Copenhagen: European jazz capital – by Yahvé M. de la Cavada


During ten days of July, Copenhagen pulsates with the rhythm of jazz. More than a thousand concerts on more than a hundred different stages occupy the Danish capital. Artists such as Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Chick Corea as well as lots of as of yet unknown names perform for jazz lovers.

By Yahvé M. de la Cavada, Cultura en El País, July 2015

“Sadly, jazz life during the rest of the year is not as active as it is right now”, says Kenneth Hansen, director of Copenhagen Jazz Festival. He is in La Fontaine – the oldest jazz club in town and the place where Lady Gaga joined other musicians to interpret “La Vie en Rose”. Obviously, every city ends up being more “jazzy” when it hosts an annual international festival, but Copenhagen has the potential to be considered a European capital of this genre – with the permission of Paris or London, of course.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival hosts more than a thousand concerts in ten days, making it one of the biggest musical festivals in the world. Also, its program sets out to fulfill everyone’s needs. “Everybody can find something to their taste at this festival”, say organizers, and that’s true. A jazz lover can find well-known names in huge arenas sharing public attention with alternative performances in small places. Both newcomers and the more experienced can find something they’d love. Literally, there is a spectrum from traditional jazz to anything else that a jazz lover can imagine in the streets of Copenhagen during the Jazz Festival.

It’s hard to feel the festival environment when you first arrive in Copenhagen. There are few posters and one can’t see that many signs of a huge event, but suddenly music starts to spread out of all kinds of different places. Bars, cafés, restaurants, squares – everything is captured by jazz. Yet jazz is nothing special for Copenhagen. This music is so linked to the city’s culture, that nobody is surprised to find so many venues hosting all the various events. To dive into jazz is natural for Copenhageners.

The festival makes jazz lovers sharpen their pencils, get a piece of paper and make a list of performances they want to see each day. The attendees face a pleasant problem – there are plenty of concerts happening at the same time in different parts of Copenhagen. It’s just like being at a big rock festival – one is definitely confused, frustrated and obliged to make sacrifices. 
Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, and a resurrected duo with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock were the big stars at the festival this year. However, the real jazz movement can be found in places like Jazzhouse, reminiscent of a sort of rock temple with people enjoying the music while standing and, if necessary, dancing to the rhythm of jazz.

The highlight of Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2015, was two concerts with the overwhelming Fire! Orchestra. Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s orchestra is a main figure on the scene for free jazz and jazz-inspired noise-rock which dives into punk and free improvisation. The other extreme for more traditional listeners is Jazzhus Montmartre. It is a very traditional place with a great history. It used to be a place where big North American exiles such as Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster or Kenny Drew could be seen on stage.

Other places worth visiting – some of them have six concerts per day – are Litteraturhaus, PH Cafeen or 5e-ILK. The latter is situated in the old meatpacking district, which has been resurrected to offer one of the best cultural events in town. During those ten days of Jazz Festival, Copenhagen is proud of itself and claims to be the best place for jazz in Europe. However, after those days of constant music, jazz doesn’t go away from the Danish capital – there are always places where people can find the sound of music.