An Introduction to the Copenhagen Jazz Scene

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Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland at Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland at Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

A second home for jazz musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Ben Webster, Thad Jones, Horace Parlan and Stan Getz, Copenhagen, Denmark, was one of the main centers of European jazz in the 1960s, along with cities such as Paris and Stockholm. These guys would regularly play at the famous Jazzhouse Montmartre, which opened in 1959, usually accompanied by a Danish rhythm section consisting of Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass and Alex Riel on drums. Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg also got his international breakthrough here. As Jazzhus Montmartre became a popular destination for jazz greats, Copenhagen’s jazz scene began to expand as the Copenhagen Jazz Festival began in 1979.

Joshua Redman with his double trio featuring Reuben Rogers and Matt Penman on bass and Gregory Hutchinson and Bill Stewart on drums

The Copenhagen Jazz Festival started in 1979 but, in addition to Jazzhus Montmartre, the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen opened its doors for jazz in 1964 when Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk performed. With 100 venues all over the city and in some of the suburbs, along with an attendance of over 260,000 people, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival ranks among the biggest and best jazz festivals in Europe, alongside the North Sea Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz, and Jazz in Marciac.

Outdoor concerts, late-night jam sessions, and people biking from venue to venue characterize the festival. Visitors will experience people sitting outside on the street in beach chairs enjoying the music, as many venues fill up quickly. Most of the big events take place in old warehouses and jazz clubs such as Jazzhus, Jazzhus Montmartre, the Standard CPH, La Fontaine, and Huset. Over the years, greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, John Scofield, and Wayne Shorter have attended the festival.
Nowadays some of the greats who frequently visit Copenhagen include tenor greats Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone; bassists Reuben Rodgers and Eddie Gomez; and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Bergonzi and Garzone have been working with great Danish musicians over the course of many years; their most frequent collaborator in Copenhagen is the Carl Winther Trio, featuring Carl Winther on piano, Johnny Åman on bass, and Anders Mogensen (Berklee alum) on drums. The tunes they play range from originals to John Coltrane pieces.

Lee Pearson the host of the jam session at Jazzhus Montmartre

My favorite part of this great festival is that you will find a few good jam sessions around town. My favorite place to go is the legendary Jazzhus Montmartre. The last two years, drummer Lee Pearson (Spyro Gyra, Kenny Barron, and Dr. Lonnie Smith) has hosted jam sessions with different trio settings and special guests. It’s an open jam session, which I love because it gives young musicians (including myself) the chance to show where they are at and an opportunity to know their own strengths and weaknesses while playing with great musicians. This year, so many greats passed by after their own concerts: Aaron Parks (an artist in residence for Jazz Danmark, living and playing with people in Denmark for three months), Jeff “Tain” Watts, Eric Harland, Kris Funn, Danny Grissett, Christian McBride, and Ira Coleman to mention a few. The jam would start around 11PM with just the trio before others got the chance to shine. Lee Pearson made the environment very comfortable and told us a story about his attending a jam session at a young age and struggling, but also recounting how he learned a very important lesson from that. A tip I would like to give, via Kenneth Dahl Knudsen (bassist from a previous interview), is that you take note of what tunes are played commonly at a jam session. It’s very different from city to city, but in Copenhagen I can tell you that they call quite common standards, such as: “What is This Thing Called Love?” “All the Things You Are,” and “It Could Happen to You.” I also noticed they called tunes such as “Stablemates,” “Rhythm-A-Ning,” and “Green Chimneys.” My suggestion is that you learn as many tunes as you can, make playlists with different styles (which can be done with the iRealBook app or an original RealBook, which feature the styles and tempos of different songs). Overall there is a lot to be learned from a jam session. Go and listen, talk to musicians, and get experience in getting up there. To this day, I still get nervous, but as a teacher of mine said when I told him about a jam session experience, When you get the nervousness that you mentioned that is a good sign. It means the music means a lot to you! It’s very positive!


Gregory Porter brought on surprise act Stevie Wonder at his concert during this year's festival

Fun Facts:

– Miles Davis recorded “Aura” with the Danish Radio Big Band Aura
– Saxophonist Ben Webster and pianist Kenny Drew are buried at the Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen. There you will also find poet and writer Hans Christian Andersen’s grave.
– Many Danish jazz greats have recorded/are recording with greats. Bassist Chris Minh Doky used to play in saxophonist Michael Brecker’s Quartet, with Joey Calderazzo on piano, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Drummer Jonas Johansen still plays a lot with pianist and singer Eliane Elias. Niels Lan Doky has also done several records with Berklee drum teacher Terri Lyne Carrington.
– Back in the day, many Danish jazz musicians attended Berklee, such as pianist Niels Lan Doky — who received the Oscar Peterson award at Berklee in ‘83; the following year he received his diploma from Oscar himself, and Leonard Feather the next year. Other players include guitarist Jakob Bro, drummers Alex Riel, Anders Mogensen, and Thomas Blachman (a former judge on the Danish version of X Factor), saxophonists Hans Ulrik and Jakob Dinesen, and vocalist Hanne Boel, among others.



          February 10, 2018