Norwegian Road Trip, Part 4: Oslo and an Interview with Jan Erik Kongshaug
With the week in Oslo drawing to a close, time simply had to be made to walk into the city center to visit Bare Jazz. At a time when CD stores of any kind are dying out, it's incredible not to just see a CD store in Oslo that's thriving, but one that's both busy and exclusively a jazz store. Bare Jazz has been around for fifteen years, owned by Bodil Niska and her husband. Niska is a saxophonist with a number of CDs out under her own name, including Night Time (Bare Jazz, 2008), Blue (Self Produced, 2004) and First Song (Self Produced, 2000), as well as one album with the all-woman trio Girl Talk, Talk Jazz (Hot Club, 1996).
She's as knowledgeable as might be expected from someone with experience on both sides of the music biz table. Show her one CD and she's got a dozen more suggestions; and it's that knowledge and energy, shared by of herself and her staff, that helps give Bare Jazz an energy that's palpable upon setting foot into the store.
Of course, Bare Jazz is more than just a jazz CD/Vinyl store; the courtyard that acts as the long entrance to the shop is also an outdoor café, and passing by it numerous times throughout the week in Oslo, it always seems to be bustling. There's also an indoor café on the second floor of the building, and if the vibe that permeates the store and indoor/outdoor cafés is as constant as it has been throughout the week, then there's hope for jazz yet.
Courtyard Café Outside Bare Jazz
Inside the store, its organization makes great use of a relatively small space, with small laminate cards with the front and back of each CD taking the place of actual jewel cases and digipaks, meaning that the store can pack a lot more display items into the space of just a few CDs. Like what you see? Bring the card to the counter for a chance to have a listen before you buy, on one of the two listening stations on top of an old upright piano that acts as a table beside the cash counter. The latest releases can be found on panels behind the cash register and to the right; opposite the cash register is a glass box containing all kinds of books, boxes sets and DVDs; and with a wrap-around section making no discrimination of jazz style, Bare Jazz does break out Norwegian artists into a separate area, as they do vinyl and sales items. There's also a separate display for the entire Winter&Winter catalog, including its remaster/reissue series of the old JMT catalog.
Inside Bare Jazz
The prices are a little steep199 NOK (about $32 USD) for a regularly priced title; 149 NOK ($24 USD) for a "budget" priced CD. That includes, of course, Norway's 25% sales tax, and while some stores have the ability to refund the VAT (value added tax) if you prove yourself a visitor, most small stores do not, and Bare Jazz is, sadly, no exception. Still, it's worth the extra money to go to a jazz store that is so vibrant and alive; a place that proves jazz may be marginalized in many places, but in Oslo, there's a clear demand for the musicand, furthermore, an actual community.
Coming Up: Crossing the Mountains to Molde; First coverage of Molde Jazz 2010.