Despite the pandemic, Jazzfest Bonn has managed to organize a top-class program for the event that started at the end of August and run through the end of October 2021.
Trumpeter Till Brönner, Germany’s most internationally acclaimed jazz musician, gave a concert during the festival, which is when DW met up with him.
DW: Till Brönner, during the coronavirus lockdown, you were very critical of the government, of how it wasn’t adequately helping musicians who couldn’t perform live concerts. Do you think musicians get enough support in Germany?
Till Brönner: It’s very tough to comment this support situation during the COVID pandemic that we all are fighting. I’ve heard a lot of politicians say: compared to other countries, we’ve done great. There were a lot of efforts to help the musicians.
But it’s also a very revealing aspect to see that culture seems to be the first thing to disappear when catastrophe strikes, making it seem dispensable.
So we have to define and redefine whether culture and music and the arts in general are seen as a contribution to society, not only in Germany, but to a democratic society.
Germany’s elections are in a few weeks. Do you feel that there’s a party or movement that supports artists better than the current government?
I personally am not so interested in parties in particular. That’s why I have never been a member of a party.
But I’m interested [in politics] and I’m looking at what’s happening right now. And the thing that I find most alarming in a way is that we haven’t talked about many very important issues, like the economy of this country. We’ve only talked about COVID-19. There’s very little content to talk about right now, which I find very dangerous. I think I have never seen a time like this, when people talk less about what to do for the next generations than for the next five months.
How did the pandemic change the experience of a live concert?
Going to a concert is something you have to afford. You can live without music, but it’s a terrible thing to imagine.
So [before the pandemic] people had fun, it was a natural thing for them, you know, to select a day in the calendar, reserve the evening and meet hours before, maybe have dinner together or afterwards, and then really enjoy music as a sort of common language.
And that completely disappeared. Going to a concert is a challenge right now. But I hope it’s coming back — a certain lightness surrounding the event of going to a concert.
Meanwhile you are also renowned as a photographer. What did you do more during the lockdown: rehearse with other musicians or take pictures?
I was very lucky to have my camera ready all the time during the pandemic. And my personal project for the moment is Europe. Because the question of whether Europe will turn out to be useful and important for the entire planet is a theme you could follow forever with your camera, even though very few people talk about Europe because everybody’s busy with themselves. With the camera, it’s a perfect thing to do.
And I can’t wait to travel again. Because I was born in Italy, I was raised in Bonn. And I moved to Berlin. So I’m a European in my heart, and that is a very, very good subject for my camera.
You are one of the few German jazz musicians to be internationally recognized. Do you think that the German jazz community is underrated abroad?
I think the world doesn’t necessarily think about Germany as a jazz country in the first place. We were well known for great cars, you know, maybe for soccer or for engineering. But it’s never too late to break the cliché.
And luckily, some of the German musicians like Albert Mangelsdorf or Peter Brözmann found their own way to build and create a signature, which I think can be easily called a German jazz approach.
You are playing at the Jazzfest Bonn. What is the role of festivals today?
Jazz in general has a role that has not been defined enough in recent years, and that is the reason why the question “Do we still need this music?” is one that keeps getting asked again and again. And perhaps, when you look at the kind of audience it attracts, the question might sometimes feel justified.
However, we also need to ask: Where else is this music presented? Sometimes it’s not only an issue concerning the artists, but also public broadcasters, who decide that this music should be played at nighttime and not when younger people might have the chance to understand it or even simply hear it.
Parents are not the only ones introducing their children to jazz. We are always trying renew and offer the most diverse forms of jazz, especially the ones that are more popular and accessible to younger people.
You grew up in Bonn, Beethoven’s home town, where even young children are inevitably put in contact with the composer’s name. What does Beethoven mean to you today? How much Beethoven is in your music?
Beethoven was a pioneer in his field. Beethoven’s typical combination of lightness and seriousness is something that I recognize very well in many of my colleagues’ music — and in mine too, of course.