Stepping Stone: A creator-centered approach to talent development in music

JazzLab always strives to build a bridge between the partner venues, the audience and the musicians. These connections take various forms: from our typical JazzLab concert tours over coproductions and showcase festivals to artistic projects with musicians abroad. With Stepping Stone we launch both an international talent development community and a pilot project as part of that community. We work closely together with the musicians, enabling them to follow their own specific ambitions and build up long-term international connections along their path.


A musician’s path to a successful music career in their home country is, in most places, supported by various talent-development organisations and educational institutions. Less obvious and straightforward is how to proceed from there. Music organisations regularly collaborate over international exchanges in the form of showcase concerts and meetings that can certainly help a musician take a first big step towards the international stage. However, decisions are often made without carefully consulting and connecting with the performing artists, to see what they need most at that time. We observe a growing need in those artists to connect to the international scene, by establishing and reinforcing personal contacts in a sustainable way. Think “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This is where Stepping Stone comes in. Together with Powered by TINC (Tilburg), JazzLab is one of the initiators of this international talent development programme which aims at empowering musicians towards sustainable international careers. This collaborative project concretely involves residencies for young musicians from Flanders to explore music scenes abroad, engage in artistic collaborations with international peers and mentors and build a sustainable network of long-term contacts and connections.

Together with our local partners Ha Concerts (Ghent) and Arts Center nona (Mechelen) and a team of experts from our scene, we select 2 musicians from our broader jazz sector. The selected artists – when they accept – each prepare a portfolio in which they explain what their career ambitions are, which scenes they want to explore and which international contacts (musicians, promoters, organisations…) they would like to meet up with. This goes from quite general (“I would like to explore the minimal music scene”) to very specific (‘I would like to meet up and work with musician X”) and everything in between.

These portfolios we communicate to our international connections (for instance, the Europe Jazz Network and our partners in Constellations – see further), who explore whether there is a potential match, whether they can help our musicians on their specific path and discuss with them what they can work out together. Usually this results in a residency of our musician with the international partner. The residencies can be one work period of 5 days or several visits of one or two days spread over a few months, depending on the needs of the musician. During this residency the partner helps the musicians in whichever way is appropriate for the talent development path, by for instance sharing their knowledge, introducing the musician to their network and the local/national scene (music or other arts), facilitating meetings and collaborations with fellow musicians and/or mentors, setting up public concerts.

After each residency period we evaluate together with the musicians and partners, to see what the next useful step on the trajectory could be, whether it be a follow-up meeting or residency, or exploring a different scene in the same or another country. Of course, we expect the musicians to display entrepreneurship, and the idea is that through these residencies and the sustainable contacts and collaborations that result from it, the musician can find easier access into the scene of the partner countries and more concerts and collaborations will organically grow out of this.


The official launch of Stepping Stone took place during the online conference of inJazz, on Thursday 25 June 2020. During our launch session, we briefly presented the idea of Stepping Stone and how it came about, and then gave the floor to 5 inspiring people, both musicians participating in Stepping Stone and music professionals involved in a talent development project of their own, to discuss how they see the future of sustainable international careers.

Anne Konings made a beautiful scribe during the session:

International partners and network

Because it has become obvious the past years that more and more organisations all over Europe are setting up talent development programmes, it made sense to join forces. This is how Constellations came into existence. Constellations unites 8 development projects from 9 different countries in Europe and beyond, all working together with artists to support them in their path towards a successful international career: NICA (from Stadtgarten, Cologne), hot house (from Manchester jazz festival in the UK), Synthesizer (Israel), Nuova Generazione (from IJazz, Italy),  Nordic Jazz Comets (from Jazz Finland and Jazz Norway), Jazz Migration (from AJC, France) and of course Powered by TINC (& Dock Zuid) in the Netherlands as our own Stepping Stone partner.

These partners are open to receive our musicians through Stepping Stone if the artists’ needs would take them there, but we develop something extra on top of our separate programmes as well. All host organisations and 9 musicians get together to get to know each other and to find the best match, so that each musician can spend some time with one of the partners, explore the scene, expand their network etc. And the idea is that we all gather again at the end, once all artists have had their residencies with at least one Constellations partner.


For the first pilot project of Stepping Stone (2020-2021), we selected Berlinde Deman and Rob Banken, two inspiring musicians who had made their mark already in several formations nationally, and who were ready to steer their career path into international waters. Both of them put together a portfolio with their ambitions, so what follows here is only a brief summary with the main points. Normally, their Stepping Stone time would have ended in December 2021, but due to COVID19, we decided to extend their time to September 2022, to make up partially for the lost COVID year.

Berlinde Deman has been playing tuba for more than half her lifetime and is now exploring the wondrous sounds of the serpent. With this new instrument she wanted to plunge into the minimal music scene, and combine the old tones of the serpent with elektronica. As a first step, she was in contact with Rutger Zuydervelt, a Dutch musician who has agreed to be her mentor and who she is collaborating with now on new artistic compositions.

Due to corona, the first physical residency was postponed, but on June 22 & 23, they had a safe and creative first residency at Dock Zuid (Tilburg)! Since then, they recorded their first duo-album Luchtwezen (SØVN Records), which was released on July 15th 2020. Besides that, Berlinde was also invited to our ‘JazzLab Invites’-sessions, which took place in June 2020. A serpent/electronics live clip with Mirko Banovic appeared in a series of short videoclips that we recorded on the JazzLab site. After these collaborations in the first year, Berlinde also worked together with Saartje Van Kamp (NL) and Elisabeth Coudoux, one of the NICA artists with whom she also played a concert in Cologne in August 2022. Through Ha Concerts, she was also part of the project “Secular Psalms” with Dave Douglas, with which she played 3 concerts, one in Ghent, one in the Netherlands and one at Berlin Jazzspiele 2021. Berlinde is a very active musician who really takes initiative and throws herself into new experiences, so recently the demand for her, both on tuba and serpent, has grown exponentially, and rightly so. J Soon you will find a link here to her personal report on his Stepping Stone participation.

Rob Banken wanted to walk two different and at the same time potentially intertwining paths with his saxophone. He wanted to learn more about the gaming music industry and how his compositions can find a way into video games, and at the same time to explore how to combine visuals and light effects with his solo performances to make them into full-blown live experiences. The first step on his trajectory was his attendance of the Edinburgh Festival of Sound in February 2020, where he immediately made the necessary connections for his introduction into the gaming industry and found out which direction he did and did not want to take. Due to COVID, several of Rob’s plans for his career were put on hold, but in 2021 he took a masterclass with Michael Moore in the Netherlands, and in 2022 he discovered an interest in film scoring. This ties in nicely with the other paths, as composing for video games is not too dissimilar from scoring for films and both appeal to the development of his career as a solo artist and composer. Michel Bisceglia, a Belgian musician with a lot of experience in film scoring, took Rob under his wings to teach him the ropes. We are very curious to find out how Rob’s plans and career will develop further. Soon you will find a link here to his personal report on his Stepping Stone participation.

The first edition of Stepping Stone was partially funded by Grensverleggers, a fund from deBuren supporting cultural collaborations between Flanders and the Dutch provinces of Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland. Moreover, Sabam for Culture committed to fund the fees for the international mentors Berlinde and Rob worked with.


In February 2022, we organised a meeting with our expert team, consisting of Maaike Wuyts (Aubergine Artist Management), Joost Fonteyne (Klara Festival), Pieter Koten (De Republiek), Bertrand Flamand (Jazz & Muziek) and Bart Vanvoorden (nona), to select 2 new musicians, for our edition running from September 2022 to August 2024. The experts chose Mattias De Craene (saxophone) and Anneleen Boehme (bass).

Again, both musicians put together a portfolio with their dreams and needs. Mattias has 3 concrete album projects in mind, for which he would love to explore the electronic music scenes in the UK and Germany, Manchester and Berlin in particular, but also make field recordings in Middle Eastern countries, and in general, expand his international network. In November 2022, he already organised a residency in Beirut, where he intensely connected with the local scene, made recordings and played a concert (see pictures), and he participated in the first meeting of Constellations during les Rencontres in Paris, where he got to know all the hosts and musicians and picked his host for the exchange residency.

Anneleen Boehme also sees several different paths: she wants to get better at being a soloist, would like to learn more about music theatre and composing for large ensembles and is keen to get more acquainted with her gear. She already has a masterclass with Michel Portal in Perpignan and is setting up lessons with Joelle Leandre (Paris) and Kalle Kalima (Berlin) at the start of 2023.