Estonian’s U.S. Visit Helped Create Baltic’s Biggest Jazzfest

Over the past 25 years, Jazzkaar in Tallinn, Estonia, has become the biggest jazz festival in the Baltic countries, attracting both famous artists and undiscovered talent. For 10 days each year, more than 3,000 performers from 60 countries perform in Tallinn and other Estonian cities.

Jazzkaar’s artistic director, Anne Erm, credits part of her success to her 1994 experience with the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which took her to jazz clubs and venues all over the United States and exposed her to new music and artists who were unknown at the time in Europe.

“This trip gave me a lot of inspiration,” she said. “I got an overview of jazz in America and how things are organized.” She said organizing Jazzkaar has been easier since her return, and the event continues to attract more funding and larger audiences.

Performers have included piano great Chick Corea, vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Cassandra Wilson, and bassist and vocalist Richard Bona.

Jazz in Tallinn today is much different from what it was in 1967, when Charles Lloyd became the first American to perform, Erm remembered.

“He came with a tourist visa and with the help of organizers from Finland and Moscow. And he waited three days playing basketball near his hotel awaiting permission to play. Finally, they got 20 minutes but they played 40, and from this concert the Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union LP was released.” Lloyd has since returned several times to play at Jazzkaar, Erm noted.

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