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Jazzhus Montmartre: The Legend Continues

Jakob Baekgaard By

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To jazz listeners around the world, the word "Montmartre" has a very special meaning. It is a word that conjures an image, not of French cafés and bohemian painters, as one might expect, but of an intimate little jazz venue in the middle of Copenhagen which once attracted some of the very best jazz musicians in the world. This was the place that became the second home of Brew Moore, Ben Webster, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Drew, and Stan Getz.

The Story of Montmartre
Jazzhus Montmartre (Jazzhouse Montmartre) was opened on February 17 1959. At that time, the owner of the club was Anders Dyrup who found the now legendary location in St. Regnegade 19 that became the club's address for 17 years (1959-1976). It was also under Dyrup's guidance that the club was decorated by the artist Mogens Gylling who made the famous wall of masks which became a signature for the club. The atmosphere inside the club was relaxed and friendly, with candlelit tables and smoke and talk floating around the heated room. It was a vibrant place, filled with joy and spontaneity—at times people from the audience would even sneak in under the piano to hear the music more clearly.

The famous masks created by Danish artist Mogens Gylling became an iconic symbol of Jazzhus Montmartre in the 1960s and '70s.

And there was a lot to hear. Early on, in 1959, Stan Getz' wife Monica Silfverskiöld approached Dyrup to arrange for the saxophonist to play at the club. Throughout the years, Getz was to become an important part of the history of the place and he even recorded his last album People Time at Montmartre. However, Getz was also quite an expensive musician and Dyrup had problems with the economy so by January 31 1960 Montmartre had to close for the first time, but luckily Dyrup's departure wasn't the end of the venue. Instead, Herluf Kamp-Larsen took over and made Montmartre more rentable while, at the same time, keeping the high musical profile and making it even more ambitious by creating an open artistic environment that would attract musicians from around the world. Speaking of the atmosphere in the club, the Danish bassist Lars Malther says:

"I experienced Montmartre as serious venue, more than just a joint. The result was that the musicians—including me—had a feeling of being artists and not just musicians. The place had an aura around it as one of the leading venues in Scandinavia, maybe even Europe. You didn't get a lot of money to play, but they treated you well and the audience was usually enthusiastic so it was a great place to play."

One of the reasons why Montmartre is such an important part of Danish jazz history is that the venue essentially became a training ground for the Danish jazz musicians. Musicians such as the bass great Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and pianist Ole Kock Hansen cut their teeth playing behind legends like Dexter Gordon and Lee Konitz. The pianist Torben Kjaer reminisces about the musical education at Montmartre:

"It was pure musical education in front of you. Montmartre's significance lay in its influence on the local community. It was of immense importance to local musicians like us. Just to be able to hear the same soloist several evenings in a row and maybe get the chance to play with them. To me, the significance of Montmartre's influence on my own generation of musicians cannot be overestimated. It was pure education to be there. When Dexter Gordon once said to me, 'Torben, you play too long solos' and then played forty-eight choruses himself, I understood what he meant. Those were the kind lessons that you learned at Montmartre"

Stan Getz playing at Montmartre

The early sixties and seventies were Montmartre's golden era. It was a time when jazz was popular music on equal terms with rock and pop, but throughout the seventies, the musical focus shifted and gradually jazz became more marginalized and it became harder to earn a living having a venue only playing jazz. In 1976, Montmartre folded once again, but this time it was end of the place—at least as a pure jazz venue located in St. Regnegade 19. Montmartre moved location to Nørregade 41 and started to experiment with other styles of music and in 1995 it came to a sad end when it was closed and replaced by a discotheque.

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