Unlike other popular forms of music, Jazz seems to cut across all boundaries, attracting fans without age, race or class distinctions. This was evident from the diverse and enormous crowd that showed up for the 26th North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haag. The two traits this seemingly unrelated mass of humanity share is a discerning taste in music and a certain knowing twinkle in their eyes, perhaps reflecting some kind of inner at-tune-ment with the essence of jazz.
At the North Sea Jazz Festival, the audience is indeed part of the show. And the lineup of world class jazz, blues, rock, fusion musicians is unmatched anywhere. Friday's the big opening night and usually showcases the biggest talents. We were not disappointed by the line-up which included George Benson, Herbie Hancock and Van Morrison to name a few.
However the highlight of the evening (for me) was the brilliant set by The Art of Four in the smaller Jan Steenzaal. Featuring Donald Harrison on sax, James Williams on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Billy Cobham tearing up the drums. These veterans showed their stuff on such great tunes as "Alter Ego", which combined simultaneous tempo and key changes which "altered" the mood time and again.
Herbie Hancock's Electric Group even included a DJ, which kept the music hopping while a psychedelic light show played from a computer. Herbie noted that certain sounds could be coming from electronic keyboards, a computer, sampled sounds or a vinyl record. His cacophonic yet joyful music made it pointless to try to discern the origin of each note.
George Benson, as always the consummate performer, played many of his hits including Give Me The Night and Turn Your Love Around. I've always admired George, not just as a great jazz guitarist, but also as a fine, yet humble person with such a strong belief in the human spirit that clearly permeates his art. He and his music always provide an uplifting experience, and this was certainly the case at the festival.
The number of food and merchandising booths at the festival is amazing. From nasi to tacos, drums to saxophones it seemed like anything remotely related to jazz was available for sale. I was enticed by some souvenirs of the event, and I must commend the management for keeping the vendor scene cool and not a sour note.
The downside of the North Sea Jazz Festival is apparent to anyone who's attended. It's way too crowded, especially on opening night. For a newbie, it's also terribly difficult to find your way around the venues. No maps (except a very small one in the magazine). Signs point in every direction, but never a sign for the place you're trying to find. Poor crowd management since every venue seems to have only one entrance and exit - always the same one, so you have people pushing to get in and out at the same point. There were even fist fights as people were frustrated by the logjams.
Crowded trains into and out of Den Haag made the experience more tense than necessary. Our train out of Amsterdam wouldn't leave the station because it was too crowded. Finally they announced the train wouldn't stop in Leiden, hoping many people would disembark. Sorry, everyone stayed put while even more people kept crowding in...
You'd think after 25 years of this, they'd have figured out how to deal with the numbers of people, or at least stop selling tickets at some point. But I'm glad I got to witness another exciting part of jazz history.