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Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Copenhagen and all that jazz!

Jazz came to Denmark from the US in the 1920’s. The majority, however, though it was rubbish and a naive kind of music started by dark skinned cultures. So, when Josephine Baker, the American singer, danced in Copenhagen with her top off only wearing a banana skirt in 1928, the bourgeoisie though it was outrageous! Did she have no shame? But a famous Danish architect and critic, Poul Henningsen, loved it and wrote in a big Danish newspaper: “If naturalness could be thought, mothers would send their young girls to Josephine Baker”.
The jazz enthusiasts of the time probably would never have thought it possible that the experimenting and exotic music would flourish in Denmark. Today the jazz scene is very much present with a big variety of genres – from experimental to electronic jazz, and you can hear this palette of music during the next week at Copenhagen Jazz Festival!

Changing of times

The bourgeoisie in the 20’s and 30’s though classical, Danish music was the correct kind, so the exotic jazz with dark musicians had a hard time breaking though. Racism was more present, which of course influenced the jazz community. But despite that the Danish Jazz Music Organization was founded in 1931. From then on, the music started to spread from Copenhagen to the rest of Denmark. Especially the young liked the new rhythms, since the music was looked at as a sign of changing times.

International stars

During the 1930’s several big, international stars visited Denmark. Among those was Louis Armstrong, who in 1933 was greeted by thousands of fans. In his first autobiography, Sing That Music, he wrote: “All I remember is a whole ocean of people, all breaking through the police lines and bearing down on us until I got afraid we were going to get stomped underfoot… You’d have thought I had been some kind of national hero to them”.People had fallen for the playful music! During WWII it was impossible to import new records or invite the big stars to the country. This was the real start of the Danish jazz scene which became a symbol of freedom and resistance against the occupation. One of the greatest Danish jazz musicians of the time was Leo Mathisen. You might know his song “Take It Easy”, listen to it here:

The bebop jazz came to Denmark in the late 40’s with Dizzy Gillespies and Don Redman. During the 50’s the jazz developed and became more experimental. In 1959 Miles Davis launched the avantgarde jazz with the record “Kind of Blue”. The very same Miles Davis was awarded with the Sonning Music Award in 1984 and afterwards recorded “Aura” in Copenhagen written by Danish Palle Mikkelborg.

Café Montmartre

In the heart of Copenhagen café Montmartre was an epicenter for Danish and international jazz from 1959-1976. Two of the time’s big, international jazz stars Oscar Pettiford and Stan Getz attracted other big musicians to the café such as Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Thad Jones and Ed Thingpen, who all often stayed for months. The music executive of Café Montmartre described the time as “Everything exploded in those years!”

Today Café Montmartre does not exist, but Copenhagen Jazz House is open and full of atmosphere. You can find it at Niels Hemmingens Gade.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Every year since 1979 there has been a jazz festival in Copenhagen with concerts around the city. Both in the public parks, jazz clubs, The Royal Theater, churches, cafés and plenty more. This is a unique way to enjoy and explore the city. We encourage you to try concerts at different places, in order for you to see much more of Copenhagen! Take a look at the city, and if you would like a local and experienced guide to enlighten you about the city and its little gems, then visit our website or give us a call. Have a nice jazz festival!


The article has been written with inspiration from