English saxophonist George Haslam and the Czech jazz quartet Freetime have been playing together, on and off, for the last few years. This weekend they are the main attraction at Prague's first Free Jazz Festival, which is taking place at several venues in the city. On the eve of the festival I spoke to George Haslam about Czech jazz audiences, venues - and artists.
How long have you been visiting the Czech Republic?
"I came here many, many years ago - oh, 25 years ago, on holiday. But more recently I've been coming about four years."
You've travelled a lot in your career - how do you find Czech audiences compare with those in other countries?
"There's quite a big element of young people in Czech audiences, I've noticed. Which is great, to have that interest in the younger people. The other thing I've found is, travelling around the country, getting good audiences in other cities outside Prague. In some places there is a concentration in the capital or big cities. But I've been to many towns and cities across the Czech Republic and always found a good strong audience, very enthusiastic audience."
Are Czech audiences more interested usually in more traditional jazz? I know you play improvised, free jazz.
"Yes, the music we play with this quartet is free, the improvising is free, there are free melodies and harmonies; but there's always a strong rhythm element, that's why we call it Freetime, because it's free music over the rhythmic time of it."
What about Czech jazz musicians? Do you know many, or have you been impressed by any Czech jazzers?
"I haven't heard as many as I would like to. Of course I'm very impressed by and very happy with the guys in the quartet - that's why we've stayed together as the same quartet over the years. The first Czech musician I heard was actually in Hungary, maybe 25 years ago: [flautist] Jiri Stivin. For many years he was the only Czech musician I'd heard. But there are some very good sax players as well, we have what we call the Freetime saxophone quartet. And they're all young musicians."
The Free Jazz Festival is taking place at Prague venues U stare pani, Rybanaruby, Malostranska Beseda and NoD over the next few days.
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