Digital streaming was and is the strategy of the hour that musicians, artists and festivals use to present their art in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. But already existing resources like the good old radio had a comeback. Jazzfest Berlin 2020 intensified its decades-long partnership with public service radio ARD. In co-operation with them and Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the festival expanded to include seven German federal states, for the first time presenting studio concerts by local artists at eight state broadcasting houses plus a further concert from the silent green to close the festival. In his last review, Nico Daleman takes a critical look at this Jazzfest Berlin Radio Edition and asks how it is that the radio is not dead after all?




Friedericke Bernhardt feat. The Micronaut and Meuroer Mandolinenorchester, Jazzfest Berlin, 8. November 2020, Betonhalle, silent green © Camille Blake


The “unprecedented times” of the Covid-19 pandemic have forced musicians and artist to identify other ways to present their art. Some, if not most of them, have appealed to the possibilities of digital streaming, while others have looked back to the already available resources. Among those, traditional radio broadcasting has seen a comeback thanks to the confinement, particularly here in Germany where radio and television is publicly funded. So, the partnership between the Jazzfest Berlin 2020, Arte Concert and the regional radio broadcasters is not only logical, but well timed. Broadcasting concerts from radio and television studios used to be a stablished practice, but streaming platforms have taken over as more prominent ways of consuming media. But radio studios are still available to serve struggling artists in times of crisis.

Some of the broadcasts presented relatively traditional jazz combos. Among those the Shannon Barret’s Quartet from Cologne’s WDR and Lauer / Lakatos / Glawischnig /Höchstädter from Frankfurt am Main. Both piano-less quartets with broad phrases and sparse reminiscent of acoustic post-bop. Others presented brisk fusions with funk rock such as the Saarbrucken-based band Hydropuls, propelled by the picking type-machine electric bass of Tom Lengert. The Kammerflimmer Kollektief from Freiburg’s SWR 2 delivered a low tempo set raw sounds and drone harmonium and synths. A great proposal between dark ambient, industrial aesthetics and doom metal. From the studios of the BBR Berlin, Natalia Mateo put together an homage to Soul singer Bill Withers that presented a heartwarming soul with lush vocal harmonies. More accessible forms of African American music such as soul or even hip hop was something that was dearly missed throughout the festival.

The project of Friedericke Bernhardt was commissioned as the closing act of the Radio series. The digital glitches of The Micronauts complemented the analogue-like synths of Bernhardt, while a wind section heavy on clarinets and a mandolin quartet blended seamlessly. The compositional style generates a form of acoustic dance music coupled with minimalistic-like looped patterns and nostalgic folk sounds. The tick textures of the winds and synths complemented the precise patterns of the string instrument, exposing compositions that created both tightness in structure and openness for improvisation.


Friedericke Bernhardt, Jazzfest Berlin, 8. November 2020, Betonhalle, silent green © Camille Blake

Under the lenses of the interdisciplinary character that the Jazzfest Berlin proposed, the series of radio concerts presented a more modest version of jazz, that focused more on musical aspects than on daring exploration of performance as musical material. By contrast, the parallel events at Savvy Contemporary, that occupied most of the Sunday’s programme, included forms of poetry, dance and video art on top of sonic improvisations.

Rest assured, Eiliyas, Improvisation, Jazzfest Berlin, 8. November 2020, SAVY Contemporary © Bona Bell

Recovering the relationship between live music and broadcasting institutions presents a tremendous opportunity to question how these institutions are adapting to the challenges of the pandemic. Within the current forms of economic and cultural dynamics, how can the institutions provide more opportunity for artists to take advantage of the existing resources. If this pandemic and especially this last-minute digital edition of the Jazzfest Berlin has made clear how artistic and cultural organizations are capable of adapting to the situations and support each other. As curator Nadin Deventer noted, more than one-hundred hours of content were created over the four days of the festival. The work put into the perseverance of this festival not only benefited the outstanding musicians and artist that took part of it, but the whole underlaying support of technicians, producers, editors and curators that keep alive the real-time music scene. The Jazzfest Berlin successfully overcame the challenge of presenting a performative art in the form of public-less broadcasting.

With the kick-off event on November 5th at 7:00 p.m. in the concrete hall of silent green, the video livestream of Jazzfest Berlin 2020 started on ARTE Concert and on Berliner Festspiele on Demand. The live stream was also available on the websites of the ARD radio stations and Deutschlandradio, the Europe Jazz Network and the partners in the USA – Roulette in New York and the US-wide jazz broadcaster WBGO.