Step across the border: Slovenia

When trying to grasp the contours of jazz life in Slovenia, a good starting point is that its population just slightly bigger than that of Vienna, around 2 million. The country is also characterized by a low level of urbanisation and with jazz often perceived as an explicitly urban musical form, this is a tough disposition for a scene to thrive in. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that jazz life in Slovenia is surprisingly good and on any given night there is a considerable chance a jazz performance is happening somewhere in the country - at least with an open enough definition of what jazz is and thus also including various avant-garde or cross-genre expressions.  Historically, one could trace jazz in Slovenia all the way back to the 1920s. However, the first serious jazz orchestra – the still running RTV Slovenia Big Band - was instituted in 1945. During the first few post-war years the new socialist state had some ideological qualms about jazz, but – contrary to other parts of the Eastern Bloc - such issues were soon discarded. Thus the first festival, now called Jazz festival Ljubljana, was established in 1960 and is now the oldest continuously running jazz festival in Europe. However, concerts throughout the rest of the year were initially few and far between, and for a long time no proper club infrastructure was available.  Still, the festival kept bringing to Ljubljana musicians from across the world, with American free jazz as well as Scandinavian ECM sounds well represented. As of the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, adventurous musicianship was picked up locally as well, spearheaded by the likes of Begnagrad (led by the still active Bratko Bibič), Miladojka Youneed, Lado Jakša and Lolita. The mood of the day during the 80s can be illustrated by the Druga Godba festival, established in 1984, which casually featured non-idiomatic improv alongside reggae and folk. This was partly a reaction to the main jazz festival’s more orthodox steering of the time, but a strong sensibility for experimentation and genre sidestepping persists to this day. It is not surprising that in 2018 Jazz Festival Ljubljana was bestowed with the EJN Award for Adventurous Programming. However, this programming approach (and its wider context) generated quite a few complaints from certain circles of the more mainstream jazz audiences and authors.    The size and composition of the jazz audiences has always been fluctuating, but mustering enough audiences for bigger venues became increasingly hard during the past two decades and medium-sized venues are now used even for hosting very well-known artists. On the other hand, experimental music promoters are now much more often packing their small venues full. Another noteworthy trend is that the last decade brought a generational shift towards younger audiences all across the jazz music spectrum.  Still, the potential audience in Slovenia is small and public funding is crucial for the scene. Contemporary mechanism to fund NGOs and artists were only developed in the early 2000s, and even though this funding is very limited, the impact has been substantial. Numerous festivals and concerts are constantly springing up, but most of them aren’t a professional endeavour. The scene is scarcely funded and most of the artists with an international career have opted to live outside of Slovenia for periods of time, such as Dre A. Hočevar, Jure Pukl, Kaja Draksler and Zlatko Kaučič. All of them are stylistically pretty divergent, and there is no current predominant take on what contemporary jazz is. There are many individuals with a distinctively singular style (the aforementioned accordionist Bibič is worth highlighting again), but one can also notice a trend of clusters of artistic activity around certain individuals, who are often simultaneously active as musicians, educators or producers. Such a multiplicity of roles, as well as a sometimes diffuse border between personal and professional, is a staple feature of the scene. (Anže Zorman)

Following the model of "Good News From Russia", a festival organized in January 1998 with musicians from the former Soviet Union, a country focus is to be organized on a regular basis to shed light on music scenes that have received less attention in this country as well as other "blank spots" on the jazz map. In 2002, "Step across the border" presented diverse facets of the music scene in Croatia and Poland, in 2004 those of Romania and Serbia-Montenegro, and in 2005 Bulgaria and Hungary were the subject of "Step across the border". In 2006, a one-week festival entitled "Gipsy World - Music & More" was realized, a presentation of the music of a people that has no country; by the way, there will be a second edition in April 2010. In 2006, there was also a three-day Swiss focus entitled "Swiss Kiss" with a total of six formations. In October 2009, "Step across the border: Macedonia" took place, and in January 2010 we literally opened Istanbul as European Capital of Culture with a nine-day festival. In June 2010, the focus was on "Began in Africa" for the third time. . In January 2011, the theme was "Step across the border: Czech & Slovakia". In October 2011, we presented a small, fine focus on Romanian jazz music for the fourth time under the title "hotROMania" in collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute (RKI) and the RadioKulturhaus (RKH). In April 2011, a new transnational focus took place, which was dedicated to the Mediterranean region and operated under the theme "Mare nostrum".In 2012, a focus on Brazil was realized with musicians such as Egberto Gismonti, Naná Vasconcelos, Hamilton de Holanda, Cristina Braga, Jorge Antunes and others.In May 2014, a three-day festival entitled "Sons of Toots - Jazz from Flanders & Brussels" took place with Belgian musicians such as Philip Catherine, Robin Verheyen and Bert Joris.In 2016, a three-day festival entitled "Echoes From Armenia" was held to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.In 2022, a multi-day festival with the Ukrainian music scene was planned under the direction of Andrej Prozorov.(Program concept P&B)

From October 4 to 9, we are turning the spotlight on the jazz landscape of our neighbor Slovenia. The country focus was curated by Bogdan Benigar, long-time director of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival and now artistic director of the Druga Godba Festival.

With the kind support of the Slovenian Cultural Information Center (Skica). Thanks to its director Aljaž Arih.