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Music from Norway: Just How Important Is It, Really?

By Published: November 10, 2013
But truthfully, the biggest thing that Norway can do to bring its music to the world in a way that encourages less envy and, consequently, knee-jerk backlash, is to do what some of its artists are already doing: collaborate with other musicians from other countries; encourage a cultural exchange that will allow everyone to evolve in an organic fashion. Jazz is and always has been an inclusionary art form, and the only risk Norway runs by having the support it does is to become insular. That it was, indeed, an isolated country in decades past was unavoidable, but no longer holds true. And while work visa costs for getting into the United States are excessive, and costs to tour places like Canada are high simply because it's a big country that makes travel expensive, these should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles.

Just as some American artists now spend half their year living in cities like Berlin to be connected to the European scene, so, too, should Norwegians consider—as Håkon Kornstad did, for a time, spending half his time in Oslo, half his time in New York City, and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, who now lives in Texas—spending some of their time living elsewhere, whether to study explicitly, or to simply assimilate the culture of wherever they are through osmosis.

From an outsider's perspective, the Norwegian scene continues to grow and appears to be healthy. Exposure to other cultures will only help it to evolve further, and become part of what has, in the past two decades since the advent of the internet, become true globalization, where artists from many different countries can engage in collective music-making. The results may not always be successful, but the experience is always valuable; sometimes the journey is more valuable than the destination, after all. And while it's perfectly natural to look at Norway's good fortune with envy, it's also important to remember that, as mentioned earlier in this piece, Norway's oil money is not the reason that its leaders choose to devote that one percent to the arts; it simply acts as facilitator, albeit on a very large scale. Before you have money you must have visionary leaders prepared to commit to something without a bottom line impact, and to do so for the long haul because they believe it will enrich the lives of their constituents, just as Cultiva did in Kristiansand. Rather than looking upon this situation as something to merely envy, it should be seen as something to which to aspire by other countries, even if they don't have access to the same sized pot of gold.

Culture needs to stop being a dirty word, and the only way to make that happen is through gradual exposure, beginning at an early age and including education. If anything, Norway should be viewed as an example of how a long-term commitment to culture has not only yielded great fruit in the sheer numbers of exceptional musicians that have emerged over the past forty years, but in the life of the average Norwegian, who clearly supports these musicians through purchasing recordings and supporting live performances. If a city the size of Oslo can support its large number of live venues—a few examples ranging from the tiny but wonderfully funky MONO and 300-seater jazz club, Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, to the larger Rockefeller and, of course, Oslo Operahuset—is there any reason why a city, for example, the size of Ottawa, Canada cannot? The answer is complex, but in a nutshell: no, there is absolutely no reason. But in order to do so, the city would have to examine what drives the inhabitants of a city like Oslo to go out and support live music and theatre, art exhibitions and other cultural events.

It may not be perfect, but it's an exceptionally compelling model. Coming from Ottawa, Canada, a city twice the size of Oslo whose one and only jazz club went belly up in 2012, it seems that the idea of looking to Norway as a model of how arts should be funded and presented, and how arts can be made once again popular—even if there's less money per capita to go around—is an admirable objective, and one that should be pursued sooner rather than later. Norway has proven the value of making the broadest range of culture a part of its nation's overall social tapestry—and that is, in many ways, a far more important raison d'être for arts funding than its direct impact on the artists it supports.

Photo Credit
All Photos: John Kelman

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