Sunday, July 10, 2011


Old Town Square
July 12 & 13

A great player and gifted concert organizer.

Rudy Linka is a magician. He’s better-known as a jazz guitarist who has carved out an impressive international career since he fled communist-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1980, relocating first to Sweden and then settling in the United States. But what he’s been able to accomplish in his homeland over the past seven years would make even Houdini jealous.

Starting in 2005, Linka turned town squares throughout the Czech Republic into concert sites featuring some of the biggest names in jazz, like John Scofield, Stanley Clarke, Bill Frisell, Ralph Towner, Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Redman and Roy Haynes. The idea was to combine the best of two worlds – the visual splendor of historic Central European with modern jazz – and make it available to the public for free. Now an annual event, Bohemia Jazz Fest has become one of Europe’s largest summer music festivals, attracting more than 70,000 people in seven cities last year.

This year’s festival, which starts in Prague on Tuesday night, is another winner. The opening-night headliner is McCoy Tyner, whose distinctive piano style was an integral part of the seminal John Coltrane Quartet in the 1960s. Subsequent shows on the tour feature John Scofield and other marquee names like Danilo Pérez, Tom Harrell and Trilok Gurtu. Linka was also able to tap a Norwegian cultural promotion campaign for an impressive slate of Scandinavian performers that includes singers Inger Marie Gundersen and Cæcilie Norby, guitarist Terje Rypdal and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.

As anyone who has tried to accomplish anything in the Czech Republic knows, staging an event of this magnitude is akin to parting the Red Sea. Beyond the basic logistics of organizing concerts, there is the daunting task of finding and holding sponsors, a real feat of legerdemain in the current financial climate. And the A-list of performers that play at BJF would almost certainly not be appearing in cities like Tábor and České Budějovice were it not for the personal relationship they have with Linka.

Then there are all the special favors. It’s no secret that most business in this country is conducted with bribes and payoffs. Linka has too much integrity to buy into that system, and too much class to talk about it. But there are a lot of hands out, and negotiating that gantlet without compromising while keeping everybody happy requires considerable skill, even for a native Czech speaker. That Linka handles it all with good cheer and unruffled aplomb is even more remarkable.

The real McCoy.
Ultimately, it’s all about the music, and Prague is definitely getting the lion’s share of great sounds this year. The opening band on Tuesday is the Ondřej Štveráček Quartet, whose 2010 release What’s Outside has been nominated for Best Jazz Album of the Year in the Czech Republic. They will be followed by Cæcilie Norby, a sultry Danish singer who is bringing an outstanding band that includes pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, a headliner in his own right. And McCoy Tyner is one of the few people in the business who can legitimately and accurately be called a legend.

Great Gundersen.
Norwegian Ambassador Jens Eikaas will be on hand Wednesday night to introduce two sterling examples of the progressive music that comes out of Norway: Jazz diva Inger Marie Gundersen, whose sensitive style invokes comparisons to Joni Mitchell, and guitarist Terje Rypdal, who blends jazz, rock and classical influences to create a uniquely European sound. Rypdal and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg will be backed by the 17-piece Bergen Big Band.

And none of it will cost you more than the price of the beer you drink.

For more on Bohemia Jazz Fest and the entire seven-city schedule:

For more on the performers:
Inger Marie Gundersen:

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