The North Sea Jazz Festival takes place in fifteen concurrently competing venues at Rotterdam’s Ahoy, which reminded me of Birmingham’s NEC, perhaps on a slightly smaller scale. It’s very busy: both Saturday and Sunday were sell-out days, which means around 25,000 tickets per day.
The festival’s useful website shows the sheer a range of music on offer, from traditional New Orleans jazz, swing, bop, free jazz, fusion, avant-garde jazz and electronic jazz; to blues, gospel, funk, soul, R&B, hip hop, world beat and Latin.
So there’s plenty to choose from. I often found myself dashing between venues trying to catch snippets of different gigs. That didn’t always work: I sometimes arrived to find a full venue with a queue of people waiting patiently outside playing the tense waiting game of one out, one in.
I liked the mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. It felt that the organizers had got that right. At the larger end there’s the warehouse-like, 10,000 capacity Nile (all the venues are named after rivers) which featured a clever double stage set-up to allow 15 minute turnarounds. On a smaller scale there’s the attractive Tigris bandstand which was situated on a relaxing roof terrace and benefited from the weekend’s warm and sunny weather. Each of the venues has its bars, cafes, food stalls, merchandise stands.
My highlights : Dianne Reeves singing the music of Nina Simone; Soil and Pimp Sessions; John Zorn Masada Sextet a brilliant project featuring some of my favourite musicians, trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron; Joshua Redman Trio; Charlie Haden with Brad Mehldau and Jorge Rossy, performing as a trio at late notice due to the absence of Lee Konitz; Allen Toussaint with guest trumpeter Nicholas Clayton, Melody Gardot, McCoy Tyner Trio with Gary Bartz, Bill Frisell & John Scofield……and at the end US hip-hop star Q-Tip rounded off a fantastic weekend.
I’m pretty sure that Jamie Cullum’s gig was the most popular of all. It packed out the 10,000 capacity Nile and featured his great and relatively new band of talented young British musicians: saxophonist Tom Richards, trumpeter Rory Simmons, bassist Chris Hill and drummer Brad Webb.
The worst was almost certainly Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang’s performances of Rhapsody in Blue. It’s sad to see a musician like Herbie, who is capable of much greater things, taking part in this ill-conceived collaboration. But, as ever, the dutiful audience were on there feet applauding before the last note had been played.
My only regret was perhaps that I did not see more of John Zorn’s performances as Artist in Residence, and also Tom Cawley representing the UK with his band Curios. They were annoyingly programmed against the McCoy Tyner Trio. But with so much going on something was bound to fall by the wayside.
OK, one other regret…. I could have done without embarrassing Duffy impressions and dodgy renditions of Beautiful South’s Rotterdam . All I will say about that is : you know who you are.
I had a brilliant weekend and a fantastic Festival experience. I just wish that more jazz festivals over here in the UK could attract the crowds and the mainstream broadcast-particularly TV- coverage which North Sea does.