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European Jazz Diary, Part 2

Nick Catalano By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

A few years ago I was in France at the Vienne Jazz Festival near Lyon. After sojourning with other American jazz writers, sampling some spectacular provincal cooking along with fabulous vintages of Cote du Rhone and watching Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, McCoy Tyner, Annie Ross and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra tear up the concert stages, I sat with Wynton Marsalis at a quiet breakfast. We were discussing the fanaticism of the French audiences and trying to agree on some vague generalizations regarding the enormous jazz appreciation in Europe.

I mentioned that I had just been in Greece (each year, for decades now, I've been teaching a summer seminar on Classical Greece), and Wynton quickly referenced his considerable knowledge of Greek drama and then segued into a vague recollection of having performed in Athens during his Art Blakey years. He couldn't recall exactly where the performance was held (the Herodias Atticus theater at the base of the Acropolis was the best guess) and asked me to comment on the Greek jazz scene. I told him I would check my contacts with a view toward possible performance opportunities for the LCJO. On this year's trip I remembered my conversations with Wynton, and set out to investigate matters between my lectures on Thucydides and Aristotle.

The scene in Athens initially looked promising when I was told of the Half Note, a club near the trendy Psimi section of town. Some Athenian friends told me that the room had recently been talked about quite a lot, and I quickly obtained some flashy promo material that revealed performances this past spring by the Andy Bey quartet and the Joe Chambers quartet featuring Gary Bartz. The club had also headlined Orquestra do Fuba, the Gustavo Gancedo quartet and other international groups. I was prepared for some excitement as I planned my visit, but was soon astonished to discover that the room was closed!

Athens really starts to explode and unveil its huge late night atmosphere in May and June, so I was floored to learn that the city's only jazz club was closed at its busiest time of year. No one could offer any explanations (jazz is not a topic of great interest among the natives) and during my stay in Greece the only other jazz activity I could find was something called the 5th European Jazz Festival down in Pereus (the port of Athens) with Jazz&Tzaz magazine as a sponsor. Let me be polite by saying that the shows in no way reflected the advanced billing...the music performances were very disappointing. I had not really expected any big swinging scene in Greece (if there had been any substantive activity I would certainly have heard of it on my previous yearly visits) so I left town and flew north.

Greece is a country that has not received sustained professional promotion from jazz producers. If somebody gets ambitious, however, I'm convinced things could change in a hurry.

When I got off the plane in Amsterdam, somehow I could feel the finger popping and foot stomping...Wow! ...When Lionel Hampton returned to the Concertgebouw in 1954, some friends who were there told me that the crowds literally rioted with glee and jazz quickly became a main entrée on Dutch cultural menus.... As soon as my plane hit the tarmac I realized that the jazz scene was huge and gaining in momentum very fast.


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