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Danish Jazz history

During the sixties Copenhagen was the European jazz capital with names such as Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew living in the city. Today Copenhagen Jazz Festival is one of the biggest jazz festivals in Europe with more than 250,000 guests


Denmark was introduced to jazz in the twenties but it wasn´t until the swing era in the thirties and forties that the new sound caught on. One of the first prominent Danish jazz fans was architect, designer and social critic Poul Henningsen who saw the music as a liberating revolt against Danish conformism.
An example of a very popular Danish tune from the era is Hot Hot, sung by one of Denmark´s most popular actresses Marguerite Viby.

Jazz capital

With the bebop era and the following experiments in jazz in the fifties and sixties, the genre underwent a radical modernization. By chance Copenhagen got to play a significant part in this development.

During the sixties some of the leading American jazz musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Thad Jones and Kenny Drew found a second home in Copenhagen and a suitable venue in the now legendary Jazzhouse Montmartre which had opened in 1959. At the same time Danish musicians such as Alex Riel, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Palle Mikkelborg achieved their international breakthrough. The combination resulted in a decade of groundbreaking jazz, and in this period Copenhagen was widely regarded as the European jazz capital.

Dexter Gordon plays Rainbow People with NHØP in Montmarte (and introduces the tune in Danish)

Copenhagen Jazz Festival

As a result, jazz increased in popularity in Denmark, and in 1979 Copenhagen Jazz Festival was founded. Over the years thousands of the world´s top jazz musicians have played at the festival. Today the ten day event has reached a size of around 1,000 concerts in 100 venues with a total of more than 250,000 visitors.


KeithJarret Keith Jarret Trio playing Cph Festival 2011

Danish jazz today

Jazz is still well and thriving in Denmark, although the much too early death of bass-great Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen in 2005 was a terrible loss for the Danish jazz scene. However names such as Niels Lan Doky, Chris Minh Doky, Alex Riel and Jacob Bro, to name but a few, are still praised as jazz musicians of the highest international calibre.
The golden age of the sixties, when Copenhagen was a centre for jazz, is not forgotten either. As a reminder of the era, a neighbourhood with streets named after some of the famous jazz musicians who lived in Copenhagen in the period was inaugurated in 2010 in the southern district of Copenhagen.


SonnyRollins Sonny Rollins. Photo: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen