All that jazz: Part 1 of Brussels’ jazz scene

To mark International Jazz Day on Monday 30th April, we’ve teamed up with Jazz.Brussels and handpicked 11 essential figures in Brussels jazz today. From musicians and live music venues to management agencies and record labels, these are the driving forces behind the local jazz scene.

The Word Radio is teaming up with Jazz.Brussels for a full day of radio shows, DJ sets and live concerts. For the occasion, our studios – located in what used to be the Commune’s last standing farmhouse – will be open to all, with free drinks provided throughout the day. Come through, this is a free event and the sun’s likely to be on our side. Find the Facebook event here.

Photographer Joke De Wilde (c)

Antoine Pierre: “It’s always a good kick to be surrounded by hard-working musicians and Brussels has plenty of them.”

I’m a Brussels-based drummer and composer who spends most of his time playing music. My father is a jazz guitar player and my mother a true music lover so jazz was always played at home, especially jazz guitarists like Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner and John Scofield. I believe Brussels is a very flourishing scene because it has this complex-free, auto-derision spirit that enhances the creativity. There are plenty of different genres available and everyone can take part to whichever. The city is a big blend of styles and nationalities gathered by the wish of creating new things together. And on a personal level it’s always a good kick to be surrounded by hard-working musicians and Brussels has plenty of them. The city puts you in this motion of going forward and it makes you want to stay in that energy constantly. Unfortunately, even though the number of musicians is increasing, there’s really few clubs… We lack places to play and that needs to change. But the bright side is that we can see that the audience for jazz is getting bigger.

Antoine is the 25 year-old drummer of Taxiwars, Urbex and NextApe who has played alongside the eminent guitarist Philip Catherine.

Maarten Van Rousselt: “The hybrid nature of the city echoes through the sound of the contemporary jazz scene.”

Jazz and Brussels come a long way. It’s an old love story. We had great musicians like Toots Thielemans and Marc Moulin to show us the way and today’s scene counts amazing talents like Philip Catherine and Aka Moon. The cosmopolitan context and the vast cultural offering of the city are very specific characteristics of Brussels which make it a unique place in Belgium and a perfect breeding ground for many art disciplines, including music. The hybrid nature of the city with its global influences echoes through the sound of the contemporary jazz scene. The past few years, the sector as a whole has experienced a wave of professionalisation with professional management agencies, record labels, high quality conservatories and venues, all with a clear objective: promoting jazz talents. That clearly has given a boost to the scene. Unfortunately, the lack of proper rehearsal spaces is an ongoing issue. And although there are a lot of places where you can see jazz concerts, there are very few real artistic free havens where there is room for experiment and avant-garde. Luckily, initiatives like Walter by Teun Verbruggen and Collectif AuQuai play a vital role for young talents to blossom.

Maarten is the planning manager and jazz coordinator at Flagey.

Esinam Dogbatse: “Music is my life and my life is music, so I put all my love, time and passion into music.”

Jazz has an open mind. It can embrace different visions and be mixed with different styles. And more specifically, the scene in Brussels is various; I think there’s something for everybody. Cities never sleep, which sometimes can be tiring. Brussels is not so big but you can feel that same energy you find in other major cities: like everything is in motion. I just wish there were more occasions to share our thoughts with other musicians or people in arts, because it is so inspiring. I am a musician, mainly a flutist. I play percussions, the keyboard and I sing for my solo project, too. I also spent some time learning how to produce music. So my daily occupations go from practicing, to playing, improvising, recording, creating the visual for my EP and composing a new song from an impro. Being a musician is my profession and to me, it is an entire process with many tasks and steps. But above all, music is my life and my life is music, so I put all my love, time and passion into music.

Esinam is a multi-instrumentalist that brings electronic and African touches to her jazz.

Luc Mishalle: “Venues are in constant renewing with different styles mixing up.”

As the artistic director of METX, a production house for urban music, my focus is on the relationship between traditional forms of music of North and West African musicians who live in Brussels and western forms of improvisation and actual jazz. And Brussels is probably one of the good reasons why I took that direction. Around the year 2000, I moved from Antwerp to Brussels because there was a lot of movement. There still is. Many musicians come and go, each leaving a mark. Venues are in constant renewing with different styles mixing up, and more importantly, there’s no dominant culture. We have a lot of superb musicians, but also management agencies like Aubergine that shape Brussels’ Jazz scene into what it is today. As soon as I settled down in Brussels, I got to know different cultural communities through various projects, from traditional Rwandese drumming and dancing, to Lilla ceremonies from the Gnaoua community. These experiences and my work in Antwerp with Moroccan shaabi and improvised music were all major influencing forces.

Luc is saxophonist and the artistic director of METX, a production house for urban music.

Nathan Daems: “The city is alive with jazz and the club culture is embracing more and more jazz groups.”

Since I was a kid there’s always melodies and rhythms in my head. When I was 15, I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and I tried to play his melodies with my electric guitar. If you listen to his live albums, you can hear it’s much closer to jazz than pop music. Thanks to Hendrix I will always be in love with the guitar and with the concept of “Let’s play a nice melody so we have a good excuse to start jamming and improvising for the rest of the track”. I believe that in terms of style, Brussels influences us much more than we think. We live in an urban environment with a lot of diversity and the weather is neither hot, or cold… All these factors contribute to what kind of music we want to make and to listen to. Our jazz would be different if we had a Scandinavian or a tropical climate. The city is alive with jazz and the club culture is embracing more and more jazz groups because the Belgian jazz scene has become more urban and less traditional. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases artists don’t get paid decently and that’s a pity.

Nathan is a musician, composer and leader of the Ethiopian jazz band Black Flower.

Eve Beuvens: “Brussels has a very attractive jazz scene.”

I was raised by a musician family in the countryside. My father is a wise jazz amateur who plays the bass and my brother is a jazz drummer. I remember listening to Monk and Miles as a child as we used to drive across the country to attend festivals and concerts. Later on, I moved to Brussels to study music at the Flemish conservatory. Living in the city allowed me to meet many people and become a part of a stimulating emulation. But to be honest I like quiet too and I need to leave the city regularly. My life as a musician involves many aspects: I’m a teacher, the president of Les lundis d’Hortense, and take care of the booking of my band. But the most important to me is to keep composing and practicing. Keeping all that in balance is not easy so I meditate, read and write on a regular basis, with words too! All-in all, Brussels has a very attractive jazz scene. When we talk about it, we shouldn’t forget the people who work hard to create and hold venues. The jazz scene would be nothing without them.

Eve is the co-leader of a quartet with Swedish musicians and the president of the musicians association Les lundis d’Hortense.