A European In New York – Comparing The Scenes

Contrary to popular opinion, Jazz is NOT dead. Closely associated with New York City since the 1920s, jazz is flourishing all around the world – thanks to numerous talented and innovative musicians.

I am a German improvising musician, and I have lived and worked in Berlin, Barcelona, and currently New York. Music is a mirror of society and it is exciting to experience the uniqueness of each city’s scene and compare them to each other.

New York City is one-of-a-kind. Since music is heavily influenced by cultural heritage, NYC’s diversity provides an incredible laboratory for musicians. The city is incomparable when it comes the concentration of great and highly talented jazz musicians. Today’s jazz scene is manifold. Yet, the city’s jazz tradition remains a vital part of the contemporary scene. The most important jazz clubs, such as the Village Vanguard, are still to be found in New York, along with innovative performance spaces like the ShapeShifter Lab.

NYC’s music scene contains strong individualism. Many musicians focus on their careers as soloists and invest much energy into improving on their instruments. Whereas the European movement generally concentrates on bands as collectives, New York tends to focus on the individual musician. In New York, band members rotate more frequently, and a gig in the city often requires only one rehearsal or less. The great benefit of this is spontaneity and flexibility. As a downside, working bands that develop a unique band sound are harder to find. The pace of the city is fast, and long-term engagements are close to nonexistent. However, NYC’s energetic vibe proves to be inspirational for many musicians.

Berlin has become one of Europe’s hot spots when it comes to art and music, attracting creative people from all over the world. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it has been a city of change – a perfect environment for artists to shape, design and create. While Berlin is famous for its classical as well as electronic music, improvised music has asserted its place on the scene. On the one hand, in Berlin, jazz lacks the depth of history as found in New York, but the Berlin scene demonstrates the essence of what jazz is, i.e. music that embraces improvisation. The “Berliner sound” is more experimental and jazz incorporates elements from indie rock, punk or electronica. The music from MSV Brecht, as well as Berlin based labels like Traumton Records may illustrate this.

While Barcelona’s music scene is smaller, it is up-and-coming. The region of Catalonia is culturally protective: You will find many music magazines written in Catalan, which feature local artists. So do the festivals like the Barcelona Jazz Festival. Barcelona’s scene is strongly influenced by Brad Mehldau’s former drummer Jorge Rossy who resides in Catalonia, as well as by the label Fresh Sound Records. American artists like Brad Mehldau, Bill McHenry, Chris Cheek and Reid Anderson used to record and perform in Barcelona, and became role models for many local musicians. The great composer Guillermo Klein used to live in the mediterranean metropole and certainly left a mark on the scene before he moved to Argentina, where he currently resides. However, the city suffers from a paucity of performing venues.

In the end, you can find great music all around the globe. The world is beautifully connected and I can only encourage everybody to enjoy the uniqueness of every place’s music.


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