Jazz festival coverage needs to be more about the music

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Jazz festival coverage needs to be more about the music

Music fan Gene Oberto wishes critics would change their tune when it comes to the Stockholm Jazz Festival.


For 25 years, the Stockholm Jazz Festival has been a highlight of city’s summer season.

This year’s event brought an eclectic selection of jazz, blues, and pop music to five different stages over four days.

Sadly, however, the casual reader of the entertainment sections of the local dailies would have thought that Mary J. Blige and Patti Smith were the only artists to perform this year.

Coverage of the event was delegated to second day editions or web pages. Worst of all, the jazz artists and the “unfamiliar” artist was hardly given any space at all.

In contrast, Stockholm’s media gave next day coverage of the rock and pop festivals in Börlange and Sölvesborg with pages of reviews of the artist performances and pictures from the event.

And rather than showcase the wonderful assortment of acts, festival press coverage instead focused on many of the criticisms that have emerged about this venerated musical experience.

Admittedly, the Stockholm Jazz Festival may not be perfect.

For starters, there are those who argue that it doesn’t deserve to be called a “jazz” festival at all. But the reason for bringing in pop artists like Tower of Power or Mary J. Blige is spelled m-o-n-e-y.

Unfortunately, the festival’s finances have long been on the precipice of insolvency.

According to the Festival Manager, Bo Persson, other Nordic festivals get six times as much government contribution as the Stockholm Jazz Festival receives from its supporting sources.

As a result, it’s the big name pop acts that bring an important boost to the festival’s balance sheet.

Some like to complain that the acts brought to Stockholm are not the best musical talents available.

But if artists like Patti Smith and Van Morrison are not on someone’s “A” list, you have to wonder who are?

Others point to festivals in places like Copenhagen and Rotterdam as having higher quality and larger attendance.

You certainly can say that in comparison, the Stockholm Jazz Festival is not as big as some other European festivals.

But isn’t that part of the attraction?

Stockholm music fans get to see their favorite artists relatively up close and not as part of a throng like at other musical festivals.

And for those of us used to attending music festivals in out of the way, muddy fields, the ability to see these name attractions in the intimate and panoramic setting of Stockholm’s Djurgården is quite a treat.

Opinions about the Festival are like noses. Everyone has one.

But more than 25,000 music fans didn’t show up this year to debate whether or not the festival should be labeled jazz or pop.

Nor were they there to complain about who wasn’t playing; they were there to enjoy who was.

Of course, some media attention to the problems of the event is valid. And stories about finances and debates on artistic direction are informative to the city’s music fans.

But once the show opens its gates and the music begins, the time for complaining is over and attention should then turn to the joys of experiencing one of Stockholm’s major cultural events.

There is plenty of time to write about what is wrong or what went wrong after the shows.

After all, it is the shows themselves that are the real story, year after year. They allow music fans to experience live performances by global super stars as well as emerging local stars in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.

And isn’t that what Stockholm summers should be about?

Gene Oberto is an American-born writer living in Stockholm. He is the author of The Swedish Golf Experience.


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