If you’re into going out and checking out jazz music, or if you’re looking for a venue to play as a solo artist or with your band, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Berlin. The spectrum ranges from more traditional jazz clubs to experimental jazz bars and exciting festivals. In essence, the Berlin jazz scene is wild, colourful and lively!
Chad Matheny, the Module Leader for Personal and Business Development and Live Sound at BIMM Berlin, is also a highly regarded musician who has recorded dozens of albums and EPs; many with his music project Emperor X. He’s part of the Berlin jazz scene because he runs Donau115 – a great jazz venue in the Neukölln district of the city. Just recently the venue received a Category 1 prize from the German Ministry of Culture for a culturally outstanding programme, which included a financial prize of €40,000 for artist development. And the best thing is that it’s all going directly back into the venue and the jazz community. After this good news, we caught up with Chad to ask him all about jazz in Berlin… and his favourite venues too.
Chad, what connects you personally with jazz?
Berlin. Where I’m from, cool young people are into harsh noise and aggressive rock music and hip hop. But in Berlin, the same avant-garde milieu, socioeconomically, instead of being into punk and noise, is into oddball jazz. When I first moved here this really threw me for a loop. I’d always had respect for jazz greats, but I assumed it was a musical era that belonged in the past. I was wrong: jazz is a living thing in Berlin. A venue, like a label or any other curatorial device in a social ecology, must respond to its conditions, and in Berlin, jazz is the music that’s around to foster… so we foster it.
What do you like most about the jazz scene in Berlin?
It’s wilfully, insistently hybrid. There are plenty of jazz acts that orbit around a traditional style, and many of them are great. But for every one of those there are five or six other acts that mutate jazz, or use it as alien DNA to mutate other projects. Jazz-pop, jazz-rock, jazz-ambient, jazz-chanson, jazz-electro and so on… in Berlin you can just use ‘jazz’ as a stand-in word for ‘music’ and it makes sense. I think the jazz ethos that took hold here is not nostalgia, as one might find in jazz scenes elsewhere, but rather openness and future-directed orientation. In Berlin, at least, jazz is a part of the future, not the past. I refer to the trumpet/contact mic/modular synth project I saw a few years ago at Donau115 as only one of countless examples of this glorious cross-pollination.
What are your favourite places in Berlin to experience really good jazz?
Well known clubs such as b-flat and A-Trane are great and highly respected. But Neukölln has become a new home for contemporary jazz in recent years. So, here are a few:
Donau115 – My home
My time at Donau115 has changed my trajectory, both as a listener and an artist. It’s an incredible place for jazz-enthusiasts and music fans. This relaxed jazz bar offers you every style of contemporary jazz music – from electronic to soul to neo-classic. Audiences pay between €5-10 donation into a can that’s passed around during the concert, and all of that money goes directly to the musicians.
Location: Donaustraße 115, U7 Rathaus Neukölln
Peppi Guggenheim puts on great shows!
The Peppi Guggenheim experience is a cosy and relaxed atmosphere; a lively concert programme with a focus on jazz, and with particularly favourable drinks! When DJs play on Saturday, the tables are often pushed aside and everyone begins to dance.
Location: Weichselstraße 7, U7 Rathaus Neukölln
Sowieso is legendary
What seems to be a hidden place, emerges as an exceptionally good jazz venue with a very fine live programme! It feels like a private sitting room; an intimate spot. Besides the jazz music, you’ll find theatrical performances too. Go over and let yourself be surprised!
Location: Weisestraße 24, U8 Leinestraße
Loophole – a hiding place for the night
What would the neighborhood of Neukölln be without the Loophole? The event space showcases diverse forms of experimental music, including jazz, film screenings and arts. Stop by and experience one of their occasional jazz evenings!
Location: Boddinstraße 60, U7 Rathaus Neukölln
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