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Saalfelden Jazz Festival

International Jazzfestival Saalfelden Town Square

Imposing mountain ridges, crystal clear air and jazz – an irresistibl...

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Always held on the last weekend of August every year now, the 16,000 who arrive in Saalfelden turn it into the hub of the jazz world for four days. For more than 36 years, the festival is a fixture in the European music calendar, especially since the term “jazz” has been very freely interpreted here from the year dot. 
It sees itself as a platform for the experimental, for the new and the unusual. The programme here strives to be on the cutting edge, to always show new trends and thereby display the complexity of jazz and its many styles.

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Music and Culture

The holiday region of Saalfelden Leogang with its annual Jazz Festival is a musical and cultural meeting place. It deliberately creates spaces for communication - be it in the form of discussions, exchange of ideas, intent listening or reflection.

A Mecca of the international jazz scene – A history of the festival

JAZZ FANS FROM AROUND THE WORLD make the pilgrimage here every year. The “International Jazz Festival Saalfelden” has in fact been the cultural embodiment of the region for over 30 years - and has paved the way for art and culture from very different directions.

Democracy of Jazz.

As strange as it may seem, you see people in Lederhosen bopping to beat of Fatima Spars Balkan Jazz in the Saalfelden Rathausplatz. It’s also fantastic to see a sprightly septuagenarian suddenly get the blood pumping to the rhythm of the Vienna Tschuschenkapelle. Awesome when five children jump up to do a Ringelreih dance, inspired by klezmer music-inspired performances of Daniel Kahn. “More harmonious” are the combinations in the main stage. Because the lanky guy with the kippa on his head can be clearly recognized as a jazz fan of the first rank. Although countless numbers of people from the jazz scene bustle about during the “Jazz Festival Season”-- musicians, agents, journalist, label owners--there's still something like a “Democracy of Jazz” in the air that prevails. Free concerts in the Rathausplatz, “short-cuts” in the Kunsthaus Nexus, concerts in the fields and farms, and live-recordings of the headliners in the tent in front of the Congress, make it a festival for everyone. So many, who once struggled with prejudices and fears, in Saalfelden have found themselves “addicted” to jazz music and jazz as a lifestyle.


“In Saalfelden, anyone who was anyone in the scene was there”, says Michaela Mayer, who holds the directorship of the festival together with Mario Steidl. Jazz gods like Elvin Jones, Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill has already put the “instruments in our hands”. And yet, they have managed to make sure that the festival never turned into a parade of well-known names. International genre connoisseurs still refer to the event as “slow food” for jazz – a “delicacy”. The International Jazz Festival Saalfelden was and is a niche festival. Says Mario Steidl: “Stars don't get the stage here just because they're stars, who haven't really had anything new to say for years.”


Jazz in Saalfelden isn’t just some musical style, but an attitude. “It's also about how you deal with music. Jazz means taking pleasure in risk and trying new things. This musical genre stands for freedom and limitlessness, for breaking the rules. Therefore classic free jazz belongs to this style of music just as much as a laptop improvisation. What we want is to bring music to the stage that seeks out new ways, that never stands still – it's all about the joy of experimenting. We don’t put any commercial projects on the stage”. The co-directors don’t make things easy for themselves. An avalanche of CDs by the hundreds rolls into the Kunsthaus Nexus over the year – since they run that together too. They conscientiously listen to them all. “This is how we make a targeted search for specific projects. That’s why brilliant premieres take place here time and time again. This is of course a risk and can go wrong - but that's part of it”, says Steidl.


By the end of a jazz festival the preparations for the next year are already underway. Some projects that absolutely have to staged, form the “cornerstone” around which the rest of the programme is thereafter built. After that it gets more difficult. Mayer says: “We work very hard with stage designer, and therefore the projects must be mutually compatible. We sit for days and nights in front of the PC and looking on the Internet, visiting other festivals –as long as it takes until we strike it lucky”. 

SPECIAL EVENTS: “ALMKONZERTE”[Mountain Pasture Concerts]

In 2006 the Jazz Festival moved from the outskirts to the centre of Saalfelden. In doing so, a few new innovation and several special events were created. These include, for example, the Almkonzerte. These “musical treats”, which will be played in unusual locations such as pastures or farms, provide a counterpoint to the new location in the city and reflect the beautiful natural scenery of the region. Since 2008, there's even a courtyard party within the Jazz Festival. There, the local railwaymen band play alongside jazz groups. Local farmers prepare delicious delicacies from the region and hardcore jazz fans tear into them for breakfast.


Not only has the Jazz Festival help put prejudices of individuals to rest, but also has instilled a fundamental mindset in the region. The construction of the Kunsthaus Nexus would not have been possible were it not for an openness to the constantly new and unknown. Who would have ever expected to see such “twelve-pointer stags” of the visual arts scene such Arik Brauer or the trendy object artist Erwin Wurm in Innergebirg? They - and many other big names have since exhibited in the White Cube of the Nexus. What else such a “democracy of jazz” brings with it, is to be experienced in the museums, exhibitions and in many events in and around Saalfelden Leogang...

Musical boundary-breaking - the beginnings of the Jazz Festival

Anyone who think’s jazz can only be authentically presented in an extremely extroverted artist’s quarter in a major American city is dead wrong.

Free spirits, lovers of colourful diversity who break boundaries and give the ordinary the cold shoulder can be found everywhere in this world. In Saalfelden a selection of joyfully experimenting musicians meets up annually who bristle at the mainstream. They dare to explore the new at a high artistic level and place a marked accent on individuality. For the 36th time, the Pinzgauer town becomes the metropolis of the jazz scene from 27 to 30 August 2015 and shows its pride and place on the map. 

What makes the Jazzfestival Saalfelden special is that you hear things that you won’t hear anywhere else. The stage encourages experimentation and pure jazz is played. No pop, no rock, no mishmash - pure jazz in its myriad variations, new numbers and interpretations. Since 2006, Director Mario Steidl has held the reins of the artistic direction together with Michaela Mayer. They look entirely to the unusual, new and sophisticated and at the same time strike a balance for the geographical location of the place. The approximately 15,000 visitors listen to the sounds not only on the main stage at the Congress, at the coveted Shortcuts in the Kunsthaus Nexus and free Citystage at the Rathausplatz open to all – No. There's also music at four different open-air pastures. The unmistakable hype that has formed in the last three decades has since enthralled guests from all over Europe.

No fame game

Selected musicians are not chosen for their reputation, but according to their “special delicacy”. For example, each year gets an Austrian musician is commissioned to present a whole new, unprecedented project on the first day on the main stage at the Congress. But all the other concerts pick up the note of the new and the boundless and surprise the most demanding audiences with new interpretations.

The unknown makes history

Like everything, the Saalfelden Jazz Festival too had a small but enthusiastic beginning. Locals, young individualists, were tired of constantly having to travel long distances be able to listen to good live jazz. So in 1975 they decided to bring the hitherto almost unknown to Saalfelden. The first concert took place in the Galerie Simmerl as well as in the HTL. This eventually developed into the first Jazz Festival, held on the Kreuzhof and called by insiders the “Ranch”, from 19 to 21 May 1978 under the name “3 Tage Jazz”[3 Days of Jazz]. A dozen young people were busily working flat out to transform the farmstead into festival grounds. The most effective advertising media back then - word of mouth – bore fruit: Nearly 800 paying guests from every corner of the country enjoyed themselves over the three days of concerts of the first Jazz Festival in Saalfelden. Only the numbers were sobering: a loss of 60,000 Austrian schillings. To recoup this deficit and to ensure a continuation of the festival, the stables at the Kreuzhof were converted in the same year into jazz club with a high-quality sound system. From that time on concerts in the Saalfeldener “Jazz Stables” were regularly held and the “new music” began to take root.

Crazy contemporaries

Good contacts to the American jazz scene were made and thus well-known musicians repeatedly came from the U.S. to Saalfelden to play with the “Loonies in the Boonies”. They appreciated the local appearances, not least of which because the audience was so quiet and respectful. People listened to the music intently. In the jazz clubs in New York there was a lot of loud talking and laughing during concerts. Not least of all, by drawing renowned musicians, Saalfelden established itself in the jazz scene and that in turn attracted many new guests. The locals were not unanimously enthusiastic about it back then. But then again the sceptics among them found a way to finally “appreciate” their initially unbeloved “long-haired guests”, not least of which owing to the increased sales and lodging figures.

Jazz Mecca of the Alps

The organizers were constantly striving to place high demands on the artistic quality of the programme. And this is precisely the common thread that runs through to today and allowed Saalfelden to grow into jazz Mecca of the Alps. Since 2006, the director-duo of Mario Steidl and Michaela Mayer has taken over the festival’s artistic management, and the Tourism Association of Saalfelden Leogang, its organisational management. Together they now work more effectively, thereby taking the Jazz Festival to an even higher level every year.