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The unusual exam

Evilena Protektore

The second year of the «Džeztivāls» flourishes with new collaborations and beautiful music

Evilena Protektore

For several years, the Jazz Department of the Academy of Music exams has begun to resonate beyond the academy’s walls. In the past two years, they have evolved from final recitals and exams for 1st to 3rd-year students. While all concert exams at the academy are always open to any listener, the question is — who wants to go to an educational institution and spend a whole day, if not several days, in the middle of official atmospheres listening to everything in sequence? Therefore, the number of regular listeners at exams was relatively small — usually, it’s family and friends, other students, and perhaps educators from other departments. Then, last year, the idea came to Indriķis Veitners (head of the jazz department) and Maija Moira Mazanova (head of «M/Darbnīca» venue) to create a small jazz festival, essentially an exam but in concert format. This event was decided to be called the «Džeztivāls,» a name coined by one of the jazz department students, pianist Santa Kauiņa. The first year was conducted so impressively that they decided to continue the «Džeztivāls»! In reality, this is a very good idea, in my opinion, as it reduces stress for students, as playing a concert is a hundred times easier than an exam, and it provides actual concert practice, which is extremely important. For listeners, it offers the opportunity to see people grow and simply enjoy a lot of jazz music in one place. For educators, there is also a benefit — no need to sit with a stern jury member’s face; instead, they can evaluate not only how technically students perform their program but also their artistic side, which is often hard to grasp during an exam, as a dry room makes it difficult for the soul to flourish. On the other hand, stage lights, the audience, and the concert atmosphere help awaken the art and soul that make music truly enjoyable and authentic.

This year, the «Džeztivāls» took place for three consecutive days — the first two featured exams of all specialties, and on the third day, performances by ensembles took place. The fact that students from three different years played exams also influenced the diversity of performances — concerts were stylistically and technically colorful. It was a pleasure to witness progress for those who had heard these students in previous exams or concerts while others got to know a new generation of jazz musicians. What made the «Džeztivāls» especially unique this year was the broad exchange of students: this time, literally the whole world collaborated with local students, from neighboring Lithuania to Austria, Italy, and even the USA. And, if European students are no longer something new and exciting to us, students from America certainly are. This year, the Academy of Music offered its jazz students an extremely interesting, new experience — an exchange program with the school in Omaha, where two of our students (Matīss Žilinskis and Jurģis Lipskis) spent a whole semester studying in the US and in return, we received drummer Fay Porter and trumpeter Josh Goodwin.

Evilena Protektore

In my opinion, what was the most valuable in this event (outside of music, of course, because without it, there wouldn’t be any festival) is the non-music-related experiences that students can gain — experience in organizing larger events and establishing connections. This year was also special because old collaborations were maintained — with the students of the Sound Engineering Department of the Academy of Music; this year, at the main sound console, were JVLMA students Kristaps Diura, Ronalds Lūkins, and Liene Lote Kalniņa. Another collaboration was maintained and expanded — with the Academy of Culture! More about this will be told by Guna Pūcīte-Skujāne, who, for the second year in a row, was the main event coordinator:

After last year, when none of the students wanted to organize the event, we considered inviting a student from another university, someone who also needs practice. We approached Santa Breikša from the Academy of Culture, and she introduced performances for all three days. This year, we reflected on everything that worked well, what didn’t, and what we could improve, and we reached out to the Academy of Culture again. Adams Vaicis volunteered to help with the event. Adams contributed a lot, facilitating communication with «M/Darbnīca» and artists. We formed an excellent team!

Evilena Protektore

And here’s what Adams himself says about his experience this year:

I received an email from the academy that «Džeztivāls» is looking for assistants. I thought it would be a great practice and decided to take it because the job of a director’s assistant is very similar to project management. You are the one people ask questions; you communicate with everyone. I wanted to test how well I could handle such a challenge. It was easy to collaborate with the Academy of Music; I already knew several people from there, and it went pretty smoothly with «M/Darbnīca» as well. I’m studying film directing at the Academy of Culture in my first year. Jazz is very close to my heart; it’s my passion, and I don’t have to worry about how I’ll earn money with it! I enjoy doing everything, but in jazz, I like that I can enjoy and understand what I’m listening to — how complex it is, with all the references and compositions.

On exam days, I introduced programs and hosted concerts. Then I had an idea — since I’m introducing programs, to make it more interesting, I asked each musician for some quotes. It adds a bit of flair for the audience, showing that it’s not just about music. The individuality of each student really stood out here. Some wished for something good, and some wrote a poem!
But returning to the organizing process — it’s clear that organizing events of such magnitude is not that simple. Therefore, although Guna was the primary coordinator, she had several helpers. These helpers were the students themselves. This year, students from the Jazz Department of the Academy of Music participated: Greisa Peremota, Lilija Pinne, Ralfs Arbidāns, Miks Jurovs, and Rihards Jakuško. Guna Pūcīte-Skujāne can share more on the organizing process.

Evilena Protektore

«Džeztivāls,» in fact, is an enormous collaborative effort. There is always the «before» work when the actual concert is much easier. We do a lot together and distribute tasks. I did this [coordination of the event], having much work experience with it before; I often dealt with it before the Academy of Music. Naturally, you always want to organize everything so that it’s clear to yourself, and at the same time, it helps others get organized. Indriķis created the jazz student council; we had several representatives from each year; we gathered and started talking about it. I opened an Excel file and started organizing everything we discussed. It took us about half a year! Indriķis, of course, helped a lot in figuring things out.

As mentioned earlier, this year, it was also possible to expand collaborations, and the Academy of Culture was joined by the Graphic Arts Department of the Art Academy led by Rūta Briede. Since musicians primarily deal with musical works, but the festival needs design work, it was decided to bring in future professionals in the field of visual arts. Several students presented their versions of the visual identity for «Jazz Festival»: Paula Slavika, Gabriela Milberga-Zuza, Oleksandra Golytsina, Paul Grassler, Sam Maccullen, Patricija Krongorne, Kathrin Mooslechner, and Vaclav Šebest. The last artist was the one who created the true identity that became the favorite of jazz department students. Guna Pūcīte-Skujāne shares her experience with the process:

«We addressed them because why shouldn’t we create cool posters with a design specifically for our event? We sent them our mood board — stylistically, what we like, what we would like to see, what our identity would be like. Then, they did their graphic work; several students made versions on this topic. Then they printed their final versions, brought them to the academy, put them in the jazz class, made a voting urn, put numbers, and then all students (jazz musicians) voted for the best and coolest!»

A delightful highlight at the end of the festival was also a special award, which Indriķis Veitners named «Indriķis’ Award,» expressing heartfelt gratitude on behalf of the academy’s jazz to the people, places, and institutions without which it would not have been possible. The special Indriķis’ Award, which came with a self-brewed bottle of wine (yes, our jazz department head not only plays the saxophone and clarinet but also knows how to make wine), was received this year by student Ralfs Arbidāns for his active and outstanding involvement in organizing the festival. Last year, Guna Pūcīte-Skujāne was the one to receive this award.

Evilena Protektore

In summary of this brief overview of the three days of «Džeztivāls,» I want to add that I truly hope this event will continue. As I mentioned, such events benefit everyone — students, educators, audience, and concert venues — since the latter are filled with quality music. Overall, «Džeztivāls» positively contributes to Riga’s cultural life, making our daily lives increasingly more vibrant and inspiring! I wish success, resilience, patience, and many more years of resonating tunes for «Džeztivāls» and «M/Darbnīca,» without which it wouldn’t be so creatively enriching!