Focus on Belgian Jazz

tekst: Storm Bakker

The Belgian jazz history started in the twenties and thirties, and especially after WO II yielded many internationally known jazz musicians and composers such as the gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, guitarist and harmonica legend Toots Thielemans (who worked with Charlie Parker), vibraphone virtuoso Fats Sadi, and -when be bop arrived- talented saxophonist Bobby Jaspar (who played with such greats as John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Chet Baker), his friends Jacques Pelzer (touring with Chet Baker) and guitarist René Thomas (who played with Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz and Stan Getz) and Antwerp saxophonist Jack Sells.

Belgian jazz musicians did not really participate in free jazz, which had more followers in Germany and the Netherlands. In the seventies, due to Miles Davis and music from India and Europe, jazz electrified and flirted with rock. Belgian ‘fusion’ became the realm of Philip Catherine, Jack van Poll, Marc Moulin and Micheline Pelzer (wife of Mickey Graillier, pianist of Magma and Chet Baker). Especially Catherine is worldwide acknowledged as one of the finest Belgian musicians around. He played with Dexter Gordon, Stéphane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, Toots Thielemans, Charlie Mariano, Chet Baker, Larry Coryell, Didier Lockwood, Jannick Top, Gerry Brown, John Lee, Jasper van 't Hof, Tom Harrell, Hein van de Geyn, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Enrico Pieranunzi, Joe LaBarbera. Karel Boehlee and Jesse van Ruller. Catherine is much awarded. He received a Django d'Or 'Best European Jazz Musician'. The greatest Belgian jazz musican of all times, however, is Jean Toots Thielemans, touring worldwide and recording with Cahrlie Parker, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, Rogier van Otterloo and later on Paul Simon and Pat Metheny, to name a few.

After two decades of silence, Belgian improvised music came back in force by a new generation of young and promising musicians in a variety of jazz styles: old-style mainstream, big band, bebop, but also all forms of modern jazz like jazzrock, avant-garde and free improvisation, latin jazz and fusion, acid jazz, world jazz, an so on. Since, Belgian ‘jazz’ seems to be the realm of revolutionary odd meter intellectuals and philosophers like Pierre Van Dormael, Kris Defoort, Laurent Blondiau, Nicolas Thys, Jozef Dumoulin, Fabrizio Cassol, Michel Hatzigeorgiou (the under-study of Jaco Pastorius) and Stephane Galland (who toured with Joe Zawinul and Ibrahim Maalouf). Their groups Octurn and especially AKA Moon (in 2017 celebrating its 25th anniversary) are worldwide acknowlegded as the European equivalent of Steve Coleman’s M-Base.

Nowadays, a new generation of intresting jazz players is entering the scene, gaining widely recognition in Belgium and abroad. Pianist Jef Neve tours in Europe with his Spirit Control, while youngsters like Antoine Pierre (drummer with Philip Catherine and Didier Lockwood), De Beren Gieren, LABtrio (with Alexander Gyselinck and Bram de Looze) and SCHNTZL are exponents of the so-called New Wave of Belgian Jazz. Some of them are entering the Dutch scene, featured by VPROVrijeGeluiden and also present at Amersfoort Jazz festival 2018.

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Lander Gyslinck foto Alexander Popelier (promo LABtrio)