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Saulkrasti Jazz celebrates its 25th anniversary by reviving the camp tradition

Evilena Protektore

Daily notes from the «Saulkrasti Jazz» festival camp

Kristaps Kitners

This summer, I finally got closer to my childhood jazz dream — I was invited to teach vocals and lead a combo camp where my jazz life began. I am not the only one for whom the «Saulkrasti Jazz» festival has become an inspiring starting point. Among my colleagues, 99% have gone to this camp at least once in their lives, where unequivocally magical things happen. Just imagine (this is for those who have never been to Saulkrasti) — the sea, pine forest, jazz every day, new friends, inspiring mentors… This is a place where, in a short time, you can learn so much because jazz is everywhere; everyone you meet there loves this music is passionate about it, and does everything to make others like it too. I remember myself back in 2006 when I first participated. At first, it felt strange — I, a legal adult, lived in a room with girls five years younger than me and attended master classes with women 15 years older than me, but no one objected to the beauty of such age differences. And the level differences were even more uplifting because, as a beginner, it might be boring for them when you meet someone whose level is higher than yours. However, the overall atmosphere was based on a sense of community; everyone helped each other. If you didn’t know a certain standard, someone would spend time with you and help you learn it; if you saw someone struggling, you went to help. And that’s the most valuable thing — you can build a community where people don’t compete with each other but do something together. It’s priceless. Looking at the educators and masterclass instructors then, I remember my thoughts — if those people were invited to teach, they were «at the level.» I set a goal for myself to reach that bar as well. And finally — the goal was achieved! Was it easy? No. Was it exciting and inspiring? Definitely yes! So, what exactly happened at the «Saulkrasti Jazz» festival and camp this year?


We all vividly remember the onset of the pandemic in our lives and how it changed the «rules of the game,» influencing where we can and cannot go, how we live, and how we make music. The Saulkrasti Jazz Festival also had to adapt, so in the dreadful year 2020, the camp couldn’t take place. A couple of years passed, and it became clear that the camp was such a good tradition that it was indispensable. Especially since it was the festival’s anniversary year. As I mentioned, the Saulkrasti Jazz camp is not just a camp; it has always been a place where friendships are formed, and where music develops. It is a place where jazz is always given the opportunity to be born anew, so imagining the 25th year without the camp was impossible. This time, the camp was led by a person who grew up in it — drummer Mareks Logins, who managed to gather an excellent team of educators! I won’t comment on myself, but I am thrilled to be invited. I’m excited to spend this week with Mareks himself, who also taught drumming to camp participants, with Anna Vibe, who took care of the keyboardists, and with Artūrs Sebris, who worked with wind instrument players, among whom, by the way, was even a euphonium! I heard this instrument in jazz for the first time, and it left a fantastic impression! Each of us also had our own combo, with which we were able to perform on the big stage at Saulkrasti Estrāde on the last day of the festival. The number of camp participants was relatively small this time, so there were only four educators, and not all specialties were represented among the mentors, but we formed a very good team. I dare say we handled all the questions that the students had. Speaking of age — this time, they were teenagers, and most were beginners in music. It was simultaneously inspiring and intimidating because it is a certain responsibility — to introduce young people to jazz in a way that they don’t start to fear improvisation and exploring the boundaries of the genre. In my opinion, we managed to inspire people, at least judging by what they told us about their future plans — some mentioned deciding to enter a jazz department in high school, for someone who participated in any musical activity for the first time, a desire appeared to explore their possibilities more deeply. Well, it seems like the goal has been achieved!


Kristaps Kitners

The concert lineup this year was quite splendid. Although concerts on the main stage at Saulkrasti Estrāde were not held every day but only for three days, they were all quite impressive. On the first day, the audience had the opportunity to enjoy performances from the international jazz a cappella ensemble «Accent,» and the local big band «Mirage Jazz Orchestra,» with invited soloists Marta Giulioni and Massimo Morganti. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the concerts that evening, but the stories from the children the next day indicated that both ensembles did everything possible to inspire a new generation of jazz musicians to develop their skills and create art themselves.

On the second day of the major concerts, the stage was taken by the «Ivan Mazuze Band» (Mozambique/Norway), which had already been in Latvia in 2022 during the International Jazz Day celebration at «M/Darbnīca.» This time, the charismatic saxophonist was accompanied by a full ensemble — drums, tablas, bass guitar, electric guitar, and piano. The repertoire performed by the ensemble is far from simple — Ivan’s music is powerful, filled with complex rhythms and non-standard harmonic solutions, intensified by the musicians’ energetic play. Bassist Per Mathisen somewhat resembled Jaco Pastorius with his «Kalashnikov» lines, guitarist Bjørn Vidar Solli sang lyrically along with his solo parts, pianist Olga Konkova added a feminine harmonization full of interesting alterations, tablist Jai Shankar adorned the songs with percussive subtleties and demonstrated konnakol (Indian percussive vocal syllables) skills. Together with drummer Raciel Torres, they ignited the rhythmic part of the music until many listeners stood up and started dancing! Ivan himself, of course, was unforgettable and took a clear leadership position on stage. I was fortunate enough to join the ensemble and sing one piece, making the memories of the event even more vivid. What pleasantly surprised me was the musicians’ willingness to communicate with children when they expressed a desire to become artists. All members of the ensemble signed sheet music and notebooks and gave signed CDs, but one student, a drummer, was utterly shocked as she received a training device from Raciel with precious instructions on improving her playing skills.

The next ensemble to take the stage that evening was one that Latvian listeners had already heard and loved, especially when it featured a very special soloist — this is the Šiauliai big band led by Raitis Ašmanis together with Cécile Verny. The charming Cécile quickly conquered the hearts of both the camp’s children and the festival audience. When Raitis gallantly invited the soloist to dance during a solo, many of the audience also joined. Students also received autographs from Cécile and warm hugs.

Kristaps Kitners

The third day of concerts began at noon with a concert by the camp participants. A good sign was that in the audience were not only the families of aspiring musicians but also other listeners who came to glimpse into the new generation and its achievements. Some listeners had tears in their eyes because «it’s so touching how they try!» This time, the educators were also lucky to step onto the same stage as the students, which was something new for me — I must admit that I, too, shed a slightly nostalgic tear while watching those young people performing for the first time on such a huge stage, their fears, but at the same time, their readiness to do the best they can… It was unforgettable!

The festival’s closing concert was rather powerful, consisting of three different ensembles, each unique and impressive. The ensemble that opened the concert came from Liepāja, spending almost five hours on the road! It was the big band of the Liepāja Music, Art, and Design Secondary School led by Deniss Pashkevich. The big band presented Denis’s compositions, specially arranged for the ensemble by two outstanding musicians — Bepe di Benedetto from Italy and the local double bassist and composer Jānis Rubiks. The big band was surprised by its high level, although it included students of various ages. They wonderfully coped with their creative tasks, demonstrating knowledge and skills in both traditional big band music and the world of modern electronic instruments, using modular synthesis devices. This was a truly interesting performance of six songs that left a very good impression and showed the audience how Liepāja music is developing.

Kristaps Kitners

The second ensemble also hailed from the local scene — a fantastic group called «Lupa,» featuring Dāvis Jurka (saxophone), Ritvars Garoza (keyboards), Valters Sprūdžs (bass), and Andris Buiķis (percussion). The ensemble performed pieces from their previously released albums and delighted the audience with something new that is yet to be released. It was a glimpse into the album where all the music was composed by Buiķis. I must admit that I was already familiar with this group and had heard all of their albums, but experiencing their live performance was something I hadn’t encountered until now. I was delighted that such a discovery happened at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival, as I could share the excitement of the ensemble’s performance with the students and observe how attentively the younger generation listens to what local musicians compose. I especially liked that the weather conditions didn’t deter the audience (it started raining during «Lupa’s» performance), and no one left; instead, with their umbrella movements, they demonstrated how engaged they were in the music.

Kristaps Kitners

Finally, the last ensemble was from abroad—the «Soul Train» project from Switzerland/USA. «Soul Train» is a project initiated by the collective «JJ’s Housband,» with artist Reggie Saunders from the USA as the soloist. The project aims to honor and revive the famous TV show of the same name, where the best Afro-American artists of that time gathered, playing their music, accompanied by quite impressive dances. The concept was quite simple — men gathered on one side, women on the other, and a random couple met in the middle and danced together, moving toward the end of the line, so to speak. Modern artists decided to repeat this experience and brought their dance routine, which they laid out just before the stage, allowing Latvians to repeat the famous movement direction.

The level of ensemble playing, of course, was excellent, and the concert turned out to be good, fun, and positive — exactly what is needed to conclude the festival. The only thing that seemed a bit lacking to me was the absence of any original compositions in the repertoire. Perhaps there was no need, as they could perform hits from James Brown’s repertoire, but, in contrast to the other ensembles of the evening, I missed a bit of the original music spark. Maybe I was the only one, as others seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

Kristaps Kitners

Outside the concerts, the festival offered two other concert locations. In the Saules Laukums, there was a concert by the students of Olga Pīrāgs’ vocal studio «Rigonda,» and at the Zvejniekciems Cultural Center, two ensembles from the Jazz Department of Jāzeps Mediņš Riga Music School performed—«tie17tie» and «Jasscool.»


I’ll repeat it — I am extremely happy to join the camp’s team; this unparalleled experience inspired me and filled me with many positive emotions. Such camps are crucial for building the jazz community, as they show that, in reality, we are one large family in our small but very talented country. Yes, conflicts may arise, but still, we support each other and do everything possible to make our music unique and unforgettable. The only thing I would like to see next year is the return of the festival to the Munchausen Manor territory with the large stage where a cozy atmosphere was created. But that’s the only thing that was missing from this adventure! Lots of success in the 25th year, and may it be long-lasting and fruitful!