ALEXANDER BEETS Building a World Jazz ecosystem Interview by Adam Simmons For some, jazz is considered a niche genre, with a diminishing presence in mainstream media, as evidenced in the 2020 Nielson Music MRC US Music Report which shows jazz has only 1.1% share of the total volume of US music consumption. But for Alexander Beets, that 1.1% is a literally a world of potential. In the small, picturesque Dutch town of Amersfoort, Alexander directs an annual festival that attracts over 80,000 people to see jazz music, featuring artists from all over the world. During the COVID pandemic, instead of cancelling the World Jazz Conference, it actually expanded to a global platform for the first time, with the opening address given by Wynton Marsalis. A full-bodied saxophonist steeped in the great Texas Tenor tradition of “Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Ike Quebec, Houston Pearson, the big sounds and the blues kind of improvisational approach,” Alexander has actually based his success on three pillars - artist, entrepreneur and educator: • Alexander tours the world, performing with a range of high-quality international artists. • Via Jazz NL Foundation, he is engaging in projects that connect artists from across the globe • As an educator, he is at Fontys Rock Academy, teaching the next generation of artists and managers. [this section could even be in a “pull-out” box as a quote/story from me?] I first encountered Alexander Beets on my first foray to Jazzahead, Europe’s key jazz industry event. This was April 2017, when I was only a few weeks into my tenure at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. As a festival director, I was inundated by everyone trying to sell me something, but Alexander, a typically tall, ebullient Dutchman, was different. He had something to offer – an invitation for us to present our National Jazz Award winning artists at Amersfoort Jazz Festival in paid performances to a select group of international jazz festival directors. A month later I was back in Europe, visiting the festival as a guest and discovered there was something of a kindred spirit in Alexander as well as a wealth of knowledge and insight. Subsequent visits to accompany NJA winners, James Macaulay and Alex Hirlian (with ARCING WIRES), have cemented a firm connection. The following interview is based on a Zoom conversation we had in February this year. Alexander Beets, you are an entrepreneur, a festival director and a deep thinker, but It seems to me that being a musician is at the core of what drives you. What is it that inspired you to play music and jazz in particular, and how do you feel that has informed your more entrepreneurial activities? Actually, I think I was infected with the jazz virus at a very early age before I could even say no. The second part, I think, which is important is that my parents thought that music education was an important part of the development of children. We all had to choose two instruments per person and each instrument has to play six days a week for half an hour. When other people were doing football or I don't know what, we were just practicing and I-- because I was asthmatic, I choose the clarinet and we all had to start with piano. First, we got lessons from my mother. The question is, “did I like that?” Well, that's not the question you ask when you're six. I was raised with [my brothers] Peter on piano, and Marius from guitar going to double bass. We got in a band and my mother did all the calling for the concerts, my father did the bookkeeping, and I did the payments and all the promotion… Let's just say I have this capacity where, for me, it's quite easy to organize and get things done. All of your activities that I know of are jazz related, yet you are teaching music business at the Rock Academy – how do the two genres compare? It [rock music] is totally a different ballgame because it's a high-volume market. Pop music is much more nationally oriented, whereas if you go to niche markets, automatically the world is your playing field. It's interesting. I understood both worlds. I understood how you can build careers in pop music and at the same time also be able to be successful in one of the less-appreciated (sic) music streams worldwide. You know, 1.1% - but 1.1% of the world population still is an awful lot of people. I think that there is a much wider audience to be found if you would, let's say, show the variety of possibilities in jazz. For me, it's almost like we have a tribal conflict between the high improv, the hard bopper, the bebopper, the Latin jazz. Jesus Christ - we are one family. The core of this music is improvisation. If we say jazz is an improvisational music and if you think it's jazz, then it's okay. By doing that very consequently, we get everyone there.” There is a beautiful generosity about Amersfoort Jazz Festival (AJF), not only because all of the performances are free but also with its support and hospitality for young talent via the SENA Performers International Jazz Laureate Festival and for the World Jazz Conference participants. Well, I asked myself: “Okay. What if I would make the Burning Man experience for any talent worldwide?" So, you come to a place and there's a nice audience. There's nice payments. There's good hospitality. There are jam sessions. Actually, you can sit next to a festival director, not having a speed date for 10 minutes, but just ask him to come to your concert and he can come, too, and say, "Whoa. I saw you last evening," and just take it from there. I think that will be incredible. I would really like to play at that place, and I think that's one of the biggest motivations to create it. I always have a big fight with my boards. They say, "Alex, you never talk about the audience." I said, "Quite frankly, they're irrelevant. As long as they're there. This is a musician's paradise. This is the place where we also honor [the jazz tradition]." At AJF, you and fellow artistic director, Matti Austen, present a program termed as “World Jazz” – what does this mean and where did it originate? We invented the theme ourselves. He [Matti] presented world music at my jazz festival. I said, "Matti, can you explain to me why you are working with the same musicians as I'm working?" He couldn't, so I said, "Matti, can I ask you, would you consider accepting my definition where jazz music is an improvisational music. It's made all over the world, so it sounds and smells a little bit different, and we just call it world jazz? Finally, we are done with any discussion about jazz and world music or anything. It's just world jazz. And now accompanying AMF is the conference gathering of the World Jazz Network (WJN). What was its purpose when it first began? How does one get involved? Good question. We noticed as JazzNL that all over the world competitions are organized, and we noticed that all over the world, actually, the winner of the competition doesn't really get an international stage to present themselves. That's still the basic [issue]. We found, I think, a very practical solution to give someone an international stage by doing two things. One, getting into AJF and at the same time, creating a network for them of festival directors, or at least the clubs, people who can supply and demand this kind of thing, who at that same time can notice the artist and their performance. If you enter into the WJN, you accept the idea that if we collaborate on trust and reciprocity, we all benefit. The second part is that you also have an obligation as a partner of the WJN to see if you can present [one of the Jazz Laureates] because they are exceptional talents anywhere. At the same time, also have an obligation to help in order to see if we can get international mobility. The network is just a form of connecting and getting access so whenever I need access now, or an artist does, et cetera, I'll connect you with Adam and he can take care of the questions you're having now. Alexander is someone who is constantly asking: “What next?” Indeed, as he shared, his brother Marius suggests, “Put Alexander in a room for two hours with 100 people he doesn't know and after two hours, he found a project where everyone wants to contribute and has this common feeling.” Having spent ten minutes with him at the Sounds Australia stand at Jazzahead in 2017 myself, which has resulted in return visits, Pull quote suggestions We say jazz is an improvisational music and if you think it's jazz, then it's okay. By doing that very consequently, we get everyone there.” The question is, “did I like that?” Well, that's not the question you ask when you're six. You know, 1.1% - but 1.1% of the world population still is an awful lot of people.