On running neighbourhood jazz club Sounds Jazz Club, by Sergio Duvalloni

There’s plenty of reasons as to why Ixelle’s neighbourhood staple Sounds Jazz Club has been going on strong for over three decades now: from a clear-cut artistic direction, to a careful balancing act between panache and a no-nonsense attitude, founder and owner Sergio Duvalloni (1951) reveals all.

Photographer Thomas Ost (c).

In 1986 my wife Rosy and I arrived from Berlin and, shortly before her birthday, I told her: “I’ll give you a present, I’ve found a place and we’ll start a music club there.” Six months later we opened the Sounds, in this place that used to be a restaurant. At the time, we used to book mostly pop and rock concerts, essentially out of respect for the legendary Bierodrome jazzclub down the street which, today is where you’ll find the Volle Gas brasserie. But I really didn’t book any jazz acts at the time. It was only two years later, once Bieredrome’s owners and myself became friends, that I dared venturing into jazz. Thing is, the vibe in the rock scene back then in Brussels was rough, concerts often attracted a crowd hard to handle. It got to the point where I was tired of the tension in the air and decided to completely change the club’s artistic direction. And that’s pretty much how Sounds became the Jazz Club that it still is today. One thing I’m very proud of is that we have never, in the club’s 31 years of existence, had a fight, and that’s quite an achievement in the nightlife scene. Same thing for drugs, not one incident, not with musicians nor with the public. At first, we only had one live gig a week, on Saturdays. Slowly but surely we got more ambitious though, and today we host live jazz six days a week – Sundays are our only day off. Nowadays you don’t really have any classic jazz clubs around, but thirty years ago you still had clubs that played only New Orleans style jazz for instance. That’s why I chose, very early on, to focus on the modern side of jazz, promoting a new generation of musicians that at the time was really only coming up.

Don’t send me a YouTube link, I won’t look at it, it is one thing to perform in a short video, but it’s an entirely different thing to do a live show of for instance two times 30 minutes.

One of the bands very closely linked to us is AKA Moon and I’m still immensily proud that their 1991 live album was recorded at the Sounds, went they still played as Nasa Na monniker. The saxophone virtuoso of the group, Fabrizio Cassol, later returned to make a film in the club with his Trio Bravo, also known as ‘the worlds smallest bigband’. In terms of artistic direction, I want musicians that compose. That means no standards. I choose the musicians and bands I book by what I hear on their CD or LP. I want to be sure that musicians have invested themselves in their music, that’s something that shows motivation and passion to me. Don’t send me a YouTube link, I won’t look at it, it is one thing to perform in a short video, but it’s an entirely different thing to do a 30 minute live show. Don’t get me wrong though, I do support young musicians, especially since a lot of them are now being taught by a generation of musicians that I helped in their early days. But for them we have the Master Sessions on Mondays, which aren’t your ordinary type of jam sessions. Indeed, the sessions are often hosted by experienced musicians, meaning a young musician will think twice before he or she takes to the stage with Bruno Castellucci on the drums for instance, so it tends to raise the bar a little. One night, a few students from the Conservatoire were discussing the stress they were experiencing for their forthcoming examens and, as it turned out, they were especially agitated with the sterile place in which they’d have to face their jury. So I went to talk to some of the teachers and suggested they host their final exams at Sounds. Since then, we’ve had the Flemish Conservatoire doing their final exams in public here each year.