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Belgrade Jazz Festival

Dom Sindikata, Kolarac, Dom Omladine Beograda; Belgrade, Serbia; Oct. 29-Nov. 1, 2009

Gutbucket's Ken Thomson at Belgrade 2009 (Photo: Dragan Tasic)
Joe Lovano & Gary Smulyan at Belgrade 2009 (Photo: Dragan Tasic)
Anat Cohen Quartet at Belgrade 2009. From left: Jason Lindner, Cohen, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (Photo: Dragan Tasic)
Terence Blanchard Quintet at Belgrade 2009. From left: Michael Olatuja, Brice Winston, Blanchard, Kendrick Scott; Fabian Almazan not pictured (Photo: Dragan Tasic)

That there is such a thing as a Belgrade Jazz Festival will come as a surprise to many American jazz fans. The last time most Americans thought about Belgrade was when we were bombing it, or more precisely, when NATO was bombing it, in 1999. There has been a decade of 24-hour news cycles since the wars in the former Yugoslavia, with their mind-numbing succession of horrors, dominated the CNN broadcast day. But the Belgrade Jazz Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009, with major players from the NATO countries, most prominently the United States. When Joe Lovano took the microphone on the third night and looked out at the 850 Serbs crammed into Kolarac, he exclaimed, “Belgrade. Wow. Belgrade!” It was as if he could not quite believe where he was. (Kolarac, an acoustically exquisite concert space, has been called “the Carnegie Hall of the Balkans.”)

Duke, Dizzy, Miles, Ornette, Thelonious, Cannonball, Dexter, Sarah and Carmen have played the Belgrade festival. More recently, Dave Holland, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, Bobo Stenson and the Bad Plus have appeared. But it took the festival 38 years to achieve a 25th anniversary. War and its aftermath caused a hiatus between 1991 and 2004.

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