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European Jazz Diary, Part 3

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Surely, Amsterdam is one of the leading jazz capitols of Europe. Upon arriving at Schipol airport (my favorite in Europe) and boarding the most convenient airport-to-downtown system on the planet, I checked into the Bema hotel across from the celebrated Concertgebouw concert hall. As a result of brilliant and recent restoration, the Concertgebouw is a wonder to behold with its captivating artwork and its astounding acoustics. I wandered into a free luncheon concert where attendees gathered at least two hours before showtime to see and hear one of the world's leading orchestras perform Debussy in extraordinary fashion.

Concertgebouw had 833,000 in attendance last year making it the world's most well attended concert venue. In addition to its renown classical orchestra, Concertgebouw boasts its own resident jazz orchestra. In 2005-06 the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw will present concerts featuring George Duke, McCoy Tyner, Dianne Reeves and Sonny Rollins. Just sitting in the middle of this spectacular hall is a terrific treat but seeing legendary artists perform there with this wonderful jazz orchestra is truly something special.

A few nights later, I went down to Amsterdam's premier jazz club-the Bimhuis. This room has attained a new incarnation adjacent to the cruise ship waterway and walking distance from Centraal station. The new facility in the Musiek Gebouw approaches the scope of a concert hall. It has a prime show space, an attractive lounge and bar area and some delightful exhibition space. I met Huub van Riel the impresario of the Bimhuis since it's founding over 25 years ago. Huub took me through some of the more glorious moments of the club-performances that featured the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Kai Winding, Red Rodney, Woody Shaw, Chet Baker and other many other American immortals. In addition, the club has been home to a slew of Dutch musicians who have made it to our shores and are known to American audiences i.e. Willem Breuker and Misha Mengelberg.

That evening the stage was given over to the showing of Bimhuis Blues — a documentary by Hans Hylkema that profiled Carla Bley, Bred Mehldau, Archie Shepp and many European performers. The film was wonderfully produced and provided some insight into the preferences of Dutch audiences. It seems the crowds at Bimhuis at present are into cutting music and adventurous improvisation. Indeed, Huub is constantly flying over to New York to seek out the latest sounds for his ultra hip Amsterdam audiences. Of course, the elder statesmen are still around and Misha Mengelberg will be presented several times this summer.

The next day I managed to get to The Hague where the NorthSea Jazz Festival — advertised as Europe's largest — was getting set to unveil its cascade of all-star names. That day it was about 38 degrees Fahrenheit (in contradistinction to a 90 degree reading in N.Y.) and I wondered how such venerable stars as Oscar Peterson were going to fare in the stiff winds coming in from the North Sea. This festival has gotten so big that the producers have decided to move it to Rotterdam next year.

Quick visits to Utrecht (to see my friend Jaap van de Klomp — perhaps the leading Dutch jazz fan and one of the earliest Dutch producers) and Delft and I was off to Sweden to trace the itinerary of the 1953 Lionel Hampton tour and continue my analysis of the European Jazz Zeitgeist.


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