since then, its stage has become a place for thousands of performances played by hundreds of bands. The festival was held in Bled until it finally moved to the Cankarjev dom, a concert hall with opera acoustics. It is annual, so you have an opportunity to experience it every summer.

Later, this music genre was transformed into the famous rock-and-roll. If jazz doesn’t exist, Elvis Presley would never write his hits, probably. Moreover, the last genre was an ancestor of rock, rap, pop, and other styles that we are used to listening to now.

Thus, these reasons should be enough to dedicate your weekend to the Ljubljana Jazz Festival, where you can get acquainted with the father of the fathers. On the other hand, if you already adore this genre, Ljubljana Jazz Festival will open a lot of new bands and songs, believe me!

This is Jazz!

What associations do you come up with when you hear the word “J-A-Z-Z?” A band where musicians are usually in suits, playing live accompanied by swing rhythms of drums, and the guitarist and saxophonist are doing crazy solos. If we are talking about classic jazz, then it’s ten points, you are right!

Jazz originated from the United States of America. It is considered that the place of its birth is New Orleans city, Louisiana State. Somewhere in the middle of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the African-American communities living in the city decided to take such genres as ragtime and blues, which originated from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and add some new features to it.

The mixture was undoubtedly the decent one. It included improvisation, swing, blue notes, and complex chords. I think it’s not important to describe what is what here because this is not a music lesson. However, the rhythm patterns, guitars and saxophones, and call and response vocals (when vocalists are having a dialogue) are those things that make jazz so indigenous. Furthermore, listen once again to the last song in your player, I bet you find some of the mentioned above features in your track.

The most famous names of jazz are Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and a lot of others. Also, songs in jazz style were found in the repertoire of Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, and even rapper Kendrick Lamar.

The Oldest Jazz Festival in Europe

Yes, Ljubljana Jazz Festival was established 15 years after the end of the most dramatic events in Europe of the previous century, in 1960. At that time, Slovenian people were living quite well. They were buying vinyl from the rest of Europe and the USA. Somehow, they were inspired by jazz music so much that they decided to create their own jazz festival.

Even now, the festival represents a broad range of musical expressions from funk improvisations to soul-tinged jazz, which grabbed the attention of Slovenians in those days. Today, you can enjoy the main musical part of the festival, including various sub-genres along with such interdisciplinary accompanying events as street performances, film screenings, residency programs, round tables, jazz photography, exhibitions of posters, and other artworks.

Predominantly, the festival takes place in the various concert halls of Cankarjev dom each year. Some other locations include the open-air venue Križanke, Klub Gromka, and of course, the streets of Ljubljana.

Establishment of the Jazz Society

For Europeans, music became a cure after hard times. For example, the first orchestra jazz band of Slovenia, RTV Slovenia Big Band, was formed in 1945. They were a group of enthusiasts who were promoting jazz tunes for 10 years. In that period, the music genre became popular in the country.

Thus, the number of bands playing it became enough for own festival. Of course, they were playing at the various Yugoslavian pop festivals, however, Slovene Historical Jazz Festival became the place where people with similar music tastes could enjoy, relax, and share new music.

Why not Ljubljana Jazz Festival? For the first six years, the festival was held in Bled, and only in 1967, it moved to the capital of Slovenia. For the first two decades, it was organized by the newly created Jazz Society Ljubljana. It gathered all the music enthusiasts of small Slovenia who created an American-level fest in the heart of this country.

After 1982, Ljubljana Jazz Festival moved under the wing of Radio Študent. It was a “second revival” for it. New organizers re-realized the polemics and orientation of the festival. So, they spread the borders to include new genres, trends, and bands. Also, new art directors have changed the visual side of the fest in a better way.

The festival started to experiment a lot. It brought some arguments in the further vision of the direction. Therefore, it was decided to split it into Druga Godba Festival and Ljubljana Jazz Festival in order to let the last one stay definitely the jazz festival but not the mixture.

Festival’s Program

First of all, Ljubljana Jazz Festival saved this feeling of openness for anything new until nowadays. On the other hand, it is a professional stage for leading bands in this music genre.

The festival is focused on presenting original, important, and fresh music, often played by young and promising artists. The most famous artists even played on the stages of the Cankarjev dom were Avishai Cohen, Vijay Iyer Trio, Hamilton de Hollanda, Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band, Richard Galliano, John Zorn, Peter Brötzmann, Angles Octet, Pat Metheny, Maria João, Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, John Scofield, Neneh Cherry (with The Thing), Farmers By Nature, Peter Evans, David Murray, Macy Gray, Sly & Robbie, and Nils Petter Molvaer, Nate Wooley, Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra, Gregory Porte, Diogo Nogueira, Dans Dans, and Fire! Orchestra.

Ljubljana Jazz Festival cooperates with the Lent Festival, one of the biggest Slovenian open-air festivals, on a regular basis. For example, together they welcomed such jazz stars B.B. King, James Brown, and Ray Charles, whom you probably know because of his infinite chartbuster “Hit the Road, Jack”.

Furthermore, it cooperates with international festivals as well. People from the Portuguese music label “Clean Feed” and Skopje Jazz Festival were curating and directing the festival for some years. The concerts recorded for the label were released in the album called “Live in Ljubljana Jazz Series” afterward.

Furthermore, it’s important to mention that the Cankarjev dom Cultural and Congress Centre was chosen for this event because of its architectural purposes. Cankarjev dom’s Gallus Hall meets technical standards of the best opera and chamber music acoustics. Thus, the main performance of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival is held in a place where your perception will be enhanced with the perfect sound of the hall itself.

Also, Cankarjev dom became the place of birth of the first Yugoslavian Jazz Society then later became the International Jazz Society with headquarters in this incredibly beautiful and artsy building.

Listen to It, not Read

Slavic people are usually associated with folk music. It’s obvious that the Balkan spice left its footprint in the Slovenian cultural legacy. However, not only folk is popular here. Slovenians are fans of high art. Of course, they do like traditional folk festivals, but sometimes they take a bottle of wine instead of rakija and go to listen to jazz music at Ljubljana Jazz Festival.

Jazz is a genre of music that is hard to explain if you never listened to it. Somehow, it creates too many emotions impossible to express in several words. Now, jazz is considered as music for melomaniacs. However, in the 1920s and 1930s, this was the most popular music on the planet. It’s interesting how such quite complicated music suited the complicated times of humanity.

On the other hand, now jazz has transformed into various different genres. You can find funk jazz, fusion jazz, smooth jazz, gypsy jazz, and even Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. I bet everyone can find something that he or she will like. Moreover, in order to find, you need to look for. Thus, Ljubljana Jazz Festival could become a perfect place for your searches.

Furthermore, it’s not the only point of the meeting. If you have been to Ljubljana several times already, check other jazz festivals in Slovenia:

  • Džjezz International Jazz Festival in Celje
  • Jazz Camp Kranj in Kranj
  • Jazz Cerkno in Cerkno

It’s time to have fun and enjoy some good music, let’s!

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