"Jazz music is like bananas, it’s consumed on the spot".
This is how Jean-Paul Sartre described his discovery of jazz in the United States after having done the rounds of the New York 52nd Street clubs. At that time, there were no such mythical places in Switzerland, except for the Africana in Zurich (1959 - 1968), which was not a club but a café offering daily live music around a piano that had seen some action. It was not until the 1980s that musicians found, thanks to their own initiative, any real performance venues. Ten years later, the leaders of these new clubs evolved into an embryonic network that then became an association. Suisse Diagonales Jazz (SDJ) has become a recognized player in today’s cultural political landscape.
Now is a great opportunity to take stock of all they’ve achieved in terms of attitude and progress, while their 2019 edition is in full swing with 26 venues hosting a total of 79 concerts.
Made up of an aggregate of peripheries, Switzerland does not have a comparable urban centre to London or Paris. Platforms dedicated to popular music were both underground and ephemeral: restaurant back rooms, private circles, hotels, factory basements, youth centres with a music room. Following the failure of the Swiss Jazz Federation (1943 - 1947) and the success of the Zurich Amateur Jazz Festival (1951 - 1971), a militant national organization for the recognition of new musical practices was born in 1975: the Cooperative of Swiss Musicians. More than four hundred members campaigned for the recognition of improvisation, which had not only become one of the foundations of contemporary jazz, but also of rock and pop.
The time was right for a democratization of music in its teaching and dissemination, with the rapid rise of jazz and contemporary music schools, independent labels and local radio stations across the country. That said, concert venues were still struggling to be sustainable, with the exception of some annual festivals. It was a time of event culture, and "young music" was still a scary concept. "Do something serious with your life, music comes later! »
It was a difficult contradiction to solve: recognition for the teaching a certain musical style AND contempt for the expression of a culture that is booming and sometimes troubling?
In 1995, some jazz clubs decided to join forces by encouraging musical exchanges and promoting Swiss talent. They are the ones who organised the first itinerant festivals presenting young groups in all the linguistic regions of the country. At the turn of the century, their commitment led to the foundation of a musical scene that brought together a dozen organizers spurred on by young artists eager to get on stage.
To be sustainable and meet demands, the development and recognition of a national network was essential. This was the SDJ’s main objective in 2002. With public and private financial support, the association has seen its role diversify, and its biennial festival has become the main showcase for the emerging jazz scene in Switzerland.
In 2019, SDJ has more than thirty members representing the most diverse concert stages, from the intimate club to the high-profile festival - and their numbers are growing every year. It has already produced ten editions of its traveling event.
The line-up proves that a large part of the big names on the Swiss jazz scene have passed through the Diagonals of Improvisation. For example, pianists Gauthier Toux and Marie Kruttli in 2017, two artists who are now enjoying a great career, just like Florian Favre who was the main discovery of the festival in 2015; the singers Claudia Greber, Claire Huguenin, Morgane Gallay and Fanny Anderegg; the Manuel Troller Schnellertollermeier trio, whose music delights both jazz and rock lovers; singer Andreas Schaerer and his sextet "Hildegard lernt Fliegen", whose verve and musical theatre have already seduced European audiences; saxophonists Simon Spiess, Benedikt Reising and Manuel Gesseney - the list goes on. More than four hundred musicians under the age of thirty have participated in the Diagonals of Improvisation since the festival’s first edition in 1995.
To strengthen the music scene with regards to emerging artists, to offer regular exchanges between organizers in order to promote musicians’ autonomy, to assert themselves as an interlocutor with the authorities: SDJ has fully fulfilled these functions and can look to the future with serenity. It now remains to cultivate this delicate balance between common vision and respect for local particularities, as it is true that the legacy of jazz today is part of a very strong diversity. At a time when culture is too often seen as a marketing and management tool, let’s hope that SDJ maintains its original vision and its role as an exciting musical springboard.
For further information: www.diagonales.ch