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No cause for gloating at the end of the North Sea Jazz Club

Today became known That the North Sea Jazz Club at Amsterdam's Westergasfabriek grounds is bankrupt. This is never good news, for anyone. Not even for those sourpusses who like to complain about North Sea Jazz, the club's namesake.

Five years ago, it was big news: Rotterdam's North Sea Jazz Festival would open a club in Amsterdam. That was a little more nuanced: two Amsterdam entrepreneurs had managed to secure a spot on the Westergasfabriek grounds and a licensing deal with the North Sea Jazz festival organisers for the name. Under that proud banner, the club was suddenly a reality, and its first years were a feast for fans. I saw wonderful performances on the frayed edges of jazz from Edmar Castaneda (Venezuela), Samba Touré (Mali), Ebo Taylor (Ghana), Eddie Palmieri (Puerto Rico/NYC) and Randal Corsen (Curaçao).


To be honest, I did wonder how long they could keep that up. International music programming is a fighting market, as the North Sea Jazz Club's own programmer once said in the local newspaper. Moreover, it's an expensive business and there are few tickets to sell in a small club, which was, nota bene, further reduced by the tables for diners. That makes it a tricky activity on the revenue side.

Enough currants

Still, things seemed to be going well. The programming in the years after the first year was already a bit more mainstream for the snob that I am. But there were still plenty of cherry picks, such as sold-out and very exciting concerts by Ibrahim Maalouf and Snarky Puppy. Dutch pride in Colombia, trumpeter Maité Hontelé, came, saw and conquered, Amsterdam-Turkish singer and pianist Karsu Dönmez played for a club packed with cosmopolitans, including many Turkish-Dutch. Wonderful evenings they were.

Blues is the healer?

Slowly, it is impossible to pinpoint this precisely to a date, I did see more and more blues artists appearing on the monthly calendar. Remarkable, I thought, because blues is not exactly a genre where thunderous new musical vistas are being developed - I am expressing myself mildly here. "But heads up, snob Tchong!" I thought, that unsubsidised club has to live on something and with blues it's like eighties music: it never ends and it always has an audience. A good music programmer finances himself: with a few 'fat bookings' (read: acts that sell out), you theoretically keep 'risk money', with which you can then organise some more adventurous and artistically challenging concerts.


Hence my shock at the press release circulated this morning. Apparently it wasn't enough after all, or that precarious artistic-commercial balance proved too difficult to maintain in the end. There was hassle over the renewal of the name's licence, causing the landlord to buckle. The Westerga site operator is known for its generously high rents, previously MC Theatre (among other reasons) fell over. I hope for the employees' sake that mud-slinging, that quintessentially Dutch tradition of Schadenfreude after something has failed will stay out. In America, you are only taken seriously as an entrepreneur after a bankruptcy or two.

Good idea

I was very much looking forward to Cape Verdean Bitori's concert (one of the highlights of Lowlands 2016). Good luck to all involved, in and around the club. For what it's worth: the wine was always excellent and I found the service to be un-Amsterdam friendly and professional. The aspiration to establish a permanent jazz club in the capital, one that encompasses the entire tradition of jazz and, moreover, the many ramifications and influences in the rest of the world of this African-American primal scream? Well: that aspiration, dear reader, remains a very good idea.

The only question is whether it can compete financially with the now some 1,200 festivals that take place on an annual basis in the Netherlands. Apparently, fans of adventurous music prefer to be served up in festival form rather than in a stylish club.

Can we also ask: is the classical concert hall dated?

Good to know
The press release.

NRC Handelsblad on bankruptcy.

Bitori will be seen on Friday, March 3, in WORM, Rotterdam.

Jaïr Tchong

Formerly cultural journalist and music programmer (Tolhuistuin, Melkweg) in the Netherlands. Since 1 December 2019, music programmer for arts centre KAAP. KAAP organises two annual collaborations in Bruges and Ostend. In Ostend in its own venue by the sea, in Bruges nomadically throughout the city and with partners such as Concertgebouw Brugge, Cactus, CC Brugge and De Republiek. KAAP also organises festivals: Push the Button, Dansand, Jazz Brugge and AMOK.View Author posts

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