What a great time I had in Copenhagen! Five glorious gigs playing music good for my heart and soul – good old fashioned swinging jazz. And with some beautiful musicians in the hippest settings possible.
The Jazzhus Montmartre was one of the hippest jazz clubs in all of Europe during the 60s and 70s up until the early 80s. Legends like Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, and Kenny Dorham played there regularly, backed by superb Danish resident rhythm sections, most notably the team of American expat Kenny Drew (piano), bass phenom Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen, and the fine drummer Alex Riel. Encounters like these, documented in many live recordings from the Danish Steeplechase label, were only the tip of the iceberg of an incredibly fertile and swinging jazz scene in Denmark during that time. This tradition of commitment to the swing and classic jazz blowing has been preserved to the present day in Denmark, where it thrives alongside other contemporary forms of the music.
I grew up on those Steeplechase records live at the Montmartre, so you can imagine what a thrill it was to play in that historic, fabled spot! The location had been used for various purposes in the almost 30 years since the closing of the original club, but an important piece of the Montmartre’s original and quite modern wall art had miraculously remained intact over all that time.
Other striking wall art has been recreated by the old place’s original artist. All aspects of the Montmartre; the decor, sound, excellence of the piano, distinction of the staff and knowledge of the audience, make for a playing or listening experience unequalled in any club.
This reopening of the Jazzhus Montmartre bodes well for both fans of the straight ahead style in Copenhagen and musicians like myself who have an opportunity to partake of its swingingly conducive atmosphere. Its revival has been a labor of love of a dedicated group of musicians and savvy devotees. World class pianist and Danish jazz icon Niels Lan Doky, newly returned to Denmark after sojourns in New York and Paris, is one of the driving forces behind it and its artistic director. Niels hooked me up with the wonderful players that comprised the rest of my quartet for the Montmartre engagement: Henrik Gunde on piano, Jesper Bodilsen on bass and the precocious 18 year old Niclas Bardeleben on drums (Jacob Christoffersen, another fine player, replaced Henrik on the Sunday afternoon conclusion of the stand).
I enjoyed working with these guys so much! Henrik is a really swinging, creative pianist who also can comp his butt off and read down my music (I was playing my Unsung Heroes book on this engagement along with other selected “hits” of mine) with precision and unerring stylistic understanding. He’s got a beautiful personality on the stage and off, and kept me constantly smiling with his good cheer and bandstand encouragement. In the one encounter I had with Jacob I can say all the same things about him; a different player and his own man but every bit as enjoyable to play with. Jesper Bodlisen is a strong and most accomplished bassist with a deep understanding of swing. He’s carrying on the tradition of excellence in Danish bass playing admirably. I dug the helll out of him! We got into a good bit of duo playing on parts of some of the standards we hit, like “When Lights Are Low”, and the counterpoint was happening. Niclas Bardeleben really pleased me so much with his approach to playing; he really wants to swing in the real way and does just that. He has energy and stamina, listens to and understands the solo line in front, and offers apposite drum commentary. And has taste and great dynamics. Niclas is going to be one of the best drummers on the scene very quickly, I think. I also had a chance to hit with Niels Lan Doky, along with Jesper and Niclas, as a special guest with his group on an afternoon concert in Køge, about 45 minutes out of Copenhagen. Niels and I had recently played together on a CTI All Stars gig in Germany, but this was a chance to get to know his playing on the bandstand a little better. He’s really a great player with virtuosity and swing, harmonically and melodically inventive, stimulating and a real pleasure to play with!
The audiences were super throughout the gigs. I was really honored by the presence of jazz violin legend Svend Asmussen and his wife Sally on the first night, who traveled in from out of town just to see the opening set.
I had met the Asmussens in July when I was the special guest for a Copenhagen Jazz Festival jam session that they had attended. I was pretty blown away that this 90 + (but still hale and hearty) jazz legend would make a special trip just to hear little me! And I especially appreciated the encouragement of Sally Asmussen me to explore the softer part of my dynamic range after hearing that first show. Playing quartet, sometimes I feel I have to carry the front line by playing strong all the time. It was good to be reminded of alternatives, and I indeed took her advice to heart during the second show and rest of the week to positive effect. Thanks, Sally!
I’m looking forward to the next time I can play this magic room, and hopefully with those same wonderful musicians. I made new friends on the stage and off, and Copenhagen and the Montmartre are on my favorites list to revisit and enjoy. Spread the word, real jazz is alive and well in Denmark!
Here’s an example of what we were putting down on stage at the Montmartre:
The next blog posts will be covering my NYU Afro-Caribbean Jazz Ensemble’s tour to Latvia, which I’ve just returned from…