Copenhagen Jazz Festival – creating jazz history since 1979

Every summer in early July, Copenhagen undergoes a drastic metamorphosis. Over the course of ten days, jazz literally takes over during the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival, as squares and alleys, venues and streets run over with a smorgasbord of jazz in all of its varieties.

Copenhagen has a long history as a jazzy city and has had every right to declare itself as one of the absolute capitals of jazz in Europe since the 1960s and 70s, when several American jazz icons turned the city into their creative headquarters. Among the many luminaries who have resided in Copenhagen are artists such as Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Stan Getz, Stuff Smith, Ben Webster, Ed Thigpen and Thad Jones – the two latter lie buried in Vestre Cemetery, while Drew and Webster are buried in Assistens Cemetery on Nørrebro.

Danish jazz is still thriving, not least thanks to concert arrangers like Jazzhouse, Jazzhouse Montmartre, Paradise Jazz, ILK (Independent Label København), Jazz Club Loco and a slew of upcoming jazz talents. Copenhagen continues to exist as a sprawling city of jazz, shown with full strength at the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival, as thousands of Danish and foreign musicians gather for one of Europe’s largest jazz festivals.

1979 was the very first year of Copenhagen Jazz Festival as we know it, but the foundation was built decades earlier. The name Copenhagen Jazz Festival was conceived as early as 1962, used for an entire day of jazz concerts in the Odd Fellow Mansion in Bredgade. In 1964 the festival reached global heights with prominent artists in the now defunct KB Hallen – the original Miles Davis Quintet, Dave Brubeck Quartet and others. From 1965-69 the one-day event moved to Tivolis Koncertsal.

The real sea change in 1979 was the collaboration between the joint shopkeepers organized as Copenhagen City Center and the different jazz venues in town, manifesting as a weeklong festival with 75 concerts. Six years later, in 1985, Copenhagen Jazz Festival was established as an autonomous fund with a board of representatives from the jazz scene, the tourist industry and the media. This also secured the festival’s expanding role as an umbrella of sorts, encompassing the city’s independent bookers and established jazz venues.

1985 also saw the first large outdoors line-up – at first on the grounds of Christiansborg, the seat of the Danish parliament. During the 1990s the festival grew steadily – Copenhagen’s tenure as European Capital of Culture 1996 gave the festival an invigorating boost, ushering in even bigger international acts as well as the concept Future Sound of Jazz, a new era on the borders between jazz and electronic music.

The new millennium meant more interaction with local, independent organizers. Jazz Club Loco, Christiania Jazzklub and Christianshavns Beboerhus and others all participated in broadening the playing field for young and freespirited jazz, personified by artists such as Kresten Osgood, Jakob Bro, Maria Laurette Friis and Stefan Pasborg.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival remains a giant event with 100 associated venues in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. Approximately 1250 concerts make out the annual line-up, visited by an estimated 263.000 concertgoers.

Artists at Copenhagen Jazz Festival since 1979: Ella Fitzgerald // Oscar Peterson // Sonny Rollins // Jim Hall // Dizzy Gillespie // Brecker Brothers // Ray Charles // Stan Getz // Art Pepper // Jan Garbarek // Keith Jarrett // Gil Evans // Herbie Hancock // Tony Bennett // Chick Corea // Kenny Drew // Bobby McFerrin // Charles Lloyd // Art Blakey // Gilberto Gil // Wayne Shorter // Carla Bley // McCoy Tyner // Don Cherry // Ornette Coleman // John Tchicai // Caetano Veloso // Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen // Charlie Haden // John Scofield // Pat Metheny // Svend Asmussen // Abdullah Ibrahim // Yusuf Lateef // Dianne Reeves // Marcus Miller // Esperanza Spalding // Macy Gray // David Murray // Palle Mikkelborg and thousands of others…