To highlight the jazz talent currently on offer in the Czech Republic, Steph Sheehan, from lowcostholidays.com, asked UK jazz bloggers, me among them, to contribute questions towards an interview with Tony Emmerson, whom she calls the oracle of Prague jazz.
Tony moved from London to Prague six years ago and now writes a blog dedicated to the jazz scene in Prague. Here he talks about his top five Czech jazz artists, how easy it is to make a living as a jazz artist in Prague and why this city has one of the best jazz scenes in Europe.
Peter L Bacon from thejazzbreakfast.wordpress.com asks:
Q1: Can you name five Prague-based jazz musicians that we should be listening to? Maybe a combination of well-established that we might have heard of and stars of the future…
- Emil Viklický is the greatest of the Czech jazzers and quite possibly the greatest pianist you’ve not heard of. He plays around the world, attracting a loyal following in the USA and Japan. His blending of jazz with Moravian folk songs makes him the voice of authentic Czech jazz. You can read an interview with him here http://praguejazz.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/interview-emil-viklicky.html
- Luboš Andršt is the country’s resident guitar god. Self-taught, he’s been highly regarded since the early 1970s. He has two parallel careers, playing both jazz and blues. He has everything a great guitarist needs: technique, emotion, and good taste.
- František Uhlíř is known as the “Paganini of the Bass”. Comparable with any of the great double bass players the jazz world has seen he is a true master of the instrument. He can make it sing in a way that many bassists can only aspire to achieve.
- Beata Hlavenková is a very talented young pianist and keyboard player from the Ostrava region. She isn’t afraid to innovate, and her band sometimes features slightly unusual instruments such as the steel guitar. She is a good example of how Czech isn’t frozen in time and there are still musicians breaking new ground and finding an original voice while keeping true to the melodic nature of the local scene. Definitely one to watch.
- Robert Balzar was the bassist in the band that played with Bill Clinton at Reduta in 1994. He has a well-established and vibrant Trio who play original material and standards. In 2008 they released an album with John Abercrombie, and toured Europe as a Quartet with the legendary guitarist.
Q2: The question that is always on my mind, and I suppose links to the one about young musicians but is more about the pros, is it possible for jazz musicians to make a living in Prague? Is there any state support? Do Prague venues pay a living wage?
A2: It is possible but it is not easy. The issue of how much venues pay is a live one, with some clubs having a reputation for being fair and others less so. Some musicians are quite vocal about not playing venues that don’t pay reasonably, but these clubs have enough willing musicians to fill their schedules. Either you have supplementary income (music related or otherwise), play most nights, or eat cat food. See my interview with Rene Trossman for more view on this: http://praguejazz.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/interview-rene-trossman.html
The opposing view is that club gigs aren’t for money – they’re a workshop to hone your art – and revenue should come from elsewhere.
Ian Mann from thejazzmann.com asks:
Q3: I heard saxophonist Stepan Marovic on a Radio 3 special about jazz in Prague just prior to my trip and bought “Resolution” by his group Jazz Face while I was out there. Is Stepan Markovic still playing? Do you know anything as well about the trumpeter Juraj Bartos?
A3: Štěpán Markovič still plays regularly in the Czech Republic and is known as one of the elder statesmen of the scene. The last time I saw him was playing at one of the Jazz at the Castle concerts, attended by President Klaus. Juraj Bartoš is still around too, although less high profile. Both are excellent players worthy of wider recognition.
Ian Maund from Sandybrownjazz.co.uk asks:
Q4: I’m interested to know about how the Czech Republic is encouraging young musicians in schools and colleges. What support do they get generally when they leave school and want to play professionally?
A4: It is tough to make it here, as it is anywhere, but at least the number of venues means that there are opportunities for young players. Therefore wanting to be a professional musician is not some outlandish dream but something that is seen as attainable for those with talent. The next stage, where you make enough cash to have music as your sole income, is much harder to reach and many musicians supplement their income with teaching or “normal” work.
Lance Liddle from lance-bebopspokenhere.blogspot.co.uk asks:
Q5: Do you know of any jazz workshops or classes in Prague that visiting jazz dabblers can take part in?
A5: There is an annual Czech Jazz Workshop that attracts teachers and students from around the world, but it is a serious affair, not just dabbling. Some of the clubs host jam sessions, but the standard is high, so anyone who isn’t at that level won’t get a look in. That is the downside of having so many talented musicians running around the city!
Emma from blog.lowcostholidays.com asks:
Q6: Do you ever miss the UK jazz scene at all? Have you always been a jazz fanatic or only since you moved to Prague?
A6: I always liked jazz but moving to Prague gave me a chance to see a lot more great music than I could when I was living in London. There are several venues in Prague where I can see world class jazzers in action every night and it costs less than a tenner to get in. The style of Czech jazz also appeals to me – there is such a strong sense of melody and the tunes can be deliciously bitter-sweet. Emil V is the master of this – sometimes he plays and it is truly a transcendental experience.
Q7: Also (one more cheeky, one) – what would be your perfect day/night out in Prague?
A7: That last question is the hardest of the lot. There is so much to do here… hot afternoons in beer gardens, rowdy evenings at the ice hockey or football, a night at the opera or ballet, and of course going to jazz clubs. A good day is one where I wake up. A perfect day is one where I make it through to the end. Other than that it’s all good…
More info: For the full interview with Tony see the lowcostholidays.com Prague Jazz page, which also features information on Czech artists, the best jazz venues in Prague and how to spend 24 hours and 48 hours on a jazz-themed Prague city break. ‘Czech’ out Tony’s Prague Jazz blog here and follow him on Twitter @TonyEmmerson.