Let’s get back to jazz, to live performances, to enthralled audiences. Safely.
Anticipating a return of jazz festivals in 2021, this marks the fourth year of the LetterOne RISING STAR Jazz Awards. The deadline is looming and excitement is mounting.
The opportunities that await the winners in Europe and North America include an amazing, whirlwind festival tour. Burkhard Hopper, director of Air Artist Agency, discussed the history and hopes of the upcoming awards.
Why did you first start this award program and are you a musician yourself? What does “LetterOne” specifically refer to?
The LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award started in 2017. The idea was to give young and upcoming artists the chance to jump start their career with performances at major jazz festivals and build a good audience for themselves by additional marketing and promotion that we organize.
The necessity for such an award became apparent in the past decade as record companies would invest less and less in the marketing of artists and left them to their own devices. Fewer were able to come through and create an impression. Altogether 17 major festivals participate in the LetterOne RISINGS STARS Jazz Award and give a platform to the winners each year to appear on a main stage supporting major artists and being seen by a large number of people. LetterOne is a UK-based investment company that is sponsoring the award. Without them this would not be possible.
How has this program changed and grown since being launched?
Originally we started the LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award in Europe only with a total of seven festivals and a European winner. Since then, we extended it to North America where we have a winner who tours ten major festivals in the US and Canada.
Do you feel that creatives are staying hopeful and raring to go and perform?
Being a musician and wanting to share your art is a mission that requires a lot of dedication, preparation and long-term thinking and investment. I have not come across anyone yet who wants to seriously give up. Other generations have faced wars, famine and other disasters, and the arts came back after those events as well, so I am optimistic that the arts will bounce back this time. After all, what would we be without the arts?
What are the most exciting elements of this program?
For the musicians I guess the touring bit is the real exciting part as most of them have not yet had the experience of real touring and what it entails. Also performing concerts back-to-back and supporting and meeting their heroes backstage on the big festivals is a real thrill. For us, as organizers, it is always a real thrill to see the quality of the artists who are submitting their material and finding out the choice of the jury at the end of the selection process.
How are past winners faring in the industry today; has it been an advantage and given them exposure they didn’t otherwise have?
You might want to ask this question to the artists, but I would say that each one of them has made a huge leap forward in their careers. We also continue to support the winners after their initial tours. During the lockdown period, LetterOne dedicated additional funds to the winners and they all recorded masterclasses and solo performances that were aired on our social media platforms.
Talk about the logistics of setting up the tour in multiple places around the globe. What does the 2021 winner get?
There will be two winners of the 2020 season of the LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award, one in Europe, the other in North America. Both of them will tour in the summer of 2021, or the autumn, in case the summer festivals have to delay their programs. Besides organizing the LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award Air Artist Agency, the company I work for is an agency that tours major artists like China Moses, Yaron Herman, Marius Neset and Sarah McKenzie and we are very well equipped to organize tours of bands.
The festivals that participate are set: Kongsberg, Stuttgart, Umbria, Vittoria, Lviv, Love Supreme and Nice in Europe, Monterey, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Iowa City, Washington and Rochester in the US and Canada. We then need to decide their slots at their festivals and the dates, organize transportation for the artists, and make sure they get the backline and sound systems they need to perform.
How do you prepare the winners for the rigors of this kind of touring experience?
We are trying to be in close touch with the winners in the run-up to the touring and prepare them as much as possible, but nothing can actually really prepare you for stepping out on stage in front of a few thousand people to then perform. As a young artist you need to take it in and enjoy it. I am sure it is a life-affirming experience for them, if not life-changing.
Who is eligible, and do they send links or other samples of their music?
In theory every jazz musicians who thinks she/he is one of the RISING STARS can submit their material. The only restriction is that you have to be located in Europe to submit to the European award and in North America to submit to be awarded there. Using our website www.l1risingstarsjazzaward.com each artist has to submit three sound samples and a video link as well as biographical material and photos. The jury will then listen to the sound samples and watch the video, and in the end decide who they think should win it.
What is the deadline?
All submissions that reach us before October 31 at midnight will be considered.
Besides the award, does your organization provide PR and marketing?
A large portion of the win is the worldwide PR and marketing that comes with the awards: Advertising in all major jazz magazines across the world, television, radio and press interviews that we organize for the winners, and the inclusion in the festival PR that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.
Has what you’ve learned during these three years translated into giving better representation to your clients?
I think the other way around it had a bigger effect. We are well aware of the general situation in our industry and are working closely with our other clients, so we recognize the need for such an award that jump starts the career of young artists. And we were able, thanks to LetterOne, to bring a major partner that enables this amazing possibility for young artists. There should be more initiatives by large companies like this. Our winners even performed at LetterOne’s Christmas party, and earlier this year they hosted an amazing gala for the 2019 winners [Editor’s note: see Kathrine Windfeld, 2019 winner, in photo above].
What did you need to change to be able to hold these awards and to provide the winners with live performance opportunities?
Over the past three months I have attended concerts and festivals in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, and all of those concerts were held with people distancing well and wearing masks. Jazz audiences are usually well-behaved, so in my humble opinion it would be time to allow classical and jazz concerts to come back even on a larger scale.
Tests in other countries have shown that they are not “spreader events”. Accordingly I am optimistic that by the summer of 2021 we will see those festivals back on track and be able to present our winners. Alternatively, if there will be another lost festival summer in 2021, festivals could hold their program online, which potentially reaches even more people. Some festivals already have done that this year. In the end this is a political decision, but don’t underestimate the power of the opinion leaders in the arts.
For more information visit www.l1risingstarsjazzaward.com.
Photo (c) Allan Hoeghelm with permission of artist. Logo courtesy of LetterONE.
(c) 2020 Debbie Burke