Jazz Showcase: everything should be taken as inspiration!

Classic swing, spoken word, poetry-music, improvisation, funk: the 24th of January will be the day of jazz in the Müpa and the online space. Six bands of young musicians will play at the Jazz Showcase programme to introduce the newest branches of the genre and its novel styles to the audience. At 2 pm, the first concert will happen and last for late in the night, which can be followed on the Müpa website and YouTube channel. The series of concerts is also a competition: an international professional jury will decide which band is the most interesting this year, and the audience can vote, too. The winners get a special opportunity for performance in the Müpa later.

Jazz Showcase is one of the most renowned talent show in Central Europe where such performers appeared in earlier years as Veronika Harcsa, Vera Jónás, Boglárka ‘Boggie’ Csemer or Bálint Gájer. The 14th year of this event will be different from the previous ones: due to the pandemic, the concerts were recorded behind closed doors without audience, and the jury will discuss at online meetings. The head of the jury will be Mihály Borbély, award-winning clarinetist and saxophonist, lecturer at the Jazz Faculty of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music Budapest. Members are jazz singer Veronika Harcsa, pianist and composer Károly Binder, jazz drummer Balázs Bágyi who is also president of the Hungarian Jazz Association, guitarist and composer Attila László, musician Steve Rubie who owns the Club 606 in London, Martyna Markowska who is artistic director of the Katowice JazzArt Festival, Nadin Deventer who is artistic director of the Jazzfest Berlin, and Igor Vida who is president of the Jazz Klub DS.

Mihály Borbély explained that the presence of an international jury gives a special rank of this series of events on the Hungarian jazz scene. Foreigners come up with different and sometimes unexpected aspects, they share intriguing remarks with the competitors – in the form of a long and detailed feedback. He likes the heterogeneous nature of the jury: not only musicians but concert organisers and festival managers are present who also add important insights. These are sometimes astonishing for young people who don’t really hear such things during their musical training, so they can surely hear a lot of useful new things.

Mihály Borbély

The competitors who represent the future generation of jazz are: the Sámuel Baló Trio, the Bettika Quintet, the Tamás Bolyki Quartet, the Fábió Fehér Trio, the Albert Horváth Quartet and the Dávid Varga Quintet. They are going to show during a day what the newest directions of Hungarian jazz are, how young musicians sound, and how they reflect on today’s challenges with their music. Audience can hear instrumental and vocal formations, and all kinds of exciting music from free improvisation through funk, neo-soul, modern swing and hardbop to poems or even folk music.

The concerts were recorded already, the jury is now in the process of discussion:

“They are all very valuable productions. Among them there is traditional and experiential, folk-like, avant-garde-inspired, but also fusion jazz: many great ideas, fantastic solos, progressive rhythms are present, but there was also a group that astonished me with their imposant appearance on stage. They are all unique, they all operate with something special. All of them are ambitious musicians – it is great to see that they dedicate their life to art and want to be successful”

– Mihály Borbély says.

The jury has a really hard time then: how can so many different performances be compared? According to Mihály Borbély, there are many types of competitions. Some of them chooses a first, second and third place, other ones give different prizes, and here there is one winner chosen by a jury and one by the audience. The jury decides which production is the most unique, which one of them set the bar too high or even too low.

“In a difficult time like this, it is very important that the critique is formulated in a still positive way, because everyone is more sensitive now, not only the early career musicians. They have to feel that our feedback is there to help them improve, and we hope they will be happy with our positive attitude”

– he added.

“This is the Müpa, the most prestigious venue: it is a huge thing in the life of these young musicians to play on the same stage where so many Hungarian and international stars have played before. It is wonderful to see how humble and intimidated they play, just like the genius loci requires. How conscientious, well-skilled they are, how talented. Some of them are almost full-blown musicians with 18 who show the future of this profession. It is clear that this generation is prone to quality life and quality arts.”

The Sámuel Baló Trio opens the day. This band, founded in 2020, combines elements of modal jazz with folk motives. Then comes Bettika Bakos, born in Orosháza, who is also a freemusic, theatre music and mantra music artist. Her quintet plays mostly their own compositions from the fields of world music, poems, and improvisation. The rhythm and lyrics of their music is based on works of Hungarian poets such as Dezső Tandori, Ede Tarbay, István Bella, István Csukás and Sándor Weöres.

Albert Horváth, who won the Young Musician of the Year award of the Hungarian Jazz Association last year, founded a quartet that combines jazz with r’n’b and funk. Then the 18-year-old Fábió Fehér shows us how he wants to make the audience smile with his music, the centre of his life. His trio mostly plays instrumental fusion jazz and get inspired from all kinds of styles to shape jazz standards in their own way.

Members of the Tamás Bolyki Quartet met at the Béla Bartók Conservatory. They won the first prize at the Jazz Combo Competition in 2019, with Tamás Bolyki’s song Expose winning the Best Composition prize as well. They play their own pieces that have a jazzy foundation but also operate with other genres, to sound as unique and diverse as possible. Dávid Varga played at concerts of Quincy Jones, Bobby McFerrin and Bálint Gájer, and the saxophonist of his band Oláh Kálmán Jr. also played with stars like Rick Margitza and John Patitucci. They will evoke the spirit of swing with a collection of songs by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Michael Bublé.

However, a pandemic-style concert lacks the energies coming from the audience. As Mihály Borbély believes, a huge advantage of jazz is that band members can give each other a lot of energy, too, so they are not as dependant of the audience. For instance, if a pianist plays a great solo, you can also hear it in the drummer’s play. Of course, this is easier for older and more experienced musicians, but young people might find the situation confusing. However, those studying in higher education are quite experienced in online solutions now. Many people could take the most of the situation, experiencing with new musical solutions and creating fantastic novelties.

“No matter what difficulties or unknown life situations arise, one has to take the best out of it, because that brings us forward, not the apathy. The best way is to see everything as an inspiration. Even hard times have a great impact on musicians. Otherwise, it is good to have more time for reflections, meditation, choosing what the important things are. The current situation gives a chance to use these energies well, and it can be felt in these newest productions”

– the president of the jury added.

Between the concerts, moderator Péter Novák will interview the musicians, so jazz fans can get to know them even better. The announcement of the winner will happen at the same day at 8 pm before the live broadcast of a concert of the band Subtones called ‘Fresh Jazz-Funk’. Until the last minute, the audience can vote online for their People’s Choice Favourite.

Article: Zsuzsanna Deák

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek