June 14, 2024


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Joe Viera – often called “The Jazz Professor”: Video, Photos

His name has been behind the program of the Burghausen International Jazz Week since 1970. But Joe Viera, who was born in Munich and likes to be called “The Jazz Professor”, is much more than that: musician, teacher, author. On September 4th, the passionate jazz pioneer will be 90 years old.

A man who always smiles happily with a preference for checked jackets and astute, quietly formulated thoughts: this is how the audience at the Burghausen International Jazz Week knows him from his stage announcements. They are cult.

With a light voice, an unmistakable Upper Bavarian accent and a completely pathos-free intonation, he has already introduced half the jazz world to the audience in the small town on the Salzach: from Aki Takase to Stéphane Grappelli, from Ella Fitzgerald to Jan Garbarek. Two or three short sentences about the musicians – and then a bon mot. Like at the concert of the singer Cassandra Wilson, who was as excellent as she was difficult, in 2013. He told the audience and the press photographers in the hall that she was not allowed to be photographed – and then added: “But I’m allowed to be photographed”. A man who knows ways out.


Joe Viera, born on September 4th, 1932 in Munich, is a jazz musician, arranger, composer, author, lecturer and, every year at certain times, chooses to live in Burghauser. This year, for the 51st time, the International Jazz Week took place in Burghausen an der Salzach, a town with 19,000 inhabitants which borders directly on Austria. It has long been Bavaria’s most traditional and well-known jazz festival. Viera has been responsible for the program there since 1970.


Joe Viera on the microphone | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.
A bronze plaque was laid in the so-called “Street of Fame” in Burghausen’s old town in honor of Joe Viera. | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

Only in 2022, after a two-year Corona break, was Joe Viera absent from the festival in Burghausen: for the first time in the history of the event. A strong “tension in the neck and shoulder area”, Viera told BR-Klassik, made it impossible for him to travel. The audience and the fans had to do without the enjoyment of his unmistakable stage announcements. In a different way, Viera played a special role at this festival. A bronze plate was laid in his honor in the so-called “Street of Fame” in the old town and ceremoniously inaugurated. Your place is right in front of the so-called Mautner Castle, a historic building that is home to the Burghausen Jazz Club. It is right next to the first of the dozens of records that have now been published: the first, that was for the great singer Ella Fitzgerald. To be immortalized in this neighborhood is a special tribute.


Festival programmers from 1970 to 2022: That’s an impressive span of time. Other festival organizers last between 30 and 40 years if they stay on the ball for a long time. For example, the program designer of the Nuremberg festival “Jazz Ost-West”, Walter Schätzlein, was 38 years old, but his festival only took place every two years. Burkhard Hennen from the New Jazz Festival in Moers on the Lower Rhine was 34 years old. Claude Nobs in Montreux to 46 years, from 1967 until a skiing accident in 2012, from which he died. Still, George Wein, impresario of the Newport Jazz Festival, reached what Joe Viera is aiming for next year at the helm of his festival for 52 years, albeit with an intermission at a crisis point in the 1960s. But there was also an interruption for Joe Viera due to the corona virus, just much later. So in 2023 he will share the world record as permanent festival director with George Wein. But he’s not in bad company on that podium.


The record of more than half a century as a festival organizer came about even though Joe Viera swore to himself during his very first stay in Burghausen: “Never again Burghausen!” Before the festival existed, in autumn 1969, Joe Viera traveled through Europe with short music films and gave introductory lectures – one of them in Burghausen an der Salzach, at the invitation of Helmut Viertl, who had founded a jazz club there. During the lecture, which was unfortunately not very well attended – rumor has it there were seven visitors – the projector went on strike and Viera sat deserted in a corner. The next day another disaster: Viera was held in the hotel because he did not pay for the night. This bill was actually supposed to be taken over by the Volksbildungswerk at the time, but the landlord insisted on the direct solution: whoever stayed overnight also pays. “My aversion to Burghausen began to increase immeasurably,” Viera later said. But then jazz club founder Helmut Viertl, full-time bailiff and experienced in dealing with defaulters, paid the hotel bill, took Viera to the train station and mentioned that he would like to start something bigger with jazz in Burghausen. The two talked so hard that Joe Viera – according to his own description – had several trains depart before he finally got on one. From the carriage, he waved out of the window as it departed and said: “I’ll do it.” This is how the Burghausen International Jazz Week was born.

Joe Viera am Mikrophon | Bildquelle: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.


Burghausen’s mayor Hans Steindl, jazz legend Klaus Doldinger and festival director Joe Viera | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

Burghausen’s longtime mayor Hans Steindl, jazz legend Klaus Doldinger and festival director Joe Viera | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

In the meantime, so many world jazz stars have performed there that a list would go beyond any scope. But here are a few: Ernestine Anderson, Dianne Reeves, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, John McLaughlin, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, Abdullah Ibrahim, Esbjörn Svensson, Marcus Miller – and many others more. Not to be forgotten: the singer-songwriter and entertainer Jamie Cullum, who is strongly inspired by jazz and has already been celebrated twice in Burghausen: in 2014 and at the anniversary edition in 2019, as a star guest at the 50th International Jazz Week. Nina Hagen also sang a jazz concert there. And Paul Kuhn gave a celebrated concert with his big band. A good patch for world greats of all different forms of jazz. And they’re so different because artistic director Joe Viera is interested in so many different kinds of jazz and blues.


The way in which the head of programming presents the music of his heart is legendary. A particularly nice story: April 18, 2002. The concert was apparently not sold out, because there was still plenty of space in the front rows. So at the announcement, Joe Viera asked the audience to come forward. But not just with such a simple sentence. The text of this announcement was as follows: “Dear viewers, with every meter that you approach the stage, the atmospheric impression of the music increases squared. This is based on the formula A index m is equal to alpha multiplied by r to the power of 2. Where is A index m is the atmosphere related to the music, alpha is the fest coefficient, and r is the distance from you to the musicians. I just made that up, but I think it’s true.” Only Joe Viera speaks that way.


He studied physics in Munich until he graduated, but then quickly realized that he would rather be a musician. He says he never practiced the profession of physicist. And: “I learned how to think from physics and how to feel from music.” Joe Viera’s first enthusiasm for jazz came up during his childhood in the Nazi era. Very early on he was more interested than other music in shellac discs with dance music, which contained at least trace elements of jazz (which of course he didn’t know at the time).


Later, when he was eleven or twelve, he listened to various banned stations with the help of a home-made antenna – something that a technically interested boy could build because there was a book about radio technology in the house. In 1944, for example, it was Radio Bari from southern Italy, where American troops had already arrived. This station played the music of swing big bands. He had already learned instruments before that, at age 7 recorder, at age 9 piano – but classically. The first jazz pieces he heard fascinated him because rhythmically very unusual things happened there. He also says: He used this music as “food” at the time. During the war years he always lived in Munich. He witnessed 72 bomb attacks. And the music that came from the land of these so-called “enemies” helped him get through those years.


It took a while for Joe Viera to play jazz himself. He experienced his first real jazz concert in 1952 in the Krone Circus, on the day of his last high school diploma. His first saxophone was a soprano saxophone. A Munich friend had bought one, but couldn’t do anything with it and offered it to Joe Viera. He then somehow scraped together the money for it – 70 marks at a time when half a beer in Munich still cost 50 pfennigs – and immediately founded a band with this friend who could play the guitar.


In the course of his musical life, which now spans more than six decades, Joe Viera played a wide variety of tones. Dixieland with the Hot Dogs from 1955 to 1957, then also old-time jazz with the Riverboat Seven, then also free jazz in the 1960s, including a man on bass who would later found one of the most well-known music labels in the world: Manfred Eicher – the mind behind the label ECM, founded in 1969. A few years later Joe Viera had that quartet with Ed Kroeger, and later still a sextet that played a sizzlingly contemporary 1970s mix.

Burghausens Bürgermeister Hans Steindl, Jazzlegende Klaus Doldinger und Festivalchef Joe Viera | Bildquelle: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.


Full concentration: Joe Viera listens to a band at the finale of the European Burghausen Young Jazz Prize. | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

Full concentration: Joe Viera listens to a band at the finale of the European Burghausen Young Jazz Prize. | Image source: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

Around 10,800 visitors have come to the Burghausen Jubilee Jazz Week 2019 – a record. Cautiously estimated, 52 jazz weeks together, a quarter of a million should definitely have been reached. In addition, the Burghauser jazz courses, which Joe Viera founded in 1972 and still organizes today, have had more than 13,000 participants in the past five decades. Musicians such as the two guitarists Helmut Nieberle and Helmut Kagerer, the bassists Thomas Stabenow, Dieter Ilg and Andreas Kurz, the saxophonists Roman Schwaller and Peter Weniger, the current young German talents Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr went through these courses – or the trumpeter and today’s professor for jazz at the University of Music and Theater in Munich, Claus Reichstaller – but then still as a guitarist.


Joe Viera has scattered little jazz seeds far beyond Burghausen and Munich. He taught at the university in Duisburg and Hanover and still does so in Munich. He has introduced a number of students to the art of playing big bands. He wrote his textbooks. He was sent to Africa by the Goethe-Institut in 1978 and to China in 2000. He was on the board of the Union of German Jazz Musicians for almost 40 years. He still throws himself into the breach for young jazz musicians, not least as chairman of the jury for the Burghausen European Young Jazz Prize. Just as he learned to feel from music and to think from physics – many people in Bavaria learned to listen from Joe Viera, the jazz professor with the characteristic jacket. Congratulations on this great effect – and of course on your 90th birthday!

Volle Konzentration: Joe Viera lauscht einer Band beim Finale des Europäischen Burghauser Nachwuchs Jazzpreises. | Bildquelle: IG-Jazz Burghausen e.V.

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