The main thing is not to panic. What you do is find a nice quiet spot – there is one somewhere in the building, I was told – sit down with your North Sea Festival schedule and determine which of the 15 events taking place at any given time you want to see. Then – and this is the real secret – you will see something else, on the grounds that most of the other 9,999 people will have chosen the same concert as you.
This 6th North Sea Jazz Festival, held at the Congress Center in The Hague, The Netherlands (July 10-12), was even more impossible to cover than its predecessors, as it featured seven concert halls, a rooftop marquee, garden pavilion, and two cinemas showing jazz movies – in addition to a number of free concerts, jazz videotape screenings, and an arcade of record stores, jazz books and of instruments.
Organizer Paul Acket tells me that 600 musicians attended this year – but even they were outnumbered by drinks (137,000), sandwiches (50,000), sate sticks (35,000) and salted herring ( 7,000) who traveled through multinational food channels with varying degrees of speed and difficulty over the weekend.
In many ways a beautifully organized mess, the North Sea Festival is frustrating, exhausting but also extremely enjoyable. A good spirit of exuberance to live and let live prevails and while the comfortable listening conditions are of first quality and the acoustics of some rooms are less than impeccable, the concentration of so many musical talents in one both building and the joy of being able to flit (or, in my case, laboriously stumble) from session to session at will are considerable compensations.
Stepping into the Bel Air Hotel – just a hundred yards from the convention center – and seeing bar luminaries like Dexter, Dizzy, Oscar, Sarah, James Moody, and Arnett Cobb congregate, is a most enjoyable experience.
Stepping into the Bel Air Hotel – just a hundred yards from the convention center – and seeing bar luminaries like Dexter, Dizzy, Oscar, Sarah, James Moody and Arnett Cobb congregate, is a most enjoyable experience for any jazz lover. . And when Dizzy brings together the hairless heads of Tony Scott, Kirk Lightsey and Eddie Vinson for a photograph that, when viewed from above, must have looked like a pawnshop sign, it feels like the North Sea Jazz Festival can’t not be so bad.
Of course, it’s a little maddening for Shirley Horn to see people running away before her set is over in order to get floor space near the booth for the Dizzy Gillespie set – and then for Dizzy to see people. go down to catch the last half of the Heath Brothers session. . . etc. But, on the other hand, with so many musicians jostling each other, you sometimes get impromptu developments – like Monty Alexander sitting down with Milt Jackson, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and Dizzy Gillespie in a tribute to Lionel Hampton, and Joe Newman popping. until sharing the frontline tasks with Clark Terry and the Dutch saxophonist Harry Verbeke supported by the most impressive Rob Agerbeek Trio.
As an indication of the daunting challenge of covering the North Sea Festival, I recorded a detailed note of my crazy itinerary on the last day of the event. As someone who finds having to get up from their chair to change TV channels an intolerably energetic activity for a Sunday, the experience has been quite debilitating.
The afternoon started at 4 p.m. in the seated comfort of PWA Zaal, the Centre’s main concert hall, with a classic set by Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Terry Clarke (a good drummer), full of swing and satisfaction but, of course, void of surprise.
Then climb up to the roof to hear the stunning rhythm section of Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and Billy Higgins alongside the fiery bugles of Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan. After two energetic acts, it was on the ground floor to hear the eloquent harmonica of Brazilian Mauricio Einhorn, guest with the Brazilian accompaniment group of singer Erica Norimar. Einhorn, a disciple of Thielemans and a prolific composer, is not only a resourceful improviser, very keen on incongruous quotes, but he is also the only harmonica player I have met who plays the instrument backwards. (The harmonica is.)
Then, passing Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis in video projection, it was at the Sweelinck Zaal to hear the music of Mingus by Danny Richmond with a useful trumpet by Jack Walrath and a good attack piano by Bob Neloms. It was only a brief stay as I was to see Mike Zwerin in the Faya Lobbi Zaal, then go to the Toneelzaal before the end of Albert Mangelsdorff’s solo recital.
Zwerin played duels – rather than duets – with his tenor Jean Cohen, while bassist François Mechal produced that over-amplified combination of finger squeaks and distortion that passes for bass these days.
Mangelsdorff was quite superb. He has a beautifully legitimate “Teagarden” tone, but a more adventurous approach, using harmonics and vocal sounds as orchestral punctuation for his improvised lines. Deeply devoted musician, he makes lucid and graceful announcements and demonstrates a prodigious mastery of the horn. It was appalling to see only a handful of worshipers in the audience.
But somewhere a voice called. It should have been Sarah Vaughan’s, but when I arrived at PWA Zaal 15 minutes late it still hadn’t started. So, stopping only to grab a hamburger and a bottle of fresh blanc de blanc, it’s off to the Bon Bini Zaal to grab Frank Foster. Foster played a good astringent tenor and seemed to enjoy the support of the Rob Agerbeek Trio – although I couldn’t see the expression on his face because my view was blocked by a rather massive lady whose hips could have acted as a roadblock. . Once again, I was frustrated with an overly amplified bass.
Then a race for the elevator and up to the roof for Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin. When I arrived, a cool evening breeze blew from the North Sea and floated the marquee canvas on the roof. Inside, Toshiko was doing her best to make her piano solo heard above the sound of plastic cups crushed underfoot and rolling cans and bottles. Tabackin joined her in a beautiful pastoral flute performance Autumn scene, corn I am old fashioned, on tenor, was marred by the very unfriendly drum of John Engels, who seemed determined to simulate a sporadic artillery barrage.
In the Carousel Richie Cole and his demolition squad were destroying Holiday for ropes. It was a musical abomination, but the audience loved it, especially for the subtle dynamic variation – loud to very loud
In the Faya Lobbi Zaal 1 caught the group Buck Hill with Wilbur Little (b), Reuben Brown (p) and Billy Hart (d) playing excellent My funny Valentine’s Day then, going down to the Carrousel Zaal on the lower ground floor, I saw Sarah Vaughan on the television screen competing with herself on a videotape of an earlier festival from a bank of receivers of TV. In the Carousel Richie Cole and his demolition squad were destroying Holiday for ropes. It was a musical abomination, but the audience loved it, especially for the subtle dynamic variation – loud to very loud.
I needed a beer after that – although my stomach clearly didn’t – but overall the digestive system was holding up slightly better than my tips of the pedals.
I started heading to the Bob Bini Zaal for Clark Terry, then saw that it was only 9:20 p.m. and was only due to show up at 9 a.m. (this is the kind of silly chronometry that works at the festival).
I finally heard Terry, with guest Joe Newman adding a bit of extra luster to the ensemble, then looked into the Sweelinck Zaal to hear Woody Shaw – only to find myself watching this most accomplished Swedish band. , Salamander.
Then, in the well-deserved comfort of PWA Zaal, I enjoyed the very beautiful AVRO Television Big Band conducted by Tony Nolte. This formation included exceptional musicians – including Ack van Rooyen and Derek Watkins on trumpets, Eric van Lier on trombone, Ferdinand Povel on viola, Bob Franken on keyboards and Eef Albers on guitar.
They performed inspired charts – Rob McConnell’s arrangement of Just friends, Peter Herbolzheimer’s version of Giant step and Jerry van Rooyen’s treatment of Chick Corea Celebration – then, after a brief stint with the Shirley Horn Trio – they accompanied Mel Tormé with a lot of verve and vitality. Tormé was in a good voice for Climb high, Watch what’s going on and Send the clowns.
At 11:45 p.m. I briefly adjourned for my second dinner – four sticks of sate with a special guest, Frankfurter – and while eating this at Carousel Zaal I listened to Richie Cole beat Peg O’My Heart in submission.
I had a fleeting whim to end the day by going to see Bob Crosby – but fatigue and hunger overcame me and I queued for another sausage. This Sunday ended not on a whim but on a firecracker.
The highlights of the previous two days were provided by the Herbie Hancock Quartet (19-year-old Wynton Marsalis is clearly already a major trumpet voice and destined for great things), the Heath Brothers (a superbly polite and professional band) , Dizzy Gillespie playing better in a set with James Moody and Milt Jackson than he has in many years, the ever-reliable Concord tribe (McKenna and Vaché exceptional) and Ernestine Anderson, beautifully supported by the Monty Alexander outfit . Alexander delivered a virtuoso performance of Sweet Georgia Brown with the superb support of guitarist Ernest Ranglin and bassist Jerry Wiggins.