Jazz Federation head: “Lithuanian jazz needs better treatment”

At the helm of the federation she says she pushes the case of jazz to new boundaries in the country in which the musical genre is often under-appreciated. The Lithuanian Tribune talked to Rusytė.

Which of all these activities is your true breadwinner?

To tell the truth, I’ve not been involved with all the audio-visual production lately as much as I used to. But event organizing is still my bread and butter. Speaking of the stint at the Jazz Federation, I’ve been heading it 8 years already, but the presidency is what I call my side-job for which I have to sacrifice my main work hours and which administrative expenses I have sometimes to cover out of my own pocket. Unfortunately, I’d say.

Disappointingly, NGOs are not state-supported, I mean financially in Lithuania.

How did you end up being at the helm of the federation?

Perhaps my life-long involvement with arts is the reason. As far as I can remember, I’ve been very passionate about all music, including jazz.

Yet at my alma mater I’d get engaged in all kinds of musical events. In fact, I’d often be the one who’d organize them, to tell the truth. I’d write about music and culture and draw billboards, for example.

After I completed my restorer’s studies in Vilnius I came back to Klaipeda, but it was clear to me I wouldn’t find a suitable job there. Luckily, advised by my close friend who was working for Vilnius Jazz Festival, I asked the Kaunas Jazz Festival team to let me give it a hand. It turned out later to have been a real jazz school for me, frankly. I had volunteered organizing different events for it and for a Kaunas jazz club for quite some time before I became the festival’s fully-fledged staffer.

No bragging, I’ve been an avid jazz zealot ever since, and the eight years’ stint at Kaunas Jazz Festival has really shaped up my reputation in the jazz community.

I reckon it was one of the main reasons why my candidacy to chair the Lithuanian jazz federation was proposed and, later, voted for. As I had already been running my own event-planning business then, the entrepreneurial experience, I believe, was also important in the decision-making.

Though I don’t get paid for the capacity, I hope it will become a paid job someday.

Can you, please, tell us a little bit more about the LJF? Why was it founded?

The Federation was founded in 2007. Founding it was an effort of several people from the jazz community. But the work that Liudas Šaltenis had already done in establishing a similar organization in the past also has played a role in its establishment.

Among the motifs, the most important, I believe, was the void in representing the country‘s jazz community. It badly needed an organization that could professionally take on the issues of the musical genre, that would talk for it in a single voice and that were seen and influential. To the extent where it could pave the way to the working desks of the state‘s cultural decision-makers or, at the local level, to the municipality officials and where its representatives as jazz event organizers would be seriously accepted.

We also saw the federation as a means for the musicians to initiate and carry out music projects, as well as seek their funding. All these objectives have been effectively laid down in the LJF statute. This is the precise quotation from our statute: the Lithuanian Jazz Federation‘s principle purposes are supporting, representing and protecting its members‘ economic, legal and professional interests, as well as expressing and representing their relations with the state, municipal and law enforcement institutions both in the country and abroad.

Some of the goals we‘ve set out, unfortunately, cannot be reached due to the limited resources, for example, providing financial support for all jazz organizations, musicians and publications out there, or, let‘s say, provide our members legal assistance abroad.

How many members are currently under the LJF flag? What are the members‘obligations and rights?

As of now we have 51 members, but the number, is subject to change as we are about to evaluate the members‘membership motifs and input. We also have new potential candidates lining up behind the doors, which also expect to be given a chance.

As the obligations and rights are determined by the statute, perhaps I won‘t go over it here. Just me tell that they are pretty much similar to those of other these kinds of organizations.

By the way, why did you call your organization “federation”, as if giving an allusion it is more related more to sports than art?

I cannot say exactly who we stuck with the word “federation”, but, yes, the name pertains more to the status and attention that sport federations we have out there, and, sure, the possibility that status gives them.

Personally, I believe jazz is akin to sports in a sense that it is capable of sparking a flurry of hot emotions as a sport for a sport fan.

I can share my personal experiences about the jazz phenomena in the US, where I’ve spent quite some time. How come that in Lithuania jazz is far from being a big thing? Can this be chalked up to the Soviet heritage?

Indeed, the United States is the motherland of jazz. No wonder that the cultural perception of jazz over there is quite different from that in Europe. But I really don’t think that the jazz manifestations we have here are worse or better in a sense.

Put against other musical genres, I reckon jazz has this exclusive feature: its sociability. Not surprising, therefore, that UNESCO has proclaimed it “a universal language of freedom.”

The roots of jazz’s incredible affability and creative flexibility lies in the vast expressions of improvisation, which determined the genre’s incredible vitality, constant development and the deep contact with a concrete spot and local culture.

I’d pay attention, however, to the changing jazz perception over the last ten years. Jazz was able to harmoniously converge with the significant cultures of local music, including the academic music, folklore, rock, funk and rap, for example. In other words, we’ve seen a certain musical synergy, the combination of different musical genres reflecting the social environment. That is the reason why jazz, to my opinion, is so, creation-wise, viable, changing and developing.

What is characteristic to the Lithuanian jazz school and music?

The differences between the American and European jazz schools are obvious. And despite the varieties, a good thing is that the Lithuanian jazz school has its own face.

It was, in fact, very vivid and clear during the Soviet era and right after it, I’d say. Look, Vilnius Jazz School was founded, and the vast possibilities of expression that jazz is known for allowed reflection through it the-then social issues. Needless to say the resisting of Soviet ideology and the environment has been the most important.

Once the mission has been done jazz branched out to new sub-genres and styles.

Now the jazz community in Lithuania is very diverse, with a lot of talented musicians and music creators out there. All of them would be able to be a whole lot more popular and identify with the Lithuanian culture if they enjoyed the conditions that, for example, the classic music performers in the country have.

Our jazz people have many interesting music projects to be carried out, even on the most prestigious stages. But the public often doesn’t have the possibility to hear the works, because our jazz musicians do not have a regular concert stage where they could introduce the public their works. Seeking to eke out, many of the jazz performers, sadly, have to scrap their creative plans and individuality and play with the traditional American jazz programs in various business events.

The impact of Vilnius Jazz School has been very big in shaping up the face of Lithuanian jazz. The school and a bunch of its distinguished personalities, like Vladimiras Čekasinas, have change the face and forged entire generations of new jazz musicians.

Foreign music industry experts do point out to the high professionalism that Lithuanian jazz people exhibit. But they also miss some clear national distinctions in Lithuanian jazz, like, for example, connections with Lithuanian folklore.

If you were tomorrow to speak to the Lithuanian Culture minister, what would you tell him on the behalf of all Lithuanian jazz men out there?

I’d tell him indeed a lot. We recently had a LJF meeting, and a lot of grievances and problems were voiced during it.

Most of all I reckon is the void of culture politics towards jazz. In other words, the genre is under- appreciated and lacks a clearer definition. To rephrase Stepas Januška, а prominent jazz musician, event organizer and teacher, there’s still no agreement what should be deemed culture and what not. This, subsequently, reflects on the music projects’ evaluation, financing and, as a result, the state’s acknowledgments when it comes to different musical genres. This is what I’d tell the minister first.

Are you saying jazz projects are under-estimated?

As a matter of fact, they are. We’ve been handing strategically important to our community projects since 1997, but, most of the time, they would be voted down or funded irregularly and insignificantly.

Frankly, we’d submitted quite many of that kind of projects to the Fund of Culture and Culture Council throughout the years- to be specific, for establishing a constant jazz stage, “Jazz Club”, publishing a yearly Lithuanian jazz people album that would not only show their achievements, but also serve as an important jazz music export tool- but all has been in vain.

I just cannot say that majority in the jazz community tends to doubt the project assessors’ competence and suspects them of bias in favor of the classic music.

Frankly, it is weird to hear all over and over again that jazz is supposedly “a kind of music more suitable for restaurants, not even culture”, that “jazz people do better because their music is more popular than the other performers’ out there…”

Really weird.

Absence of a regular jazz venue doesn’t allow many creative ambitions to be realized and get the jazz projects known by the public.

Although music schools in the country graduate every year a bunch of professional jazz musicians, only few of them excel in the genre. Unfortunately, again, most of them- due to the lack of the state policies and the persistent sense of being under-appreciated- end up playing at weddings, juggle music-unrelated jobs or leave the country.

I really insist that the country’s NGOs, like our jazz federation, be treated better, and their needs heeded. And the authorities do not have far to look for examples how things should be done.

Is there any good examples out there of how jazz should be treated in the future?

Let’s take a look at the example of Estonia where the country’s jazz federation’s activity is financed by the state. Therefore being able to develop their activities, the Estonians can boast that their jazz projects create jobs and add to the state budget extra taxes, and do really well themselves at the federation. This is the way we want to see jazz activities being run in Lithuania.

Edited by Paul Moriarty

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