Friday, February 10, 2017

Fasching, The Bimhuis and a Blue Note

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Over the years, Jazz has primarily had three performance venues - night clubs, concert halls and festivals.  All three are alive and well both in the USA and internationally.

The February 2017 edition of Downbeat contains a listing of 195 worldwide Jazz venues and later in the year, the magazine devotes and entire edition to Jazz festivals globally.

Three such club/concert hall venues - two old and one new [and blue!] - caught our attention because each was published with an extended annotation and we thought we’d combine this information about them and share it with you in this JazzProfiles feature.


Sweden's renowned Fasching—a perennial DownBeat pick for one of the world's top jazz clubs—will be celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2017. But its home, a downtown building in Stockholm, dates back much earlier, having been constructed in 1906.

The events that took place between 1906 and the opening of the venue (on May 2,1977) could make for a novel of sorts, filled with many intriguing twists and colorful personalities.

"From the start, it was a restaurant/cafe for Oscar's Theatre next door," said Eric Birah, Fasching's CEO. "Back then, there was a staircase from the inside of Oscar's into Fasching. There's always been a restaurant/bar/club of some sort here since 1906."

The name of the venue translates to "festival," which is appropriate these days, as Fasching has served as the headquarters for the Stockholm Jazz Festival since 2009.

As for the roots of Fasching, according to Bengt Hammar, who served as managing director, programmer and head of marketing from 1982 until 2001, "The jazz musician's community of traditional modernists [Forenignen Sveriges Jazzmusiker, or FSJ] had been looking for many years for a permanent stage. They'd been moving around from place to place, getting temporary gigs at museums, clubs and restaurants. Eventually, in 1975, they found the discotheque Fasching, and began renting Mondays through Thursdays for concerts in the club. The interior decor was in a Tyrolean style, and painted grey and pink.

"In 1977," he continues, "FSJ took over the lease with the financial help of a joint action from the mayor's office and the government. Since then, the club has been owned by the musicians. And, by the way, we repainted the interior black."

Magnus Palmquist, who eventually succeeded Hammar as artistic director at Fasching (in addition to programming the Stockholm Jazz Festival), notes, "Fasching was founded by and for musicians as a counter-movement to the entertainment-based jazz venues that dominated Stockholm at the time. Fasching became the breeding ground for music that lived, breathed and evolved within itself and without any commercial pressure — music that couldn't then or can't now easily be categorized just as 'jazz.'"

Palmquist, who came onboard in 2008, said that the club provides an important forum: "I feel that a quite new and strong movement in jazz and improvisational music is taking form, where jazz is officially allowed to influence many other musical styles and genres in a perhaps more dominant way than ever before. I definitely want that expressive flow to show in the Fasching program."

He added, "Most artists who have passed through Fasching's walls have been the leaders of their musical movement of that specific era."

As for the 40th anniversary, the folks at Fasching are busy making plans, while remodeling has continued apace. "The inside has looked different over the years," said Birah. "At one point many years ago, the stage was on the short side of the room. The balcony used to go over the big bar. Now we have built a bar in the entrance in the main hall and are taking the facade back to its original look from 1906. And we are getting new glass, doors and a new sign."

Securing the intentions of everyone who had a dream that started in 1977, former Fasching CEO (from 2007 to 2015) Lena Aberg Frisk aptly states, "Fasching has become a vibrant place, where musicians and listeners from different parts of the world, from different generations and from different genres, meet."

Artists who have graced the stage include legends such as Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley, Chet Baker and Sun Ra. It has also hosted younger stars from the States, such as Joshua Redman, Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper, as well as artists from around the world, including Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren, Maria Faust, the Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra and Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo.

The Brazilian-born Pascoal has played the club multiple times. "Fasching was our home in Sweden," he says. "We always looked forward to spending a few days performing at this great venue. We had some unforgettable parties there—onstage, and offstage as well!"
—John Ephland


Last October, 22 of Europe's most diverse and exciting improvisers aged 35 and wl-W* under converged in Amsterdam to participate in the third iteration of a project called the October Meeting. The last time the collaborative summit took place was back in 1991, and the venue that hosted both events is the legendary Bimhuis. The venue opened in 1974, filling a gaping hole in Amsterdam-one of the most progressive jazz cities in all of Europe—left by a number of canceled series in the year prior.

Several years earlier, a number of musicians — including drummer Han Bennink and saxophonist Willem Breuker — had led something of a putsch to expand the purview of the Dutch jazz organization SJIN, or Stichting Jazz. This led to the formation of a splinter group that championed improvised music: Beroepsvereniging voor Improviserende Musici (BIM). [Which translates to something like “Professional Association of Improvising Musicians.”]

Thanks to city funding, plans for a venue dedicated to the new music  - from the Netherlands, around Europe and the United States - were realized. The Bimhuis finally opened in an old furniture showroom on Oude Schans, just blocks from the Red Light District. The rest, as they say, is history. Few venues on either side of the pond have carved out such an illustrious history, maintaining inexorable ties to jazz tradition while boldly embracing endless forward-looking iterations.

Naturally, the Bim became ground zero for the vibrant jazz and improvised music scene in Amsterdam, with countless performances by Bennink, pianist Misha Mengelberg and their ICP Orchestra; Breuker's free-wheeling Kollektief; Maarten Altena's Octet; and groups led by musicians like Guus Janssen, Sean Bergin and Nedly Elstak. But it also presented new talent from the United States along with storied vets like Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker and Von Freeman, as well as the cream of crop of European improvisers: Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. It also functioned as a vibrant meeting place where new formations were born, musicians checked out new talent, and conflicts were born and (occasionally) solved.

Maintaining a cutting-edge performance space for 42 years is no Cakewalk, and almost from the beginning the direction and programming of the Bimhuis has benefitted from the vision of Huub van Riel, who came onboard in 1976. As the years passed, he rigorously kept plugged in to developments, yet his impeccable taste eschewed facile trends. Van Riel's track record is exemplary: While the programming has made space for blues and world music over the years—as well as avant-garde rock with deep affinities and associations for improvised music—there has never been any doubt that Bimhuis is first and foremost a jazz venue. The original location underwent various renovations during its history, including a major overhaul in 1984 to create an amphitheater feel. But the most tumultuous change came in 2005 when Bimhuis moved into new digs, high in the sky as a black box space literally protruding from the new waterfront Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, an institution devoted primarily to contemporary classical music.

The high-tech space couldn't help but lose the gritty ambience of the original location, but the amenities, sightlines and sound of the current space are superb. "The main thing was keeping everything that worked the same — not to transform it into another venue, but improve the old one, to keep the old audience while adding new listeners," van Kiel said. "The essential elements are the informality, [the] relaxedness, combined with total concentration on the stage. In terms of programming, we got new possibilities: cooperation with Muziekgebouw to use each other's spaces. We do some big-name concerts there [where the capacity is double the Bim's 375], and we cooperate in lots of projects. Starting in 2017 we'll do an adventurous music festival that will make use of the entire building."

Many of the concerts at Bimhuis are broadcast live and archived through its own Bimhuis Radio http://

The original October Meeting took place in 1987, with the second happening four years later. Such endeavors have been important to keeping the Bim viable. "I consider these projects and a variety of 'lab' series essential to what I consider the main role for the Bimhuis," van Riel said. "I feel that the place should be looked at, by musicians and audiences alike, as a tool much more than a goal in itself — to be functional for the development of the music. Facilitating a landscape in which adventure and risk-taking will be encouraged and can be rewarded."                         
—Peter Margasak


“On opening night of Blue Note Napa in late October, a fashionable and excited crowd queued on the Main Street sidewalk for the Chris Botti band's late set. The outdoor hanging banners looked familiar to those who had visited other Blue Note locations, and the indoor decor of the ground floor venue had many of the flagship Greenwich Village location's visual trademarks.

The trumpeter's group seemed especially energized on Oct. 25. Violinist Lucia Micarelli, who portrayed Annie in the HBO series Treme, was back with the band for its three-night run at the new club. And Taylor Eigsti, a Bay Area native who platoons the piano chair with Geoffrey Keezer, was on hand to make his Northern California debut with Botti's hearty road warriors.

"It has a lot of the same sort of charm and flavor of the New York club," Botti observed. "Even the chairs are all in the same place." Rectangular tables are lined up by the bandstand, as is the case in New York, in front of a series of booths and two rows of bar seating.

"We work with the licensees on everything in terms of the design and the sound and the lights," explained Steve Bensusan, Blue Note Entertainment Group president. "There are certain elements that are pretty consistent in terms of the tables and the table medallions and how we like to have the curtain and the sign right behind the artists' heads."

Blue Note Napa joins a roster that also includes three locations in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya), as well as clubs in Hawaii, Beijing and Milan. Situated in picturesque downtown Napa, the 150-capacity room is part of the 137-year-old Napa Valley Opera House.

The idea of opening a jazz space in Northern California's famed wine country came to Blue Note Napa Managing Director Ken Tesler about five years ago. The East Coast native had regularly been visiting his brother, who moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area a decade-and-a-half ago, and would take advantage of the proximity to Napa's signature wineries.

"During one of those numerous wine-tasting trips, it came to me that a Blue Note would do wonderfully out here," Tesler said. "And I'd love to move out here and run it.

"I've been doing business with the Bensusans — the family that owns the Blue Note brand — going on 10 years and was very familiar with the brand," he continued. Tesler was producer and promoter for the popular All Points West Music & Arts Festival, which ran from 2008 through 2009, and was also hired to produce the Rock the Bells hip-hop festival and the Governor's Ball Music Festival.

When City Winery terminated its occupancy of the Napa Valley Opera House at the end of 2015, Tesler was able to secure his ideal location. Tesler moved West the following April and started ramping up staffing. He also began booking touring acts and local musicians, which is done through the central New York office. By spring, he plans to have 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. sets Tuesday through Sunday nights, with brunch shows Saturday and Sunday.

The food and beverage offerings on opening night were appropriately noteworthy for the setting. "The food blows away any jazz club I've ever been to," Botti opined. "Napa's a 'foodie' city, so most of those tourists have a very refined taste for wine and food."

Blue Note Napa has dates booked as far out as June, with the Pat Martino Trio playing in mid-March and Delfeayo Marsalis' quartet performing in late May.
Bensusan revealed that the Blue Note franchise plans to open a Denver location in mid-2018. "We're really trying to fill in the gaps with Blue Notes in places where it would make sense to route artists," he said. "We are ... putting out the word that we are looking for local partners.
- Yoshio Kato

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.