On Sunday morning, a friend of mine rang to inform me that she had a day ticket to the North Sea Jazz Festival going spare since her boyfriend was an idiot who'd put his back out pottering about in the garden the day before, and she was sure I wouldn't like to see it go to waste. How well my friends know me! I'd stupidly been too late to get any tickets myself, and when she rang was actually trying very hard to forget that the festival had started without me being there. So of course, I told her I'd meet her in 20 and got ready for my umpteenth visit to this, one of the biggest and most important jazz festivals in the world, which for almost 30 years has been the main cultural summer event held in my hometown of The Hague. And which I, even though it gets more crowded and more and more expensive every year, just cannot seem to get enough of.
I must be the only one in my generation who missed -and I mean, completely missed- the greatest world-wide televised charity event of the late 20th century: when Live Aid happened, I was at North Sea Jazz, sneaking in to a concert of the then artists in residence, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.
300+ Artists come to perform at the 3-day event, and they play jazz continuously from the early early morning to the early early night in the halls and corridors of the Congresgebouw (designed by the architect J.J.P. Oud and built in the early 60s, and now hopelessly inadequate and unsuitable to such a major event within its walls, so now there's talk of moving the festival to either Utrecht or Rotterdam in 2005). They come from all over the world too: South America, Africa, Eastern Europe as well as from the US and the EU, and they cater to every taste. There's classic and modern, big band and fusion, old and new, famous names and not so famous names - and as a festival goer, you wander from hall to hall and from corridor to corridor, from roof terrace to basement and out to the big marquee in the garden and back again, taking in whatever gig you feel like hanging around for and staying for as long as you please...all except those of the artist(s) in residence to whose sets you need an extra ticket, and which are only available in limited numbers.
This year's artist in residence was US jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, whose music I have loved since my first real boyfriend introduced me both to it and this festival, and I therefore considered it a special treat that my friend had managed to obtain tickets to his Sunday afternoon set as well. And it was everything I remembered and more. Ilse DeLange came on stage and sang a few songs as his guest which was quite refreshing: her usual field is c&w, a musical genre I normally detest (well, mostly...there are a few exceptions that I don't mind listening to, but Ilse DeLange is not one of them). Anyway, I enjoyed this show immensely - quite in contrast to last year's artist in residence, Herbie Hancock's.
The trouble with the AIR's concerts is, that the doors close as soon as the artist is ready to appear on stage. And after that, it's quite difficult to get out before they're ready to go off again; the hall has a limited capacity, everyone's sitting down, and they hiss at you if you try to scramble over them or obstruct their view.
Now, Herbie Hancock is one of jazz's greatest technical virtuoso's, and one of my then companion's heroes. And I had never minded the odd bit of Hancock I'd heard in his home. But to have to sit through nearly 2 hours of it...that was a little bit more than I had bargained for. Technically, I couldn't fault the performance, but the music just did not resonate with me; and the only joy I had from it was when Wynton Marsalis appeared on stage for a spot of jamming just over halfway through.
Hancock was there again this year, but I didn't go in to see his set. Marsalis was there as well, and I stayed to listen for maybe 20 minutes before moving on. Maceo Parker, Isaac Hayes, George Benson, and Candy Dulfer were all playing, and there were also a group of Finnish followers of the late great Sun Ra and his big band operating under the name Jimi Tenor and His Band, who were great fun. I love big bands, esp. of the 30s and 40s. Artie Shaw was there to give a masterclass, I heard...wish I could have been a fly on that wall! (do flies have ears?)
Anyway, the whole experience was just as wonderful as every other year I've been, although I didn't discover any new talent. Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by an Italian combo that combined jazz with tango - but I've forgotten their name and I don't know how to get a hold of their music. They'd brought a bag of CDs to flog to interested parties with them, but they were totally unprepared for the sheer number of people that really liked what they were doing...and so I was left empty-handed.
I came home at 2 a.m. -stomach growling, throat parched, feet aching, legs shaking, and purse empty yet still elated- and had to get up again at 6, but strangely enough I don't feel at all tired...but if LiveJournal will refuse to post and eats my words again, I'm going to get very, very frustrated!