Insights into the 1st edition of the Montreux Jazz Academy

NB-DSC02809Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti, artistic director of the Montreux Jazz Academy, talks about the first edition of this exciting, pedagogical project where 12 young winners of the prestigious Montreux piano, voice and guitar prizes are further coached by 14 world-renowned mentors at the Sylvia Waddilove musical centre.

How did the idea of musical pedagogy evolve at Montreux Jazz ?


Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I’ve been working for the Montreux Jazz Festival for over 25 years, primarily as artistic co-ordinator, but also as educational co-ordinator ever since Claude Nobs began the idea of informal musical workshops. Before my arrival in 1989, Claude had always asked key musicians to extend their stay in Montreux in order to talk, teach and interact with the audience, students and fellow musicians. He would announce the workshop details at the end of a concert for the following day, but this meant that only people present at the concert would know what, where and with whom it was happening. I started organising these workshops in advance, incorporating them into the official programme, which gradually made the workshops an important feature of the festival highlighting the importance we gave to the interaction between master and pupil. This eventually led to the 1st official Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Prize in 1999 where a selection of young pianists from all over the world came to Montreux be coached by professionals in the field. Voice and guitar prizes soon followed.

What was the approach to the Montreux prizes?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti We wanted to structure these prizes in such a way to avoid the competitiveness you might find in a sporting event, and instead create a nice atmosphere for the candidates. The young musicians coming to Montreux were treated as a group, made to feel comfortable, lucky to meet and work together, mostly of the same age and level but coming from different countries. At that time it was also an excellent way to bridge the gap between eastern and western Europe of the late 90s. It was important that the contestants be real, complete musicians, not just able to reproduce or repeat music, each had to submit their own composition or arrangement and give a lot of themselves.

When did you realise that musical coaching was not enough?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Year after year, we began to notice a reoccurring problem. Despite the winners receiving money, a recording contract and a live show the following year at Montreux Jazz – a few months after winning the prize, they would call us up asking for help: “can we have the names of a good agent, manager, how can we find gigs, labels, PR, etc..?” It was clear that being a young virtuoso is not enough in the world of jazz and music, many of our young winners had no idea what direction to go in and how to follow up their prize-winning achievements. We soon realised that the chosen candidates coming from over 40 different countries needed a more practical form of training alongside their musical coaching. Hence the idea of the Montreux Jazz Academy was born – to help young musicians take advantage of the experience and connections of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, the Festival’s pedagogical wing, in order to maximise their self expression as artists and also help them build their career toolkits.

Describe how the Montreux Jazz Academy is set up.

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti There are 14 mentors and 12 candidates, or ‘laureates’ as we like to call them. Nine of them are made up of the first, second and third place winners of this year’s piano, voice and guitar competitions. The remaining three are made up of the first prize winners of the previous year. The Academy lasts just over a week from 30th October to 5th November where the young laureates live, work, perform and learn during an intensive week of exchanges with international musicians and music-business professionals. Masterclasses are given on a daily basis on useful topics such as “Understanding the music business/ How do I get signed to a label? / Managing your online presence”. There’s no competitive atmosphere or prize at the end of the Academy, just learning, sharing and a big gala show on the last evening overseen by Lee Ritenour. What’s very precious for me is to have the laureates express themselves freely and get into the habit of risk-taking with ideas and possibilities, this is less present when there’s a competition at stake. After the Academy I know something will change in how they make music as individuals – and not just the laureates, the mentors have also been affected by what they’ve shared here. They didn’t all know eachother beforehand and it was wonderful to see the cross-fertilisation bubbling up between them during the duologs, live gigs and workshops.

How did you go about chosing the mentors?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I chose mentors who already have a strong relationship to Montreux, first of all because it’s easier to have direct access to them, secondly because I needed to know their resources, what they’re capable of and how curious they are. For example, I chose guitarist Lee Ritenour as musical director of this edition because he has always taught in his career, he has a good relationship with the younger generation and knows how to raise everyone’s level. He’d already been president of a previous Montreux Jazz Guitar prize and had done an amazing job. From the USA we invited drummer Sonny Emory from Earth, Wind and Fire who has an amazing energy but is very different from the classical jazz drummer; saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who opened the first Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967 – a kind of godfather figure; star vocalist Patti Austin, president of the Voice competition a few years ago. We also had the pianist Yaron Herman from Israel, electronic genius Bugge Wesseltoft from Norway, Hammond B3 giant Macoto Ozone from Japan, singer Sebastian Schuller from France and our very own Eric Truffaz. Their interaction made it feel more like a laboratory than an academy, anything could happen! The relationship between instruments and machines was really explored which was very important to me as I wanted new musical territories to be looked at as much as geographical ones. Even Charles Lloyd got to experiment with the power of electronic music.

Does the Academy have a particular involvement with Swiss artists?

1459961_862670483754534_356142560921368328_nStéphanie-Aloysia Moretti The Academy is essentially aimed at aspiring jazz musicians on an international basis, but obviously we are happy to nurture Swiss young talent as much as we can. The exceptional singer/songwriter/guitarist Patrick Rouiller, (one of the star contestants on The Voice Switzerland 2013), was the only Swiss laureate selected for the Academy this year. However we were graced with some top Swiss musicians who took part in our live sessions in the evenings, among which vocalists Anna Aaron, Billie Bird, and pianist Léo Tardin – who was so enraptured with his jam session that he missed his train back to Geneva and ended up with all the other laureates back at the Waddilove centre. Léo, a Montreux solo piano prize winner himself, was blown away to see the high standard of practical teaching, backline equipment and tools on offer. “The best of the best in an informal setting” is how he described his time spent at the Academy.

What will the laureates take away with them? 

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Firstly, all the laureates have said that the practical learning has been crucial: how to get a gig, consider yourself a brand, understand the workings of the music business, etc… They feel more confident to go into the world as a musician and handle their lives. No school normally talks about the practical side but now at last they know what to expect. Secondly, they’ve all mentioned the importance of experimentation and improvisation as a group. They have been stretched beyond what they thought were their capacities, forced to explore new territories and been made to find new ways of expressing their art.

How will the Montreux Jazz Academy be next year?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I could be a bit more audacious next year regarding styles of music from further afield than just the western world. Maybe bring in mentors from India or the Orient and see what new musical perspectives they could share with us, teach us to feel music more with our guts and less with our brains perhaps…? But for sure the goal will remain the same: to maximise self-expression, risk-taking in each young musician and to teach them the practical tools for succeeding in their music careers.

Zurich meets Berlin

A la Berlin Music Week, le Swiss Business Mixer s'est installé sous la tnte du cirque Cabuwazi

A la Berlin Music Week, le Swiss Business Mixer s’est installé sous la tente du cirque Cabuwazi

Les 3 et 4 septembre derniers, le bâtiment de briques rouges qui abritait autrefois la gare postale de Berlin Est se transformait en centre névralgique de la Berlin Music Week, un lieu de rencontre, de discussion et de présentation des nouveaux projets musicaux de la scène pop et rock. Née des cendres du célèbre Popkomm, cette réunion était l’occasion pour la ville de Zurich et Swiss Music Export de présenter un Swiss Business Mixer.

” La Suisse est un microcosme de l’Europe, avec Saint-Gall dans le rôle de Moscou et Genève dans celui de Lisbonne”

C’est sous la petite tente du cirque Cabuwazi que se son retrouvés quelques organisateurs de festivals et de clubs zurichois pour discuter des spécificités du marché suisse et présenter quelques-uns de ses artistes prometteurs ou confirmés. Les tables rondes n’ont pas débouché sur de grandes révélations. Du côté des festivals ont été rassemblés deux open air – Saint-Gall et Zurich – le festival et  lieu de rencontres des professionnels suisses M4Music, et l’irréductible indépendant Bad Bonn Kilbi. C’est avec une pointe d’humour que Philipp Schnyder, boss du M4Music résume les difficultés d’un marché suisse dans lequel trois régions linguistiques et mentalités se côtoient : ” La Suisse est un microcosme de l’Europe, avec Saint-Gall dans le rôle de Moscou et Genève dans celui de Lisbonne”. Quant à Alex Dallas, Dj et programmateurs de plusieurs clubs zurichois, il confirme que malgré sa vie nocturne trépidante (entre 70 et 100 clubs à la recherche de DJ’s tous les jours de la semaine) Zurich ne pourra jamais devenir une ville aussi attractive que Berlin du fait de son niveau de vie incroyablement élevé.

Oy, grande prêtresse de la soirée M4Music

Oy-BerlinLe soir dans le cadre d’une soirée intitulée M4Music at Postbahnof les artistes convainquent pourtant que disparité linguistique et culturelle peut rimer avec vivacité. Après Wolfman, au potentiel intéressant, Anna Aaron toujours plus rock’n’roll, ce sont deux Zurichois exilés à Berlin qui mènent la danse. Bonaparte incognito et en formation réduite a remporté un vif succès sous le nom code de « Secret Act ». Mais la grande prêtresse de cette journée zurichoise fut sans conteste Joey Frempong de Oy. La chanteuse helvetico-ghanéenne Joey Frempong a conquis l’audience avec ses samples inspirés et son batteur masqué Lleluja-Ha.

Le nouveau spectacle de Oy est le fruit d’un long travail au cours duquel Joey Frempong a voyagé en Afrique de l’Ouest, au Ghana et en Afrique du Sud. De ces différents séjours, la chanteuse, flanquée de ses enregistreurs en tous genres, a extrait des samples tous azimuts (bruits de la rue, rythmes traditionnels), mais surtout elle a trouvé une énergie et une chaleur qui lui confèrent un nouveau charisme.

Entre poésie et électronique

Dans des costumes réalisés par un ami et designer, le tandem constitué de Joey Frempong et du batteur masqué Lleluja-Hade forme un drôle de couple. Elle, entourée de ses claviers et d’un ordinateur, jongle entre poésie et électronique. Elle utilise parfois la technique du live sampling, effleure une de ses poupées-totem pour que des images défilent sur un grand écran. Elle se prend tour à tour pour une chanteuse de gospel, pour une conteuse ou transforme le son de ses différents micros pour jouer à la ventriloque des temps modernes. Lui la suit, faisant jongler les baguettes de sa batterie qui semble elle aussi avoir fait une immersion africaine tant son groove est implacable. A eux deux, ils créent avec une aisance déconcertante un univers musical et poétique, riche en émotions, et une forme de sagesse basée sur l’étude du quotidien. Un univers ô combien séduisant à découvrir également sur leur dernière vidéo “My Name is Happy”!

Anna Aaron, un disque, un clip, un style

Cover_Neuro_RGB_300dpi_2500x2500Si les déhanchés déshabillés de son dernier clip “Linda” lui ont valu d’être remarquée par les Inrocks, Anna Aaron n’est pas encore complètement portée aux nues en France – en tous cas, comparé à l’emballement médiatique qu’elle suscite dans les cantons suisses, elle y reste encore discrète. Mais, programmée en bonne place dans le cadre du festival itinérant les Femmes s’en Mêlent (à Paris et en province) pour y présenter son deuxième album “Neuro”, elle a l’occasion de se faire un prénom. Ou plutôt deux: Anna et Aaron, le féminin et le masculin, le clair et l’obscur. Une ambivalence assumée, déjà, sur son premier album Dogs In Spirit, deux ans plus tôt: elle s’y montrait tendre et furieuse, au gré de ballades folk au piano façon Fiona Apple et de plages rock déchirantes.

Un son à la hauteur de sa beauté froide et de ses tumultes intérieurs

Après un intermède avec le quartet d’Erik Truffaz, qu’elle a suivi en tournée, la Bâloise avait donc décidé d’approfondir ses ambiguïtés : c’est à Londres, auprès de David Korsten, qu’elle va se forger un son à la hauteur de sa beauté froide et de ses tumultes intérieurs. Fidèle à ses habitudes, le producteur de l’Anglaise Bat for Lashes va envelopper sa voix puissante d’un vernis électro faussement vintage, entre reverbs puissantes et rythmiques eighties avec Jason Cooper, le batteur de Cure, derrière les fûts! Parfois un peu caricaturale (avec des réminiscences trop évidentes de … Bat for Lashes, justement), cette approche sonore permet à Anna Aaron de gagner en épaisseur artistique. D’opérer des contre-pieds mélodiques inattendus au milieu des morceaux. D’oser le mélange entre la pop la plus accessible et les riffs les plus tordus. Avec “Neuro”, la fille de missionnaires religieux se rapproche des grandes prêtresses de la pop moderne. A elle de prouver sur scène qu’elle peut nous hypnotyser autant qu’Anna Calvi ou Pj Harvey.

Anna Aaron est en tournée jusqu’à la fin du mois en Suisse et en France. Détails de la tournée ici!

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