To present the INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL IN BANSKO, we have chosen the form of a music piece in this genre. Therefore we start with
It is said that if love is to blossom between two people, they must have some features in common. But there is another view as well – love comes suddenly and then the two persons begin to discover the traits that link them. And nothing can stop them in this.
That’s how Bansko and the International Jazz Festival met in 1998. Since then, always in the beginning of August, musicians from all over the world come here to speak in the most universal of languages - the language of magic sounds. To understand that Bansko has its magic and to fall in love with it forever.
Now that is has been proven that this love is mutual, the host town and jazz are establishing amazing similarities between them. Legends have long since settled gods on the peaks of the majestic Pirin Mountain above Bansko. People’s eternal striving to merge with the divine draws them there. Is jazz not also such a journey in which you discover the divine in you?
This analogy is inevitable amid the magnificent surrounding nature. All of the guests and participants share the desire to fully soak up the atmosphere that surrounds them. Many of the musicians admit that they feel unexpected creative energy here. If in the Rhoodpe Mountains, Orpheus and Dionysus as different symbols of gaiety are opposed to each other, here at the foot of the Pirin Mountain they are wisely reconciled.
According to the founder and organiser of the festival, Dr. Emil Iliev, it all began in the early 1990s at Wangel’s hotel, situated in the Betolovoto locality, 14 km from Bansko, which he had rented as a resort clinic for the summer. But actually it all started with the care for his patients. He knows how important spiritual comfort is during treatment and tried to provide it for the patients who had put their trust in him. How? With what he had discovered already as a child. Through the influence of music.
He started with concerts. He invited well-known jazzmen like instrumentalists Lyudmil Georgiev, Vili Kazasyan, Pepi Slavov Sr., Rumen Toskov-Rupeto, Mitko Shanov and Krum Kalachev, as well as singers Camellia Todorova and Vassil Petrov, and organised evenings of swing and Dixie jazz barbeques at noon the next day. He did not forget other tastes either. For lovers of classical music he invited pianist Yovcho Krushev, who dedicated evenings to Chopin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Mozart, among others. Opera and operetta artists gave guest performances. He introduced his foreign patients to local folklore: the Bansko male two-voices singing takes the listener into another dimension. Together they visited monasteries, churches and historic landmarks.
Dr. Iliev is a dermatologist and acupuncture specialist. The effect of his therapy, combined with these cultural events is good, as expected. This called forth interest outside the circle of his patients. That’s when he got the idea of turning these occasional musical events into a major jazz festival. He met with the mayor of Bansko and his first words were: “Instead of doing it for fifty people...” That’s how Dr. Iliev convinced the then mayor of Bansko that the town could host an international jazz festival. At least for a week. Jazz in Bansko? At a time when field work is at its height? At first sight impossible. Then.
Today this story brings a smile to our lips.
Bansko has changed its appearance in the last decades - hotels, ski runs, building sites. The jazz festival is doubtlessly one of the reasons to expand the main livelihood of the locals. According to the latest statistics a huge part of the town population is engaged in tourism and tourism-related activities. And during the days of the festival, thousands of music fans head for Bansko from different parts of the world.
“In the beginning the locals were startled by my proposal,” Dr. Iliev remembers. Let’s not forget that at that time the town had still not expanded and times were hard for the economy. Despite their enterprise, the locals found it difficult to imagine this type of undertaking at that time. In addition, jazz is considered a type of music that is difficult to understand even if the packed square in Bansko refutes this every year.
But the town residents are also known for their responsiveness. Already for the first festival in 1998 the Forestry enterprise donated timber to build the stage. Friends of the mayor and the doctor helped to put a roof on it. Many of the foreign participants were captivated by the pioneer spirit of the organisers. When the well-known boogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger saw 20 soldiers loading a new Bluthner piano from the community centre in Razlog to take to Bansko, he was moved to tears. He was touched by this concern for a good performance. Already the following year the organisers invited a representative of the Montreux festival, one of the big jazz forums in Europe. From him the organisers gained useful experience.
The intimate atmosphere of the narrow streets, the live restaurant music, the mouth-watering local culinary specialities attracted more and more foreign musicians willing to take part even for a modest fee. One of them is the great saxophone player Scot Hamilton. The well-known Mungo Jerry is in love with the town and always ready to return. Another musician – the brother of Nat King Cole, Freddy, was so enthusiastic that he jumped on a table in a tavern to dance. And he is “only” 76…
“Right now I am staging the festival with very modest funds,” Dr. Iliev admits, in keeping with the nationwide effort to cut back on spending.
Since 2002 First Investment Bank has been the general sponsor of the festival. In 2008 Bansko Municipality also began to support the festival financially, gradually becoming its main sponsor.
Any initiative proves its vitality with a view to the future. In the same way the jazz festival in Bansko is looking ahead to the future. Only to realise that the festival stage is becoming too small for the scale of this event. A multi-purpose theatre is needed to correspond to the overall development of the town in recent years. A separate stage for young music talents is also needed.
By now everybody agrees that the festival has established itself together with quality music and through the friendships it creates. The concentration of people does not deprive it of its intimacy. And this is one of the key features of jazz. In this music the individual discovers himself through communication. Something that takes place both on stage and among the audience.
Given this harmony, the jazz festival in Bansko continues its quests and its discoveries.