Crossing Paths: Partager jazz festival

The Partager jazz festival is running from 5-8 May at Kings Place, and aims to highlight cutting-edge French jazz acts as well as collaborations and musical exchange between French, American and British artists. The event's producer-curator, Patsy Craig, tells Rockfort about the festival's "merging of sensibilities".

(Lead picture: Senegal-born, France-based vocalist Julia Sarr; Above: Matthieu Donarier Trio)
Rockfort: What's your involvement in London's jazz scene?
PC: I come from a fine arts background - I am a painter but have been producing international music events in London for the past four years under the name of t Wo Music, first through a venue called Baltic in Southwark and for the past three years mainly at Charlie Wright’s in Hoxton. The name refers to two people, me Patsy Craig (Director) and Zhenya Strigalev (Artistic Director), and has to do with a book I published called ‘Making Art Work’. So t Wo also basically refers to Art Work, which is what we think of the music we work with. This four-day festival at Kings Place is the largest scale project I have produced.

Rockfort: For many years now, jazz festivals have been pretty broad churches, bringing in blues, gospel and world music. Other than the countries you have looked to, what remit, or what limits, did you set yourself with this one?
PC: Partager, like all my programming, attempts to broaden the concept of jazz and improvised music. There is so much cross pollination these days that to speak of specific genres now is almost a moot point. Now maybe jazz just means complexity and nuance through improvisation more then any specific musical structure, but with a nod in the direction of those historical jazz structures. That nod can be a loud nod or a more quiet nod. To me jazz is music that challenges the listener even when it’s soft and sweet.

Rockfort: Historically the ties between the American and French scenes were very strong - have they been maintained to the present day? The fact that you're proposing to make London a musical bridge between Paris and New York suggests that they haven't.
PC: I don’t think that London being a bridge suggests they no longer have strong ties. It refers to the migratory pattern of musicians on tour - the organic connection that is brought on by the ease of travel and even telecommunications. A chain reaction - New York...London...Paris - like stepping stones across the water. Partager is a merging of sensibilities - it means to share, after all.

Rockfort: How well are French musicians known and appreciated in London and the UK?
PC: Generally speaking I think practitioners of European culture need to do a better job of instigating inter-cultural exchange through music. This is my attempt to do so and I hope it generates future exchange.

Rockfort: The diversity of the acts at the festival suggests that the French jazz scene is in rude health, but Rockfort has had the impression that a number of iconic venues have been closing in Paris over the past few years. Has the scene gone elsewhere? Where should one look for the cutting edge of jazz in Paris and the rest of France?
PC: I can only speak very limitedly about the scene in Paris as I am based here in London. I found music that I think is good there. The problem with venues everywhere is that they need to be as inventive as musicians to show or even teach an audience about what is going on and the audience likewise needs to be more inventive in their appreciation - it’s a three-way street, the musician, the venue, and the audience are all in it together and it doesn’t work if they are not all doing their part to create music culture.

Rockfort: Would you like for there to be equivalent festivals in Paris and New York?
PC: Sure why not!

Rockfort: The Matthieu Donarier Trio's reworkings include Brassens and Trenet - how far is French chanson still a touchstone for contemporary French jazz artists? Do these songs still function as 'standards'?
PC: The chanson tradition in France is pretty strong but I think that question is better directed to the musicians. (Ed: We’ll try that question again sometime then!)
Rockfort: Andy Emler (above centre with his MegaOctet) doesn't seem to have come from a 'strictly' jazz background (in fact far from it) - but is there any such thing nowadays?
PC: Andy’s background is strongly linked to improvisation but probably has more of a classical reference. Again, I think it is about how strong the nod is in the direction of jazz’s historical routes. Maybe it’s like Zappa said, “Jazz isn’t dead it just smells funny!” I think that is a good thing.
Interview by David McKenna and Ludovic Merle