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I have already underlined it in various publications on paper or on the net: the difference in openness between France and its big German neighbor is phenomenal.

If only in terms of festivals and concert venues, for example. A few years ago Rainer Michalke — an excellent programmer whom I had often had the opportunity to meet, among others at Jazzahead, the international conference/festival that takes place every spring in the good Hanseatic city of Bremen — programmed at the Moers festival (of which he was the artistic director) the White Desert Orchestra of the young French pianist Eve Risser.

With the exception of the Jazzdor festival held in Strasbourg and its surroundings, which crosses the Rhine when it doesn’t bring German musicians across the river, as well as its Alsatian neighbor, the Météo festival in Mulhouse, can one imagine a single French festival inviting a young German musician who is still little known? A musician that the programmers would have been curious enough to try to discover?

Angelika Niescer ©All rights reserved

Neither the formidable alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier, nor the excellent pianist Julia Hülsman, nor the saxophonist and bass clarinetist Silke Eberhard, nor even Aki Takase — the veteran pianist who, although Japanese, has been living in Berlin with her husband Alexander von Schlippenbach for ages — have been performing in France recently or even for a long time.

©Joachim Kühn by Photo Art Hans Joachim Maqet

Among the men, the same phenomenon can be observed: apart from Joachim Kühn — he lives in Ibiza and has, in France where he lived for a while, an artistic agent: the very efficient Geneviève Peyrègne — who is regularly programmed here, the only Germans to appear in the hexagonal programs live in our country: pianist Frank Woeste and tenor saxophonist Daniel Erdmann… As for trombonist Daniel Casimir, he has returned to his native country and, as if by chance, we don’t hear about him here anymore.


©Photo Emile Parisien by Philippe Colliot

The German colleagues of these musicians, who reside in Germany, are almost unknown on this side of the border, including a star in his country such as pianist Michael Wollny.

©Photo Michaël Wollny by Philippe Colliot

One of his fellow pianists, Florian Ross, invited “our” Stéphane Huchard on drums on one of his records.

©Photo Stéphane Huchard by Patrick Martineau

Have you ever seen a German musician on a French record? Yes, a few : saxophonist Michael Riessler and trumpeter Claus Stötter in the ONJ, or more recently trombonist Nils Wogram in Michel Portal‘s new group, and… Michael Wollny with Vincent Peirani and/or Emile Parisien, who have been releasing their records for years on the excellent German label ACT, owned by Siggi Loch, a great producer.

©Photo Michel Portal by Philippe Colliot

Germany is the largest country in Europe with nearly 85 million inhabitants and several of its major cities (Berlin, Köln and Munich) are home to an active and creative jazz scene. And France is not very curious about this breeding ground on the other side of the Rhine.

But let’s talk about records and let’s have a look at the German labels that are open to non-American foreigners, and especially to the French.

©Photo Lou Tavano by Patrick Martineau

At Act, in addition to saxophonist Emile Parisien and accordionist Vincent Peirani, Siggi Loch has signed guitarist Nguyên Lê for decades.

©Photo Nguyễn Lê by Philippe Colliot

He recently recruited singer Lou Tavano. Baritone saxophonist Céline Bonacina has recorded for him. 

Céline Bonacina ©Photo Philippe Colliot

Drummer Manu Katché also, as well as saxophonist Pierrick Pédron and pianist Grégory Privat.

©Photo Pierrick Pédron & Gregory Privat by Philippe Colliot

On its Munich-based neighbor, the Enja label of producer Matthias Winckelmann (who unfortunately passed away a few months ago), we also meet several French musicians: double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, tuba and snake player Michel Godard, harpist Isabelle Olivier, pianist Jobic Le Masson

©Photo Michel Godard by Philippe Colliot

©Photo Jobic Le Masson by Patrick Martineau

Before knocking on the door of the prestigious ECM label, let’s stop for a moment at Neuklang, a (not so) small independent label from the Stuttgart area. One finds on its catalog the discs of the French big band Ping Machine (that its leader, Fred Maurin, has put to sleep to lead the latest version of the ONJ). There are also CDs of musicians from Ping Machine such as the excellent duo of double bassist Rafael Schwab and saxophonist Julien Soro as well as two discs of the atypical and scathing blowing trio Journal Intime (Fred Gastard: bass saxophone, Mathias Mahler: trombone, Sylvain Bardiau: trumpet) which invites Vincent Peirani and the guitarist Marc Ducret on one of its discs…

©Photo Vincent Peirani & Louis Sclavis by Philippe Colliot

ECM, finally, has been offering on its catalog for ages various groups of the saxophonist/clarinetist Louis Sclavis. ECM has also hosted or still hosts CDs by Manu Katché, pianist François Couturier, violinist Dominique Pifarély, guitarist Kevin Seddiki, bassist Michel Benita, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, trombonist Yves Robert

©Photo Michel Benita by Philippe Colliot

Of course, one could argue that in France there is no label of the size of ECM, ACT or Enja. This is true. But the deafness of French labels in relation to artists from the other side of the Rhine remains an open question.

Festivals, concert halls, labels… France clearly does not look to the East, whereas our German neighbors are both curious and hospitable towards our artists

One day, a German programmer made me this remark which has nothing to do with the music in itself but which seems to me rather relevant : “You know, Thierry, when I see that a concert of Louis Sclavis or Manu Katché is announced in my country, I immediately think of France with its sunny beaches, its gastronomic restaurants, its picturesque villages surrounded by fields of lavender… It makes me dream! On the other hand, I don’t think that German jazz musicians make the French public dream.”

©Photo Manu Katché by Patrick Martineau

Sad observation but great lucidity from this music professional who understood that the art he defends and supports does not exist in a bubble where only musical criteria would have the right to be quoted.

Is it me who, in a burst of idealism rather naive and far from the realities of the field, dreams of a world where music would have no borders?

No doubt. But I will continue to defend, among others on, an open and decompartmentalized listening of the musics that we like, and singularly of the German jazz in all its richness and its diversity.

©Cover Photo. Daniel Erdmann by Patrick Martineau.

©Header Photo. Manu Katché by Patrick Martineau

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