For the past eight years, artistic directors and producers of jazz festivals and other major cultural vehicles around the world have been beating a path over here to catch some of our best jazz and world music acts at our annual international showcase in those two spheres.
The forthcoming edition will be largely held at its regular base of Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine, with artist slots taking place there Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and Friday’s events slated for Tel Aviv, at HaEzor, Barby and Bascula.
Over the years, the showcase and its perennial honcho, Barak Weiss, have hosted industry professionals from across the globe, from Canada to Indonesia to France to South Africa, and many places betwixt. The hoped-for upshot is that as many of our talented artists as possible get invites to appear at the guests’ festivals thereby, naturally, giving the musicians in question a career boost while also spreading the word on Israeli creative capabilities as far and wide as possible.
Hansen certainly has more than an inkling of what this country has to offer. Hansen is managing director of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival which has been drawing big names from the world of jazz, and associated musical fields, as well as pulling in the crowds, to the Danish capital since 1979. This July’s Danish festival featured acclaimed New York-based Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman and, after a bit of bother, the Hagiga sextet also managed to get themselves a berth in Copenhagen.
The 47-year-old Dane grew up with the pop and rock sounds of the 1970s and 1980s, and it was one of the biggest pop acts of the latter decade that drew him into jazz.
“I wasn’t really exposed to jazz until high school,” Hansen recalls. “But I was a huge fan of the band Police, so when [Police bassist-vocalist] Sting went solo in 1985, I got exposed to my first jazzy environment through his sidemen such as [saxophonist] Branford Marsalis, [pianist] Kenny Kirkland, [guitarist] Hiram Bullock and [drummer] Omar Hakim. And soon I was hooked on jazz fusion!”
Hansen soon got in on the act himself, starting with an electric organ his parents rented for him, before progressing to bass guitar. As the youngster delved ever further into the jazz idiom he imbibed the sounds and sensibilities of such titans of the discipline, across the ages, as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Sun Ra. The roll call takes in some of the pioneers of early and modern jazz, as well as some of the leading lights of the avant garde movement which evolved in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
That formative backdrop makes Hansen a good man to oversee the artistic content of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival which, over the years, has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most variegated musical events. The stats bear that out too, as the festival has taken incremental leaps, both in terms of sheer volume and breadth of artistic spectrum, since its inception.
“The festival has changed from a small summer event in the early 1980s into a massive, international event involving 130 venues all over the city presenting more than 1,300 concerts in 10 days,” points out Hansen, has been in and around the scene for quite a while himself. “I started as a booker in 2004 and became the managing director in 2013. But my first year doing work for the festival was back in 1996, more than 20 years ago.”
While jazz has not been the sole preserve of the United States for many years, the Danish scene naturally owes its beginnings to the genre’s birthplace. The whole jazz shebang in Denmark was kick-started by a member of the local aristocracy who discovered the delights of swing and did his utmost to introduce to his compatriots to the sounds of the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, and later exponents such as saxophonist Don Byas and pianist Erroll Garner.
“The story goes that, in the 1930s, a Danish baron named Timme Rosenkrantz came back from a visit to the US with a lot of jazz records, 78s, in his suitcase,” Hansen relates.
“And then he talked about and played these albums in various venues in Copenhagen, even concert halls.”
Rosenkrantz also exploited the airwaves to get the jazz word out and about.
“He also did radio so I guess he was an early, Danish version of [envelope-pushing BBC radio presenter and record label owner] Gilles Peterson. Anyway, there was also jazz coming from the American military bases in Germany after the Second World War.”
Other local parties eventually took up the jazz baton.
“The National Danish Radio has also been an important factor developing a jazz tradition in Denmark,” Hansen continues. “And, of course, [there was] the first [Copenhagen venue] Montmartre jazz club (1959-1976) – and the second one (1976-1989). And of course Copenhagen Jazz Festival which has existed since 1979.”
Thankfully, the Danish state authorities have also done their bit to keep the jazz scene alive and kicking. While Hansen is appreciative of official support for the art form, he feels the private sector should also do its bit.
“Yes, jazz is quite well supported by the Danish state – and this has been a decisive factor over the years. But to me, jazz is an important art form and therefore it should be supported in this commercialized world of ours.”
With the help of government underpinning, Denmark continues to churn out gifted artists at a decent pace. The Danish jazz community encompasses an impressively broad range of takes on the music, with some of the most prominent names including 76-year-old trumpeter Palle Mikelborg, 62-year-old percussionist and pianist Marilyn Mazur, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, who died in 2006 at the age of 58, and 68-year-old pianist Thomas Clausen, while the younger crowd features such up-and comers as Norway-based saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, pianist Jeppe Zeeberg, guitarist Jakob Bro and the Boujeloud quintet which, says Hansen, is “giving me hope for the future of Danish jazz.”
Over the years, like Paris, Copenhagen has provided an offshore home base for some of the titans of the American jazz fraternity.
US-born and -bred big guns like bassist Oscar Pettiford, saxophonists Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz, pianist Horace Parlan and trumpeter-bandleader Thad Jones all set up shop in Denmark and helped to fuel the local creative ethos. Jones also made a significant contribution to his adopted home’s jazz endeavor, at the helm of the Danish Radio Big Band.
Most of the aforementioned members of the American jazz pantheon tend more toward so-called straightahead jazz but, over the decades, Copenhagen has also happily embraced more cutting-edge sounds. Hansen posits that that could be attributable to a sort antipodal comeback to the overriding national social-cultural mindset, and lauds that viewpoint.
“Denmark is a very organized country, so I have this theory that the free jazz and avant-garde movement is sort of a reaction to that. And I condone that, because we have to keep moving and evolving both as individuals, as a nation and as a united, human race. So many things to change in the world!” That thought mode has also led the Copenhagen Jazz Festival to flex the boundaries of its titular musical discipline, and it continues to explore areas “beyond jazz.”
“That is an important side to the festival,” Hansen notes. “Along with the festival board, I think it’s crucial to present new directions in jazz continuously – especially when running a festival this old [40th edition in 2018]. Embracing world music is one way to do it, but we also include experimental electronic music and even experimental rock. Acts like [Chicago-based experimental rock band] Tortoise, [LA-based producer, electronic musician, DJ, filmmaker and rapper] Flying Lotus or [English electronic duo] Autechre are basically modern jazz, in my opinion.”
While there will always be diehard traditionalists, Hansen believes it is about striking a healthy and nurturing balance between “pure” jazz and more contemporary sounds.
“The traditional scene is very strong and it will always have its place at the festival. But we both want, and need, to reach a younger audience which always will be looking for something else than their parents. This is how rock ’n’ roll got so big in the 1950s. It was a matter of a whole generation looking for something to define them as different from their parents.”
The Dane says he is looking forward to his foray over here, and getting a better handle on what we have to offer the global jazz scene. He also sees parallels between us.
“Israel is, in some ways, like Denmark – a small country with a strong music tradition and a very high level of individual players mainly because of strong institutions – music schools, conservatories – and a rich music environment all together. And, in the end, the best players have to leave the country in order to get even better! Luckily, some of them return. But, come to think of it, most of the Israeli musicians/bands I have presented were living abroad, mainly in the US. So my knowledge of the ‘local’ Israeli scene is probably not that impressive. That is why a showcase festival is such a brilliant idea!”
For more information about the International Music Showcase Festival: www.musicshowcaseil.com/en.