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This is no jazz club for tourists

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Since February an elegant glass building has been sitting by the Vltava near Smíchov, close to the water’s edge. At night you can see tables inside, a colourful counter and, above all, the podium where shows go on late into the night. The scene looks almost dreamlike, as if this glowing box that houses the club Jazzdock were brought in to the city of a hundred spires from New York or Amsterdam. A few years after jazz novices, today well-established players, such as guitarist David Dorůžka or organ player Ondřej Pivec started testing out their beats in the big pond of European seaside clubs and conservatories, Prague finally has a club that looks like the physical personification of the music that is played here: effortlessly cosmopolitan, but still with a local atmosphere – young jazz, wide open to all sorts of different styles.

‘It got a bit out of hand’
“The construction cost more than CZK 15 million,” says a slim 55-year old in a well-filling suit and a cigarette in hand. Vladimír Lederer’s business card includes his title of lawyer and the name of his real estate and auction agency. Among jazz players and fans he has the reputation of a patron. “Financially it got a bit out of hand,” he the music fan, who in the mid-1990s bought a vacant building and two wooden huts from Pražské rybářství (Prague Fisheries). I thought about what to do with it, and since I’m such a big jazz fan, I decided to build a jazz club. Then we started designing the place, looking at projects from architects and negotiating with preservationists. It took 12 years to get approval for the project.” As he talks, a steamboat carrying tourists floats by. It is only thanks to Lederer that Jazzdock is not another tourist trap aimed mainly at making lots of money. But even with the backing of a patron and his millions, a club has to earn some money to survive. “Wanting to build a high-quality jazz club means it cannot be completely commercial. That is obvious,” says Lederer. “If I wanted to get large returns for my investment, I would play there jazz but some sort of dance music.”

The light steel construction of the outer glass wall gives the building an air of lightness. Construction began after 12 years of negotiating with preservationists. Jaroslav Ouřecký, who designed the building with his colleague Ivan Sládek, didn’t even live to see his project realised.

We wanted to make a proper jazz club, like no other in Prague,” says Lederer, adding that he doesn’t mean this as critique of some of the traditional jazz clubs housed in Prague’s historical buildings, where the entry fee is high and where tourists constitute much of the clientele. “One of our key ideas was to soundproof the place in such a way that we could play music here until 3 or 4am. If you aren’t a fan of dance clubs, there aren’t many places to go in Prague after midnight,” says Lederer. He says it was the acoustic studies necessary for the soundproofing that raised the final cost so much. “Glass is not a material that keeps out noise very well,” he says, pointing to the transparent walls on delicate rails – one of the conditions stipulated by preservationists.

Communicating with music
Lederer recruited composer and keyboard player Jakub Zitek to put together the concert programme for Jazzdock. “My desire was to create a jazz club that would have its own programme. In the city centre, it’s not really possible because visitors come for the weekend and then leave again for Madrid or some place else,” says Lederer. “I based the concept on my own experience as a jazz fan. If there is some good band playing just on one evening, I might have some meeting or tickets to the theatre and miss the concert. So at our club the best bands have three-day concerts, something that is common abroad.”

In the context of Prague’s cultural scene, Jazzdock is not just aimlessly floating around. “A musical programme means that Jazzdock has something to say to the music scene here. It’s not that we’re focused on a young audience, but we are focused on modern jazz, which tends to attract younger people. But it’s not a hard and fast rule,” says the owner, adding that he personally knows about a quarter of the club visitors. “Jazzdock wants to communicate with the people of Prague.”

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