Once upon a time a youngster in a little town in Germany became fascinated with jazz harmonies and improvisation and decided to drive with her red Ford Fiesta and her brand new DX7 keyboard on the Autobahn north for five hours to attend a summer workshop in Remscheid, close to Cologne. It was a live-changing experience which put her on the path of becoming a professional jazz musician and relocating to the United States. She settled with her husband and musical partner in Bloomington, Indiana where they became regular performers at the jazz clubs in Indianapolis. Lo and behold, Indianapolis formed a sister city partnership with the city of Cologne, initiated by the Firefighters who enjoyed visiting and learning each other’s approaches to firefighting. Soon the exchange expanded to choirs, libraries, schools, city officials, and eventually Cologne official Harwig Prüssmann had the idea of a jazz exchange. He asked Cologne bassist and educator André Nendza to lead a group of students for a visit in Indianapolis and facilitated financial and organizational support from both cities. The Indianapolis committee reached out to a natural choice – a jazz musician who happened to be German and had recently completed a book on one of the Indiana jazz icons, David Baker – with the request for help in organizing a meaningful experience for the visiting group. Gladly she helped organize a visit at IU, concerts in Bloomington and Indianapolis, and a presentation by two living legends, photographer Duncan Schiedt and jazz educator/ composer/ activist David Baker. Through several fortuitous turn of events it turned out that the bassist from Cologne had been a fellow combo member during the Remscheid jazz workshops nearly 30 years earlier as well as the historic presentation being the last opportunity to experience Duncan Schiedt and David Baker together. Furthermore, the itinerary provided for several opportunities of collaborative performances between the local musicians and German visitors loaded with creative energy and excitement. Jazz music is an art form focused on the process of creation and it turned out to be a vehicle far beyond verbal conversations for bringing people together across cultures, ages, languages, and any barriers.
The music of David Baker became the centerpiece for a follow-up exchange. Cello virtuoso and Professor of Music at the Mainz Conservatory Manuel Fischer-Dieskau decided to record David Baker’s cello pieces as a tribute to his mentors Janos Starker and David Baker, who he had studied with during his two years at Indiana University. He invited me to join for the Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio and as part of the release concerts we presented the music in concerts in Cologne as well as Indianapolis and Bloomington with David Baker in the audience. Here is a taste. Again – a unique bond and relationship were forged, culture, heritage, and history came together. Manuel was able to spend some time with David Baker and again musicians and audiences joined across continents.
Just a year later, a group of students from Bloomington and Indianapolis traveled to Cologne to present a program of music written by the jazz greats from Indiana Avenue, the famous center of music during the 30s and 40s. The visit was facilitated by scholarships from the Indianapolis German Heritage Society, a crowdfunding campaign, and support from the City of Cologne. As part of their visit, the students also participated in sightseeing opportunities and observed a rehearsal of the WDR Big Band with Michel Camillo. The concert provided a journey through the rich musical heritage of Indiana Avenue with selections by Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, David Baker, Cole Porter, and Hoagy Carmichael, and was presented on both sides of the river Rhine to packed houses. Again, students from André Nendzas pre-college program in Cologne joined for the collaborative concert.
The most recent exchange was a visit in Cologne by the intercontinental ensemble The Time Flies. As a result of the previous visits, several exchange participants came together for a recording project of contemporary compositions in a historic format – analog LPs. The release tour across Europe included a day in Cologne, this time with workshops at a school with a recent partnership to an Indianapolis High School. During the workshops the students learned about the history and elements of jazz and participated in improvisational activities. Many students took advantage of free tickets for the evening concert and four years of jazz exchange came to full circle at Alte Pfandhaus in Cologne with the two initial leaders of the exchange groups coming together in one group featuring previous participants and collaborators. The night was true magic with people from opposite generations, continents, sexes, cultures coming together through the universal language of music. Here is a report with great pics.
It should be added that two of the programs were actually chosen for programming awards by the International Sister City Committees – the initial presentation by Duncan Schiedt and David Baker as well as the concert of David Baker’s music by Manuel Fischer-Dieskau and friends. The collaborative process of creation during a jazz event facilitates a higher level of communication and understanding especially suited for intercultural exchange. Many thanks to the committees and their leaders, to the cities of Indianapolis and Cologne, and to all the supporters who have helped with the exchanges so far. Especially in times of political tensions and increasing terror attacks, music and the arts help unite and heal.