ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jazz – the music has a way of cutting straight through the soul.
It’s one of the few genres that doesn’t allow itself restrictions.
That freedom explains why Markus Gottschlich was attracted to the genre.
“Music has a way of communicating,” he says. “It can touch you and reach right to your emotions.”
Gottschlich began playing piano at age 5 in Vienna.
He grew up playing classical music.
By the time he was 14, he began to turn to the dark side.
“I started hearing jazz when I was a teenager,” he says with a laugh. “There were two specific albums where I thought, ‘Wow, the piano can sound like this.'”
The two albums were collaboration albums – one by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, the other by French musicians Michel Petrucciani and Eddie Louiss.
“Jazz in Austria doesn’t get a lot of airplay,” he says. “When I heard songs from these albums, I was fascinated because I never knew piano could sound like this. Then I needed to figure out how I could make the piano sound like this. It’s been a lifelong journey.”
Gottschlich is the executive director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop.
He’s hit the ground running in a position he’s held since the beginning of September. In the few months since he’s been in Albuquerque, he’s been able to see first hand the deep and rich history of jazz here.
The New Mexico Jazz Workshop was formed on Feb. 12, 1976, when a group of jazz musicians came together to begin a cooperative that was free to perform anywhere.
By the end of the 1970s, the organization began bringing international jazz artists to the KiMo Theatre. It then moved from Santa Fe to Albuquerque in August 1979.
During the 1980s, it expanded its guest artist series to bring more national and international musicians to New Mexico while the Madrid Concert Series continued to spotlight local musicians with a handful of concerts per summer.
The 1990s created more opportunities for local musicians with the Summer Music Festival, which includes Saturday night Jazz Under the Stars, Friday night Salsa Under the Stars, and Blues Under the Stars throughout the summer. These programs still exist today and are housed at the Albuquerque Museum’s amphitheater.
Gottschlich’s goals for the organization are extensive and will push it forward.
Since the inception of the organization in 1976, it has had a dual mission – presenting educational programs and concerts.
“While these two have been running separately or parallel mostly, there is much synergy to be explored in mirroring and implementing our two-fold mission each step of the way,” Gottschlich says. “So, on the most basic level, concerts started including educational programs, while educational programs also feature entertaining elements. Furthermore, I believe that our programming ought to be culturally and/or socially relevant. It’s not enough to present ‘just’ great music. My goal is to give the audience a truly meaningful experience: One that does not necessarily end with the drawing of the curtain.”
In November, the New Mexico Jazz Workshop brought Grammy Award-winner and New Mexico native Raul Midón in for a performance at the KiMo Theatre.
“Raul Midon’s concert at the KiMo Theatre in November was an example of that, where the concert was preceded by a panel discussion and followed by an after-concert meet and greet,” Gottschlich says. “We are looking to continue this type of programming and foster new partnerships.”
He says the New Mexico Jazz Workshop is begging to develop a lot of concepts for entertainment and education.
One example is to set up several concert series in different parts of town that lead up to the popular “Under the Stars” summer series.
“This will not only create momentum, it also establishes additional performance opportunities for our local musicians,” he says. “For the price of admission to a concert, depending on the specific artist/group, you will now also be able to attend a panel discussion, or Q&A session with the artist, or master class, or after-concert reception … or a combination of them all.”
To further illustrate this approach, the organization is presenting the Israeli world-jazz trio Yogev Shetrit Trio on Jan. 25 as part of the Placitas Artists Series.
“(It is) offering a culturally unique experience to our audience, as well as an educational program that we are hosting in collaboration with the very forward-thinking Jewish Community Center of Albuquerque,” he says. “This type of programming is an example for our efforts to collaborate and to promote inter-cultural dialog via music.”
Gottschlich was also able to set up the organization’s first statewide initiative – The New Mexico Jazz Competition for student quartets.
The winning group will travel to Europe to perform at a major jazz festival next summer.
“By establishing exchanges and setting up ways to ‘export’ our New Mexico talent, we are putting a spotlight on musicians here, creating more opportunities in the process, and are helping New Mexico become fertile ground for jazz and jazz education,” Gottschlich says. “If what we do here is supposed to continue to help this innately American art-form we call ‘jazz,’ then we need to shift our mind set from ‘maintaining’ to ‘growing,’ from ‘provincial’ to ‘international,’ and instead of the few jazz presenters competing, we need to collaborate.”
Moving from Miami, where he was the artistic director of the Miami Beach Jazz Festival and founder of Jazz Academy Miami, Gottschlich is feeling at home in Albuquerque.
He’s enjoying the big sky and a different pace.
“What I noticed so far about the jazz community here is a real openness, an enthusiasm and an unwavering support,” he says. “That cannot be said about all cities in the U.S. or Europe. The many years of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop providing quality programs has created a real trust in the organization and the quality it stands for. This support and trust can also be felt from within our board of directors, our staff and our volunteers.”