Jazzfest Berlin 2017

The complete festival programme has been published.
Advance ticket sales are open.

This is the third and final year of the British writer Richard Williams as the festival curator and he titles this year’s festival edition with a quote of Ornette Coleman: “in all languages”.


In a world where walls are being erected and borders strengthened every day, where leaders are encouraging cultural isolationism and minorities are being marginalised, and where children are being taught that difference is something to be feared, jazz exists to remind us of a simple lesson: that people and societies are at their best when they work together in a spirit of openness and inclusion.

The history books tell us that the first jazz records were made in 1917, and over the past century the music has provided an example of evolution through collaboration, not just between individual musicians but between apparently disparate cultures. In 2017 Jazzfest Berlin will demonstrate that this music, while retaining its precious African American core, welcomes all those, whatever their origins, who respond to a spirit that celebrates the right to be different, to challenge orthodoxies and to find ways of working with others. For that reason this year’s festival, extended to six days, begins not at its traditional base in Wilmersdorf but in Kreuzberg, a place where many cultures meet, with bands incorporating rap, hip-hop, poetry and the musical flavours of India and Africa in provocative new combinations.

For the first time in its 54 years, the festival has an artist in residence. Tyshawn Sorey, the New York-based composer, drummer and bandleader, will be heard with his regular trio, in a late-night concert which mixes solo performance and a duo with the Berlin-based saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann, and in a “Conduction” project devised for the festival and featuring musicians from the Berlin scene.

Much of the composed music on the programme is specially commissioned. The trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire brings an extended piece inspired by recordings made in 1939 of a woman inmate in a Mississippi prison farm. The Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir El- Saffar leads an ensemble in a composition that will make use of the remarkable acoustical properties of the Evangelical Church on Hohenzollernplatz, another venue new to the festival. Geir Lysne, the director of the NDR Bigband, conducts the world premiere of a piece reflecting the music of his native Norway. Also from Norway, the seven female singers of Trondheim Voices meet the organist Kit Downes at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche.

Nels Cline, the guitarist best known for his work with the rock band Wilco, arrives with his “Lovers” project, playing Broadway and jazz standards with a chamber orchestra. Dr. Lonnie Smith, a great exponent of the Hammond B3 organ, brings a soulful warmth to the programme. Two pianists of very different generations perform unaccompanied: Michael Wollny, the young star of European jazz, in a rare solo recital, and René Urtreger, who follows a screening of Louis Malle’s “Lift to the Scaffold” with a performance and his memories of recording the soundtrack with Miles Davis in Paris in 1957. John Beasley’s Grammy Award-winning MONK’estra welcomes, for the first time, another German star as its special guest: the very popular trumpeter Till Brönner.

This is the third and final year of the festival’s British curator. Since at some time in the future Berlin and London will no longer be part of the same European community, it seems right that in 2017 the musicians of the two cities make the case for cultural co-operation by joining forces in previously unheard combinations for three nights in the intimate setting of A-Trane. They and the 150 or so other musicians in this programme will demonstrate that the message of jazz is at its most valuable when it is being expressed, as Ornette Coleman once put it, “in all languages”.

Richard Williams
Artistic director Jazzfest Berlin

Thomas Oberender
Director Berliner Festspiele