Copenhagen Jazz Fever

Where is Orion Brass Band when they are supposed to do a street parade? A colleague waiting for the official opening of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2010, suggests they could be busy emptying small glasses in the bars along the route. Good idea, for temperatures are threatening to be mixed up with the number of this year’s festival – 32.

The cobbled square of Frue Plads, located between the Copenhagen Cathedral and the old University, is getting ready for the grand opening. A shining bar on wheels and a huge beer tent leave no doubt that Tuborg Classic is a sponsor. Not one single chair is available, only the wide steps in front of the University. One hour to go, surely the Brass Band will be here any minute now, to sweeten our waiting. The opening band, Odd Job from Sweden, has plenty of time for sound testing.

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Black operating desks, with buttons and handles, are placed under a white pavilion out on the square. An elderly lady with a sense of symmetry sits down in the middle of it all, places her shopping bags right in front of her – and rests. She is a white-haired beauty; red lips and a sharp blue dress polka dotted with white, her sheer presence attracts attention. She could be a Nordea customer, claiming return for her savings, which the bank put into a 3-year main sponsorship. When a sudden wind nearly carries off the pavilion, the lady seeks safety on the university steps.

People drift lazily into the square, quite a few unfold their own chairs. The steps get increasingly crowded – you can no longer stretch your legs, move your shoulders or get into your own pockets. With the sun baking on your head and your throat crying for a coke, you realize the crowd is here to stay and will not dissolve when Per Stig Moller arrives at 14.30 to conduct the opening. The question is: who comes first – the Minister of Culture or the cramp in your legs?

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Mr. Moller arrives only few minutes late, as always a bit gruff. However, he is a master of associations – carrying him from his own youth, over Dexter Gordon to Herbie Hancock, even the Philosopher Plato gets involved with jazz somehow. Jazz can be expensive and take place in the Opera, the Royal Theater and the new Concert Hall. Or it can be free, unfolding in parks and squares, even on the roof of public toilets, altogether a 100 venues. Odd Job starts the whole thing with a big bang, and off you go, one lesson wiser – a jazz festival challenges other parts of your body than your ears alone.

Follow the sound

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You cannot say Copenhagen without saying Frederiksberg too – one municipality contained within the other. Frederiksberg is the smaller and seems thick with jazz these days. Bartof Cafe usually resounds with blues and world music in weekends, this week they stage jazz every night, admission fee in the area of 10 euro. They listed all performances in one ad, thereby creating their own little festival, during which George Garzone on sax celebrates a cd release. Bartof appears a success on three levels – among musicians, with the audience and media too.

In Jazz.dk you can similarly search by venue, which means that our friends in Orion Brass Band receive major exposure, in that they are scheduled every day. They operate on street level – starting around midday with a concert in one of the many city squares, then playing through the streets, following a different route every day to spread joy and jazz over the whole city among locals and visitors alike, unless the Brass men decide to do a disappearing act of course.

Finger snapping young ladies in blue T-shirts swing their hips to promote the sale of the festival program, a stylish 150-page book, for the first time sporting over 1000 events, at least if updated at this point, which makes it the largest jazz festival in Northern Europe. To get around to the venues on Frederiksberg, you can let the young ladies and the Brass charmers guide you or simply let your sense of hearing direct you, for example the guitar sounds of Mais Uma - Brazil in an authentic climate outside the main library.

People are gathering outside the Little Gardens in Pile Allé, very popular summer restaurants where you can now spice your lunch party with live jazz. On the other side of the fence – in the royal park of Haveselskabet – one concert follows the other, during daytime often young groups from the Rhythm Academy and the Music College, all free and with a plastic chair to sit on. Expensive evening concerts can be enjoyed for nothing by the owners of 80 tiny allotment gardens, receiving the music filtered through leaves and branches.

Disagreements

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Another filter is media, hysterical to get the most out of those 10 days. Jazz is not for enjoyment only, but also for analysis and inventive wordings, the wilder the better. It’s not always about the music – a monstrous rat, smarter than the staff of the Students’ House, was covered closely. Political errands flourish like the accusations from a leading local musician that the festival is nothing but a money machine disregarding the smaller private concert organizers, who are actually part of the superior festival organization.

Two proud priests know what it takes to get coverage – one attacks the other for opening his church to jazz and beer. The Stefan Church in Norrebrogade is different – today almost disappearing behind a banner announcing jazz Saturday afternoon with Kjeld Lauritsen Band. The christening of a baby boy is just over, possibly according to the new concept where music plays an important part. In a minute it’s time for electrified jazz in the church square – hammond organ, saxophone and drums. The three guys call themselves The Organizers on this particular occasion.

They fill the square in no time, assisted by local ladies who prepared the square with tables in white, spoiling the audience with snacks, soda, juice and coffee, even a sandwich bar has been hired. Dessert is a home-made composition, “La Fontaine”, a tribute to a small music bar in the heart of Copenhagen, treasured by the jazz people. If you ever come to Copenhagen during festival time, do not expect the tourist office, Visit Copenhagen, to promote the festival, another of those political disagreements which seem to characterize the Danish jazz scene.

Could it be that these conflicts are part of the game – like the division between Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, a waste of resources, but no doubt encouraging competition and creativity. As illustrated by two ladies on the square – they go on about how culture events are communicated to the citizens, agreeing that Frederiksberg could teach Copenhagen a lesson.

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