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Šķiuņa Jazz 2023: Feel Welcome

Aleksandra Line

A look back at the fifth jazz festival in Lūznava Manor

Vadims Kožins

At the end of August in Latgale, at Lūznava Manor, the fifth Baltic jazz festival, «Šķiuņa Jazz,» took place, bringing together musicians, educators, and more than fifty master class attendees from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and Ukraine. The idea for the festival was formed in 2018 when the Jazz Music Department was established at the Jānis Ivanovs Rēzekne Music School. The driving force behind both the department’s creation and the festival idea was our friend, jazz bassist Toms Lipskis. While Toms is now (hopefully) watching over us from other dimensions, the JAZZin.lv team set out to explore how the Latgale region continues the tradition he initiated.

The Lūznava Manor team organizes the «Šķiuņa Jazz» festival, but trombonist Lauris Amantovs took over the artistic direction of the festival. Among the master class presenters this year were Indriķis Veitners (wind instruments, ensemble, improvisation / Latvia), Rūta Dūduma-Ķirse (vocals, ensemble, improvisation / Latvia), Pranas Kentra (guitar, rhythm, ensemble, improvisation / Lithuania), Dima Golovanovas (keyboard instruments, ensemble, improvisation / Lithuania), Veronika Chi Chi (vocals, ensemble, improvisation / Lithuania), Yurii Natsvlishvili (bass, ensemble, improvisation / Ukraine), and Aivar Vassiljev (percussion instruments, ensemble, improvisation / Estonia). In the evenings, there were concerts with audience presence and jam sessions — everything befitting a proper jazz festival.

The «Šķiuņa Jazz» festival opened with the concert of the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music student ensemble «Four Collective.» Following that, on August 25, the «Modal Jazz» ensemble (Latvia) and «Veronika Chi Chi quintet» (Lithuania) performed. On August 26, the stage saw «Vilnius JJAZZ Ensemble» (Lithuania) and «Aivar Vassiljev band» (Estonia), and the festival concluded with a performance by the traditional Rēzekne Big Band and soloists, the «Šķiuņa Jazz» educators, with a concert program specially prepared for the festival. «The ‘Šķiuņa Jazz’ master classes are a great opportunity for students from music schools and universities in the Baltic countries, aspiring musicians, and other jazz enthusiasts to enhance their musical and vocal skills, as well as develop improvisational abilities and collaborative playing in ensembles under the guidance of international professionals. In addition to intensive classes, presenters and master class students come together for public jam sessions,» according to official information from Lūznava Manor.

As the journey from Riga was extensive, we arrived at the festival on the evening of the third day and were immediately immersed in the cozy atmosphere of a small festival where everyone felt at home. Not that everyone knew each other, but in the beautiful, well-kept manor garden, with signs in the Latgalian language, even strangers smiled as if you had come to visit and were long-awaited. A feeling as if returning home — perhaps my Latgalian roots resonated here, or maybe it was the skilled hospitality of the manor’s director. In any case, the feeling was quite good.

Vadims Kožins

The concerts took place on an outdoor stage in the manor park, and jam sessions — «Šķiunis» or the barn — were held in a well-arranged structure next to the main manor building. On Friday evening, the program concluded with a relatively short but convincing jam session — Arkady Gotesman on drums, Dima Golovanovas on keyboards, and other presenters and master class participants right there on stage. Vocalists chose a challenging repertoire, which might not have immediately yielded the intended results, but jamming means trying, and the main thing is, indeed, to go out there and try to learn. It’s encouraging that enthusiasm is not lacking. Of course, it’s convenient that the presenters also live on the manor grounds — they are almost compelled to participate in the evening program and step onto the stage alongside their students, as well as listen as part of the audience how the participants play and encourage their own. Unfortunately, in real life, they probably have a hundred reasons to spend time elsewhere, but it’s good that there are at least such festivals that bring generations together.

The festival’s final day opened with a concert by master class participants — ensembles led by Baltic jazz musicians took the stage one after another with eclectic programs. The students presented compositions charismatically and — of course, there is always room to grow — confidently worked with the audience. Even when the line-up consisted more of musical beginners than professionals, the overall atmosphere, groove, and self-confidence created, if not stage charisma, at least sparks of it. Lūznava Manor’s garden was filled with a supportive audience — even when it started to rain, the outdoor concert continued, and the audience did not disappear.

We also went inside the Lūznava Manor building — a cultural monument with concert halls and exhibition rooms, hotel rooms, and stands where you can buy souvenirs from local producers. Indriķis Veitners’ master class took place in the former residence of the manor’s owner, engineer Staņislavs Kerbedzs, with a view of the manor garden — an interactive exhibition was set up in the manor’s cellars in honor of Kerbedzs. Hopefully, master class participants appreciated the opportunity to gain new knowledge in such a picturesque and historical place.

After the tour, we headed to Rēzekne and returned to Lūznava in the evening. The concert program of the evening, held in a lamp-lit manor garden with rose bushes, pine alleys, inspiring installations, and a small stage surrounded by benches, comfortable lounge chairs, and hammocks, was quite rich. The energetic original music program by the Vilnius ensembles was followed by an Estonian trio, and in the culmination of the event — the Rēzekne Big Band with new talents and historical masters, along with all the master class presenters one after another. The big band played jazz standards convincingly and unitedly, and people behind the scenes danced along in the open air. Everything was as in the old times.

Vadims Kožins