LUSITANIAN EXPLORATIONS by Henning Bolte

Who’s zooming who: Nils Wogram & Glauco Venier
18. August 2020

LUSITANIAN EXPLORATIONS by Henning Bolte

Portugal the country on the outer European Atlantic shore not only has the highest ocean waves. It has a distinctive, culturally marked jazz scene: colorful, free-spirited, and in motion. Presence and visibility of Portuguese musicians has been growing over the past years at jazzhead! All the more reason to take a closer look at the state of jazz in Portugal, its domestic dynamics and international connections.
As a long-time connoisseur and critical external observer of jazz and free improvisation in Portugal, Henning Bolte, the author of this article, explores the scene as a whole. The article takes you on a tour through Portugal, provides a topography and history of the country’s jazz hotspots and cornerstones with main artists, labels, protagonists and also touches on self-organization and funding facilities to develop its potentials, international presence and impact.

1. First encounters

My first encounter with jazz in Portugal happened in 2008 after I had joined a tour of the group of oud-player Rabih Abou-Khalil collaborating with Portuguese singer Ricardo Ribeiro in the project “Em Portugues”. The most surprising thing then and in the following years was the perception of a highly characteristic, thriving scene of free improvisation with cross-generational musicians and audiences In Portugal. That perception was my entrée and in subsequent years my anchorage. Getting acquainted then with record store Trem Azul and associated Clean Feed label near Cais de Sodre in Lisbon was another inspirational factor and influential guidance into Lusitanian jazz spheres and its free impro circles for the next years. Last but not least I gained my first experiences with the festival Jazz em Agosto , an extraordinary, weighty two-week summer festival at the exclusive park of famous Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. Viewed from today’s perspective, the program of Jazz em Agosto I witnessed, was – quite thrilling and fairly advanced in a clearly distinctive way compared with other festivals: a good number of Japanese musicians, Anthony Braxton in configurations with Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum, Sylvie Courvoisier’s Lonelyville, Barre Phillips with Pascal Contet, John Zorn in duo with Fred Frith and Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet (for an account of this see here). Jazz em Agosto would become a place to discover and experience thrilling music and coming in close contact with colorful personalities as Butch Morris, Bill Dixon, Jack DeJohnette, Wadada Leo Smith, Tim Berne, Darius Jones, Julien Desprez, Eve Risser among others as well as Portuguese musicians and groups like the Red Trio). At my first encounter the scene turned out as a close active network of firing lines. The Trem Azul store and its collection was heaven on earth, a paradise for finding and discovering albums and the (night) sessions there were legendary (a closer look at it you can find here).

2. Cornerstones

While Jazz em Agosto of the Gulbenkian Foundation presents a highly exclusive cutting-edge international program – the festival received the EJN award for adventurous programming, Festa do Jazz was and still is the annual meeting of the Portuguese scene and the Portuguese jazz schools organized by Sons da Lusofonia , one of the most stable and longest running Portuguese jazz organizations. The private Gulbenkian Foundation is an independent, rich and beneficial island in the landscape of Portuguese culture.

2.1. Sons da Lusofonia/Festa do Jazz

A year later I experienced Festa do Jazz in old glory theatre São Luis Municipal in the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood of central Lisbon. Festa do Jazz is the annual meeting of the Portuguese scene and the Portuguese jazz schools organized by Sons da Lusofonia. The Association founded in 1996 by saxophonist Carlos Martins has been organizing Festa do Jazz in Lisbon since 2003. The festival has turned into a core event of the Portuguese jazz scene and aims at promoting both established and emerging artists on a national and international level:
“Sons da Lusofonia emerged from the musical experience of Portuguese saxophonist Carlos Martins, initially bringing together artists from diverse origins, namely Africans, Brazilians and Portuguese. (…) the Association develops work of enrichment of the common heritage of Portuguese-speaking peoples, fostering multiculturalism and interculturality, promoting diversity in all its areas of activity.”
There I experienced live in full bloom Portugal’s distinctive primary jazz vocalist Maria João Grancha together with Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos as well as precious pianist Bernardo Sassetti, Portugal’s best kept musical secret, in his trio with bassist Carlos Barretto and drummer Alexandre Frazão. Bernardo Sassetti tragically died 2012 at the age of 41. He is still present as an admired and loved figure in the Portuguese scene. Both concerts are inextinguishably etched in my memory. It also applies to the two exquisite pianists Mario Laginha and João-Paulo Esteves da Silva. Amazing tuba player Sergio Carolino and guitarist Mario Delgado – just to name a few mainstays. Festa do Jazz also was the place to discover then young up-and-coming voices as trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, now working in Stockholm and Paris, vocalist Sara Serpa and guitarist Andre Matós, now working in New York, as well as drummer Gabriele Ferrandini and pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro.

From the very beginning Festa also used to involve international musicians with a special connection to the Portuguese scene (also manifest in many albums) as drummer Jim Black and pianist Kris Davis from New York, violinist Théo Ceccaldi from Paris or in this year’s edition saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who is living in Portugal now. In this year’s pandemic situation, the hosting has been taken over by Centro Cultural Belem (CCB) situated at the banks of the Tago river near Ponte 25e Abril. CCB that also hosted the European Jazz Conference in 2018 (see my report here ) again took responsibility and produced an online version of the annual meeting in collaboration with Rádio Televisão de Portugal (RTP) on RTP's online stage channel PALCO 2 with free access for the audience to watch here.

At Festa do Jazz I also met Bogdan Benigar from Cankarjev Dom, the artistic director of Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Bogdan Benigar and Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records should soon start a groundbreaking fertile cooperation – Benigar and Costa shared artistic directorship of the festival - that would last from 2011-2019.

2.2. Portugal Jazz Network (PJN)

Another umbrella carrier of the scene, Portugal Jazz, a national network that came into being at the end of 2018. Its executive director, Carlos Martins, is sided by five board members, namely Pedro Guedes, Rui Eduardo Paes, Jose Miguel Pereira, Carla Pomares, and Jose Dias, and Massimo Cavalli, Pedro Costa, Carlos Mendes, and Pedro Cravinho as coordinators of the four working groups.

This new association brings together organizations associated with jazz, and improvised music, produced by residents in Portugal and/or by Portuguese nationals living abroad, and individuals linked with organizations related to Jazz in Portugal within the areas of creation, dissemination, education, and research. Its main objectives are the promotion and dissemination of jazz and improvised music, the improvement of the working conditions of the jazz musicians and the infrastructures associated with performance practice, the protection of the Portuguese jazz community's interests, and the support of new projects and the organization of jazz-related events as well as the internationalization of jazz and improvised music produced in Portugal and/or by Portuguese musicians living abroad. In the area of the creation of music the network aims at attracting commissioned work and - connected to it - elaborating valid regulations of working conditions and remuneration of its members. In the area of dissemination, it aims at fostering regional and transnational mobility of its members by developing and realizing exchange with music and musicians from other countries (internationalization). At this moment the network is – according to Portuguese rules - in the state of waiting to be allowed to request financial means for becoming operational.

2.3 Clean Feed: safe havens and wild territories

The Clean Feed Record label , founded in 2001, is a cornerstone with a through and through grassroots mentality until our present days. It started out with the wish and will to discover and explore bold, unusual, inspiring music and engage in the presentation of it. In numerous listening sessions Pedro Costa together with Rodrigo Amado and later others joining as Hernani Faustino and Jorge Trinidade aka Travassos, the cover designer of the label, mapped out a workable way.



Here’s an article to read where I look back in wistfulness.

Different from other leading labels, Clean Feed does not present or worship a specific, delimiting aesthetic. At the core was/is the listening filter and the experience quality the music evokes for Pedro Costa. For Costa it is just the diversity and heterogeneity of musical expression as a reaction on our world and its existing sounds that counts.

Diversity then is not an aim in itself but a consequence of certain qualities of musicians’ seizure of the world around them and in themselves. The stunning diversity and heterogeneity of the Clean Feed catalogue comes forth and is held together by a strong underlying intuition, a feeling for relevant nerves and nerve tracts in the field of music making as well as the transformative and projective power that houses in the music. The cover design of Travassos, the identification mark of discs of the Clean Feed label, is wildly divers (and always with a sweet and joyful constructivist note) but immediately recognizable. Clean Feed started in a period when things were heavily shifting in the music business. On one side it was easier than ever to record and fabricate music for the listeners. On the other side, instances caring for filtering, amplifying and releasing albums were missing more and more. Clean Feed occupied this seam area or interface function and turned out as a driving force and precious and valued lifeline for many creative spirits in music on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in front of Clean Feed’s door. That Clean Feed is still lasting having this impact lies for a great part in the passionate and attentive being of Pedro Costa.

Clean Feed has a special position but of course there are other interesting Portuguese labels of interest as Creative Sources from Lisbon also running an annual festival as well as Cipsela run by guitarist Marcelo Dos Reis and JAAC from Coimbra, also enterprises of a strong artistic and personal load that open still wider perspectives of international cooperation.

2.4. Jazz ao Centro and Porta-Jazz

An influential role is played - nationally and internationally - by the organization Jazz ao Centro in Coimbra with its associated venue Salão Brazil, recording label JAAC and annual festival. Jazz ao Centro is funded by the municipality and the University of Coïmbra for a greater part and by DGArtes and Ministery of Culture for a smaller part. Its project work is interdisciplinary, and community based as for example the educational project “Olhó Robot” fabricated as promotional tool for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), an initiative for primary schools in the Coimbra Region. For 2020 JACC had the execution of 4 festivals, 134 concerts, 34 educational activities, 11 artistic residencies and 7 CDs on its map that would have had a reach of about 30.000 people.
The festival and regular live-concerts were/are documented on Clean Feed (Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Zanussi Five, Michael Attias, Angles, Frederik Nordström Quintet and the 20-piece European Movement Jazz Orchestra (EMJO) and one of the most recent Clean Feed releases, an album of Pedro Melo Alves’ In Igma ensemble was recorded at Salão Brazil. These examples show a strong international orientation. Also JAZZ.PT, the Portuguese jazz magazine , was initiated in Coimbra, first as a print magazine and later online. This is clear evidence of a close connection between Coïmbra and Lisbon.

Porto has its Porta-Jazz organization founded in 2010 organizing concert series mainly at Sala Porta-Jazz (almost 90 in 2019), a permanent residence, and an annual three-days festival. Since 2012 Porta-Jazz runs an own label, Carimbo-Porta Jazz. In 2020 it released ten albums among which an album of saxophonist João Mortagua (see my review of his Axes ensemble) and an album of guitarist Andre Silva (see my Review of Rite Of The Trio). Porta-Jazz cooperates with the AMR venue in Geneva (CH) and with festival Bezau Beats in Austria. Recently Swiss exquisite trombonist Samuel Blaser and French guitar ace Marc Ducret visited Porta-Jazz for a duo concert and two masterclasses. The concert-program comprises musicians from the US, Brazil, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and Spain. So, there are plenty artistic meetings with musicians from abroad in Porto but there are no signs of real exchange – as an important desideratum - that brings Porto- and Portuguese musicians to appearances in Switzerland, Austria or Sweden.

2.5. Amidst other genres and indigenous music traditions

Musically Portugal often is identified with the vocal tradition of Fado and its special lyrics. At first sight (or ear) you will not perceive traces or extensions of Fado in jazz or improvised music comparable to integration of folk music sources in jazz from Scandinavia. However, a lot of prominent jazz musicians, especially pianists work(ed) in Fado music and with Fado musicians. As an early forerunner there is saxophonist Don Byas, who was attracted by the queen of Fado, Amalia Rodriguez.

Interesting enough Portugal’s first large jazz festival, 1971 in Cascais, was initiated by Fado singer João Braga (together with jazz critic Luis Villas-Boas). The festival had a dream-line-up with Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and Ornette Coleman. The appearance of Coleman’s group had a political aftermath with the notorious Pide secret police. Bassist Charlie Haden dedicated his “Song For Che” to “the black people’s liberationists fighting in Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Angola”. A day later Haden was arrested on the airport and interrogated by agents of Pide, the notorious secret police of the Caetano regime. Portugal finally achieved democracy 1974 in the Carnation Revolution. In his “Closeness Duets” Haden recorded a duet with drummer Paiul Motian entitled “For A Free Portugal” where he used a sample of Angolan music.

To return to Fado: Pianist Mario Laginha worked with Mariza and Camané, João-Paulo Esteves da Silva with Ricardo Ribeiro, Bernardo Sassetti with Carlos Do Camo and Mario Costa is the drummer of fadista Ana Moura. Pianist Julio Resende is a genre-shifting musician starting out from jazz and together with different young Fado singers stretches the genre. Lisboa String Trio consisting José Peixote, once acoustic guitarist of the well-known group Madredeus, Bernardo Couto (Portuguese guitar) and the bassist of the Bernardo Sassetti Trio, Carlos Barretto, is a genre-fusing example. It goes up in opposite way for vocalist Beatriz Nunes who entered jazz from Portuguese cult group Madredeus (existing since 1985). To make it a bit more confusing readers should not mix up Lisboa String Trio with Lisbon String Trio. Lisbon String Trio is a free improvising unit of Ernesto Rodrigues, Miguel Mira and Alvaro Rosso. Moreover, genre-hopping is a common practice in Portugal. Jazz musicians work in rock and pop music, live and in the studio, too. It is also an opportunity for jazz musicians in Portugal to earn some income.

3. Discourse and testimonies (books, magazines)

Jazz festivals are aging, and younger and younger musicians appear on the scene making their mark. Hence, looking back in astonishment occurs and fires our imagination. The history of Festa do Jazz is reflected in a new book by Gonçalo Frota, Jose Dias and Carlos Martins with imaginative cover that also functioned as poster of this year's festival edition. The book is written in Portuguese with short abstracts in English and renders a view on the present state of art. The cover has a design that leaves an immediate mark in people's memory. Of course, many will recognize its distinctive signature. It is the unique signature of Jorge Trinidade alias Travassos, a signature that unequivocally runs through a multitude of unusual visual constellations and projections. Most music minded people know it from the album covers of Portugal's legendary, world-famous recording label Clean Feed mentioned earlier in this article.

Another book, “Improvisando – A nova geração do jazz português/Improvising – The New Generation of Portuguese Jazz” (2019), by Nuno Catarino and Marcia Lessa looks forward in astonishment. It brings together interviews with fourteen musicians who are representatives of this new wave: Ricardo Toscano, João Hasselberg, André Santos, Rita Maria, Desidério Lázaro, Pedro Branco, João Barradas, Gabriel Ferrandini, Sara Serpa, Luís Figueiredo, César Cardoso, Susana Santos Silva, João Mortágua and Pedro Melo Alves. The book is complemented with a list of essential 21st century Portuguese jazz records, a selection of listening tracks for those who want to discover or learn more about jazz and the improvised music made in Portugal (for the blog of Nuno Catarino see here).

A third book, “Jazz in Europe – Networking and Negotiating Identities” (2019) has been published by Portuguese guitarist/researcher Jose Dias working at the University of Manchester. The book “presents jazz in Europe as a complex arena, where the very notions of cultural identity, jazz practices and Europe are continually being negotiated against an ever changing social, cultural, political and economic environment. The book gives voice to musicians, promoters, festival directors, educators and researchers regarding the challenges they are faced with in their everyday practices”.

The books show a high standard of design and reflective reasoning discourse. This quality can also be found on Jazz.pt., the online Portuguese jazz magazine. Jazz.pt run by the key writer of the Portuguese jazz field, Rui Eduardo Paes, as editor-in chief, jazz.pt actually fuels that kind of discourse by its wide open critically based view. It is highly recommended to have a glance at jazz.pt.

4. International perspectives

It is not always the center that is the motor of development. In a lot of fields often important impulses come from the periphery. Ultimately, it’s a question of the dialectics of center and periphery. Opening international perspectives and potentials of fully mutual exchange is also a question of pioneering personalities and their efforts.

4.1. International actors

There have always been Portuguese jazz musicians working and residing abroad: vocalist Maria João Grancha worked in Germany with Aki Takase and later from Lisbon with jazz legend Joe Zawinul as well as Belgian musicians, pianist Bernardo Sassetti worked in London in the 90s with Guy Barker, bassist Carlos Barretto worked in Paris, bassist Carlos Bica is a longtime mainstay of the Berlin scene. His international group Azul with drummer Jim Black and guitarist Frank Moebus, deeply Lusitanian tinged, is an indestructible, attractive Dauerbrenner. From the younger generation trumpeter Susana Santos Silva has become a ubiquitous musician. Originating from Porto and formed by her work in Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, she presently works from Stockholm all over Europe, especially in Paris as member of Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) . She is involved in a broad range of Portuguese groups, Scandinavian groups and international groups. Vocalist Sara Serpa has been part of the New York downtown scene for quite some time with a clear Portuguese signature (among others she is member of the vocal group Mycale with Sofia Rei, Malika Zarra and Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, has a trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Erik Friedlander and in her most recent project works with harpist Zeena Parkins, saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist David Virelles). Drummer João Lobo, the drummer of Italian Giovanni Guidi Trio, is based in Belgium, singer Maria Mendes, bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Marco Santos are based in Rotterdam and guitarists Jose Dias and Andre Fernandes in Manchester and London.

Through the years Portuguese musician participate(d) ‘from home’ in international groups or le(a)d international groups themselves that are present in a variety of European concert circuits. Pianist Mario Laginha is part of a trio with British saxophonist Julian Argüelles and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken (represented on Edition Record). Julian Argüelles is also connected to already mentioned Portuguese guitarist Andre Fernandes. Pianist João-Paulo Esteves da Silva works in groups with Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer and US drummer Jarrod Cagwin.

Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado is one of the wider known Portuguese musicians in Europe as well as in the US through his international quartet with Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano but also his Portuguese Motion Trio with cellist Miguel Mira, drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and trumpeter Peter Evans. Musicians from the younger generation take an active role, too. Marcelo Dos Reis together with Luis Lopes and other Portuguese musicians built a strong French connection (with a.o. the Ceccaldi brothers, Eve Risser and Julien Desprez) manifested in recordings on the Cipsela label and concert meetings in Coimbra. A heavy weight of the French connection is the unit of Portuguese drummer Mario Costa, French pianist Benoit Delbecq and French guitarist Marc Ducret/French bassist Bruno Chevillon. Trumpeter Luis Vicente takes part in a new formation with saxophonist John Dikeman, the drummers Onno Govaert and Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker. The most sensational, forward rushing and compelling creative force at the moment likely is young drummer Pedro Melo Alves from Porto. Melo Alves, a creative force par excellence, made a fulminant start internationally (12 Points, jazzahead!, Bolzano and Giorgio Gaslini Award) and attracted quite some attention with the Portuguese Rite of the Trio unit and with two larger ensembles, Portuguese Omniae Ensemble, and the international In Igma ensemble with French pianist Eve Risser, US-bassist Mark Dresser and three vocalists, Audrey Johnson, Beatriz Nunes and Mariana Dionísio. So, these cases show strong units on both sides, the internal Portuguese side as well as on the side of international coalitions.

A special case in this regard is Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (OJM). Next to prominent Portuguese musicians as Maria João, Carlos Bica, João Paulo Esteves da Silva, the orchestra, directed by Pedro Guedes and Carlos Zevedo, collaborated with a long series of first-rate international musicians such as Maria Schneider, Carla Bley, Lee Konitz, John Hollenbeck, Mark Turner, Steve Swallow, Gary Valente, Dieter Glawischnik, Chris Cheek, Ohad Talmor, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Mantler and Andy Sheppard. OJM is also unique as an institution and its way of working. It is as a whole funded permanently by the municipality of Matosinhos, a directly neighboring city of Porto. It includes the orchestra and its leader, its housing at The High-Performance Center for the Arts (CARA) with office, rehearsal spaces and studios plus its remarkable educational program connected to schools and institutions of science and technology. It is a jazz institution closely connected to and embedded in the urban community. In its entirety it has a larger reach than usual radio orchestras as we know them from Germany and other countries. OJM leaned on strong binds with outstanding US-American musicians while its European reach is less and its presence on European stages outside Portugal still has to develop.

L.U.M.E. ensemble from Lisbon is a unique phenomenon too that has been vital through the years despite not being funded. In recent past it played Ha’fest in Ghent (BE), Music Meeting in Nijmegen (NL), Moersfestival (DE), Jazzfestival Ljubljana (SI), and it were chosen for showcases at the European Jazz Conference in Lisbon and at jazzahead! (DE). For 2020 festivals in Novara (IT), Skopje (MK), Sarajevo (BA), London (UK) and Vilnius (LT) were on the touring plan. It was one of the many hard experiences of this year. With utmost effort Portuguese funding of travel costs for this five-stops tour of the large ensemble had been secured for 2020. Time will tell which 2021 appearances will be realized.

We see a scene with a strong domestic side augmented by an exquisite international side. The prospering of the international (touring) side is however impeded namely by lack of funding of exchange projects and insufficient support of travel costs. Due to this, Portuguese units and configurations are less represented than their artistic and creational potential would allow. Portuguese configurations then are ‘too expensive’ to program and, in case they are programmed, persistently no (substantial or adequate) income is left for the musicians.

Instead of disintegrating into small islands or self-satisfying monads, you can see an engaged and constantly evolving scene that has units with strongly developed own characteristics and unique specificities, in short, a lively universe that keeps on playing and challenging itself. That should be the reason that strong musicians from other universes seek to meet and collaborate with musicians from the scene as for example those of the mentioned French connection.

4.2. Ljubljana – Lisbon – axis (2011-2019)

At Festa do Jazz I also met Bogdan Benigar from Cankarjev Dom, the artistic director of Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Bogdan Benigar and Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records should soon start a groundbreaking fertile cooperation – Benigar and Costa shared artistic directorship of the festival - that would last from 2011-2019.
Unforgettable highlights in the very beginning were the concert of Maria João and the concert of the Bernardo Sassetti Trio with dancer Manca Do Ione in 2011.
It was an exemplary exchange project that tremendously helped both Slovenian and Portuguese musicians and is documented in the live albums of the Ljubljana Jazz Series and in a number of regular albums on Clean Feed (a.o. pianist Kaja Draksler, drummer Dre Hocevar and saxophonist Igor Lumpert). It was a brilliant and highly productive example of European collaboration, with four winning parties: the music, the musicians, the audience, and the European cause. While obviously outstandingly productive, it has found no succession as a model yet.

Another fruitful connection came into being with Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw in 2015 where the two Polish musicians, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and saxophonist Gerard Lebik, were integrated in the Red Trio of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Ferrandini. It was the beginning of a longer collaboration of these musicians in Poland and Portugal.

4.3. Desvio (2016)

A dynamic tension between the internal and the external, a productive friction between the inner and the outer side is a flaming characteristic of the Portuguese scene. Desvio (detour) in early summer of 2016 was a memorable meeting showcasing traits of that scene (a full report of mine you can find here). It was a meeting of two uneven partners in crime. On one side Pedro Costa, organizer and founder of Clean Feed Records, pioneering force with a deeply ingrained grass roots mentality and on the other side the board of a big pan-European organization, the European Jazz Network (EJN). Costa had just moved the Clean Feed label to Parede, a small coastal place 20 km outside of Lisbon at the road to Cascais. Barely having settled there, he started to organize concerts at Sociedade Musical União Paredense (SMUP), the local music and theatre society, thereby creating an attractive place where local and international spheres meet, and magic happens. EJN held a board meeting there, which was combined with a concert program presenting a broader diversity of Portuguese jazz musicians. So, in addition to his New York and Chicago festival excursions and the running Ljubljana collaboration the move to Parede not only was a practical step for survival of the label in times of hard change in the music industry and the behavior of listeners/ audiences. It became a new focusing point (Brennpunkt) and opportunity to exchange. The meeting was a chance to turn wings more to Europe (whatever that may be) and in return for presenters from a diversity of festivals and venues in Europe to discover Portuguese treasures and make connections in their programming and collaborations in some time at some future point.

4.4. European Jazz Conference (2018)

Already two years later, in September 2018, Desvio found a continuation through an even much larger scale event, when the annual European Jazz Conference of EJN was held at Cultural Center Belem at the banks of the Tago river in Lisbon – for many of the EJN folks still a lively memory (a report of mine about the musical side you can find here).

The conference was organized by Sons da Lusofonia in cooperation with EJN and additionally, funded by the municipality of Lisbon, CCB, the tourist organizations of Portugal and Lisbon as well as by a hotel chain. It offered great opportunities for the networking of Portuguese musicians and agents as well as present a broad range of Portuguese musicians.

In the slipstream of European Jazz Conference Portuguese musicians were clearly present at two festivals in Münster, Germany, at Alto Adige Jazz Festival in Bolzano, in Ghent (Bijloke, Handelsbeurs) (BE), at Jazz In The City in Salzburg (AT), and in Berlin clubs as well as at Jazzfest 2019 (DE). Drummer Pedro Melo Alves won the Italian Gaslini Award 2019 and large ensemble L.U.M.E. as well as The Rite Of The Trio (Pedro Melo Alves, Andre Silva, Filipe Louro) were chosen for a showcase at jazzahead! 2019. At a closer look it reveals that the stormy advance of a young Portuguese musician, drummer Pedro Melo Alves – he is ubiquitous on the Portuguese scene too - played an important role.

4.5. Incongruency

Musicians from countries with a weaker/more sober infrastructure and funding capacity are confronted with a double problem: they cannot sell themselves so easily to festivals abroad because festivals often count on travel support by musicians’ home country. The other way round it is just the opposite: just in countries with a weaker/more sober infrastructure musicians from countries with better equipped infrastructure/funding system will be in greater demand because it’s ‘cheap’ to book them as an extra attraction. This way the domestic musicians in those countries are double disadvantaged. Getting in elsewhere is hard for them, especially for larger line-ups, and at home places are taken by the ‘cheap’ attractive musicians from abroad. This leads to an incongruent circulation, which is not healthy for the body as a whole. In terms of ‘the marketplace’, you could use the crunchy German expression Wettbewerbsverzerrung to indicate the issue.
As above in chapter 2 became clear many musicians from the North play in Portugal in international meetings and are represented on Portuguese labels but it’s not naturally and necessarily mutual.

Also, with respect to interminglement of musicians there is a gradual scale between the extreme poles depending on the attractiveness of the working conditions such that certain places attract many foreign musicians, others less or almost none. On the other side certain places lose a lot of its domestic musicians especially the most ambitious, dynamic and open ones, who leave to places that offer more attractive working conditions.


Portugal is on this scale situated somewhere on the right half of the horizontal line slowly moving towards the pole on the right. Portuguese musicians are especially strong in maintaining and developing their very own artistic habitat despite non-ideal working conditions.

You often hear from Portuguese musicians that touring abroad is “(too) difficult “because it is “too far away” from places in the North and East. This apparently is not a physical but a psychological obstacle.

5. Fits

Jazz and free improvisation are an important ingredient in the fermentation of our collective sound experiences. However, it is an art form that is not highly rewarded financially and in terms of appreciation. As in other countries only a few musicians are able to earn a living from it and finance projects from own incomes. Public funding is – as in other art disciplines as well as other fields as agriculture etc. – of crucial importance. Portugal has supporting structures on local, regional and central level musicians can appeal to. It often entails long time-consuming bureaucratic application procedures where all arts have to compete with each other. For this procedure (with low chance of success) skilled support is necessary for applications. Also, it seems that the procedures and real tour-planning and realization often do not fit. For instance, a ‘fast counter’ for travel support as in Northern European countries is not existing yet. So, under this circumstance, ‘big’ skilled players in the field have the best chance. It seems a better fit with a more dynamical flow equipped with adequate financial means could improve the situation significantly especially when it comes to keeping up with dominating Northern European countries. For the time being Portuguese jazz musicians and free improvisers largely have to rely on teaching and family.

5.1. Infrastructure as conditio sine qua non

In December 2020 trumpeter Luis Vicente, a musician of the younger generation, with huge satisfaction announced that he had been ‘awarded’ with a touring grant by Portuguese Fundação Gestão dos Direitos dos Artistas (GDA), the Portuguese authors right organizations, for touring in February 2021 with his new international 4tet of saxophonist John Dikeman (NL), bassist John Edwards (UK) and drummer Onno Govaert (NL) to play compositions of his own.

His touring project was one out of the 36 chosen from a total of 99 applications in the disciplines of theater, dance and music. From these 36 grants (with a total sum of € 120.000) 6 went to dance, 13 to theater and 17 to music. Chosen by a unitary jury of five and comprising 160 artists, nine grants went to an international touring project. So far so good it seems but it is evident that musicians have to compete with musicians of other genres and artists of other disciplines, which considerably lowers the chances. Another example is the 2020 touring support for L.U.M.E. that – happily – has been transferred to 2021. To accomplish both intense professional efforts had to be done.

Next to Fundação GDA especially municipalities and also the Ministry of Culture fund music. The municipality gives long-term funding to Orquestra Jazz De Matesinhos, the municipality of Coimbra funds Jazz ao Centro, the municipality of Lisbon does it for the organization Sons da Lusofonia (that organizes Festa do Jazz). The Lisbon funding has to be evaluated and renewed annually. It has now been running now for ten years.

Comparably to Fundação GDA funding through the Ministry also works across genres and disciplines with a demanding application process viable in first place for ‘bigger’ players, organizations in the field as OJM, Jazz ao Centro (Coimbra), Porta Jazz (Porto) and Festa do Jazz (Lisbon) that have the capacity to get into and to get through that process.

Short term flexible funding for touring or medium-term funding for artistic development or exchange projects are both not easily accessible for jazz and free improvising musicians. It is not only the genre- and discipline-crossing approach that makes it difficult to ‘get in’ but also the gap between demand and spendable and available financial means.

5.2. Brightening Prospect

While there seems to be some improvement on both sides, there is still a longer way to go to build-up and make facilities more fitting the purposes and break through discouraging practice and experiences. Through this, Portuguese musicians are quite disadvantaged compared to and in competition with Scandinavian or French musicians, Belgian or German musicians. To meet those musicians in direct contact and work creatively they have to be invited to Portugal.
The export policy and power of those countries facilitate it, but also worsen the incongruencies. That is especially poignant if you look at how many Scandinavian etc. musicians are on Portuguese record labels and how many Portuguese musicians are for example on Scandinavian labels.

Instead of asking, where can foreign musicians play in Portugal, it should better be asked: how can collaborations be instigated, stimulated, supported and funded such that it leads to concerts and residencies in countries of all participants involved?

With strong willpower and intelligent social maneuvering, Portugal has yielded a quite distinctive, culturally marked jazz community with considerable, highly appreciated impact on the international jazz field. Its cultural capital deserves to be enabled to further flourish by making facilities fit to its potentials and the dynamics of creative processes.