Jazz at Vienne – doubling the celebration
Not every day do you celebrate a 40 th birthday. That’s why Jazz at Vienne is marking the four-decade – emerald – anniversary of France’s signature jazz and blues event not once, but twice. After a truncated 2021 edition, the festival’s storied history, dating back to 1981, is being celebrated with a full concert schedule this year, alongside a compilation album, Past & Future (Heavenly Sweetness). The album – an amalgam of stories, emotion and resonant echoes – captures the festival’s essence. Listen in closely, then once again.
How many events from its earliest days could marshal a roster that included stars such as Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles? Or a line-up where fans were lucky enough to see blues greats like B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Fats Domino side by side at Champ-de-Mars.
For festival founder, Jean-Paul Bouteiller, there’s no doubt that the Jazz at Vienne festival lodestar was the incomparable Miles Davis – who graced the Jazz at Vienne stage four times. Let’s not forget other equally impressive festival moments though, such as the Carmen Jazz of Dee Dee Bridgewater, reliving childhood memories. Or Chet Baker, who arrived – trumpet in hand – then with supreme ease went straight from his transport to stage. While for younger attendees there’s no doubt that Ibrahim Maalouf imprinted their minds with powerful memories.
Each Jazz at Vienne venue has its own sound, or feel. Whether the Antique Theatre, or the archaeological garden at Cybèle, or the small Italian-style space, The Club, with its after party starting at midnight. At Vienne, this special locale – at the convergence of the Rhône and Gère rivers – the art of fine dining always runs parallel with the music, often including a tasting of Condrieu or Côte-Rôtie, even if in the past Miles preferred to stick to his Coke.
Just look at some of musical luminaries who have appeared at Jazz at Vienne: Dianne Reeves, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Lalo Schifrin, Carla Bley, Michel Petrucciani, James Brown, Chucho Valdes, Kassav’, Santana, Manu Dibango, Pat Metheny, George Benson. Incredible.
The festival also extended jazz’s remit, embracing Nougaro and Laurent Garnier along the way. With Brazilian giants also joining the party (João Gilberto, Hermeto Pascoal, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, Seu Jorge). Add, then, to this the suave charm of Compay Secundo to the blues of Ray Baretto.
More recently, with Benjamin Tanguy as artistic director, the festival has welcomed a new wave of jazz talents, such as Esperanza Spalding, Cory Henry, Shabaka Hutchings and Sandra Nkake. Jazz at Vienne is also the first French music festival to showcase Snarky Puppy – before the line-up led by Michael League became a point of reference.
Even if not literally born there, some artists have been given space to display their prodigious talents and have, in effect, grown up within its environs. Trombone Shorty was aged just 12 years-old during his Jazz at Vienne début – he accompanied Wynton Marsalis. He then went on to play at the festival in the earliest hours of the morning, in the 4.30 am slot, to later triumph on the big stage. Gregory Porter, Robert Glasper also started out on The Club stage, before headlining later shows.
There’s no debate that Roy Hargrove, who sadly left us in 2018, embodied the festival’s embrace of the next generation. Ever since Hargrove’s first Jazz at Vienne performance in 2009, the trumpeter and bandleader showed his development from leading a traditional big band to his later group, RH Factor. Hargrove’s ensemble, a propulsive groove machine, welcomed MC Solaar onto the stage during one memorable set, then closed with an awe-inspiring tribute to Freddie Hubbard. Hard bop, pure jazz classicism and hip-hop urgency united in a single breath.
This compilation, Past & Future captures something of the festival’s history, while connecting with the current scene’s leading lights, and so propelling you into the future.
Each of the seven groups collected here were recorded at Isère, at Grenoble. 3 With many of the covers included here as evocative as the original compositions. Brothers and sisters, Abraham Reunion, for instance, return to the Roberta Flack classic, “Trying Time” while the quintet, Ishkero turn up the heat on “Oliloki Valley” by Herbie Hancock. Roy Hargrove’s spirit animates two titles: Emile Londonien captures the groove of the RH Factor cut “Strength” while the Leon Phal Quintet
return to “Soulful” as if evoking a dream in the final moments of a show.
For Franck Descollonges, founder of the label, Heavenly Sweetness, this release has a particular importance. “This project really touches my heart as Jazz at Vienne was one of my first jazz shows.
And it was at this festival – at the “All Night Jazz” – that I discovered that you could dance all night to jazz. Even now I recall an image of an over excited Grandpa frenetically tapping these brightly coloured plastic drums – from that brand Fischer Price – and a particularly transporting flute solo
that united 8,000 people as if they were one … Also there, I discovered Tito Puente and Latin Jazz. I remember everything as if it were yesterday.”
Victor Hugo said that we are born twice: the first time when we come into the world, and then when we fall in love. Likewise, at Vienne we always vibrate in two temporal zones – in all that has gone on before us in the past, and then, in the future.