12 Musicians Making Copenhagen the Capital of Jazz

<a href = "https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37938131"> International Jazz Festival of Punta del Este| © Jimmy Baikovicius/Wikimedia Commons
<a href = "https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37938131"> International Jazz Festival of Punta del Este| © Jimmy Baikovicius/Wikimedia Commons | © Jimmy Baikovicius / WikiCommons
Photo of Aliki Seferou
5 September 2017

Even though it’s not widely known, Denmark and especially Copenhagen has a long history in the jazz music scene. Many Danish musicians performed with legendary ‘giants of jazz’ back in the 1960s while many renowned American artists, including some on this list, moved to Copenhagen back in the day and since to perform in the city’s jazz clubs.

Thomas Clausen

Thomas Clausen was only in his 20s when he started playing the piano with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Ben Webster, Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz and Dizzy Gillespie. By the mid-1990s, he was considered one of the best Danish pianists and recorded along with Palle Mikkelborg and Miles Davis‘s album Aura. He also has a remarkable solo career and over the years, he has released several albums with his Brazilian Quartet.

Courtesy of Thomas Clausen

Marilyn Mazur

The New-York born Marilyn Mazur moved in Copenhagen when she was only 6 years old. Therefore, her career started in Denmark. The renowned percussionist has worked with many established jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Jan Garbarek, John Tchicai, and Wayne Shorter. Her unique energy on stage makes her performances an unforgettable experience and she is the only Danish musician to have received the world’s largest international jazz award, the Jazzpar Prize.

Marilyn Mazur | © Gunnar Hovgård/Flickr

Emil de Waal

Emil de Waal took his first steps as a drummer in the jazz music scene back in the 1980s as a member of the jazz/funk band Bagdad Dagblad. Along with some members of the band, he went to the Rhythmic Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen and performed in several venues and cafés at the same time. In the 1990s, he became a lecturer at the Rhythmic Conservatory of Music and started contributing as a drummer in several recordings. Randi Laubek, Anne Linnet, Maria Køhnke, Søs Fenger, Kaya og Sko/Torp, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Lis Sørensen, Fredrik Lundin, Peter Danstrup, and Aske Jacoby are only some of the names de Waal has collaborated with. He has toured in countries all over Europe, the United States, and China.

Jesper Thilo

Influenced by Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, Jesper Thilo’s sound has its roots in American swing and bebop. He became one of the top European straight-ahead jazz musicians. Thilo started playing the clarinet at the age of 7 and shifted to the trombone until renowned Danish jazz musician Arnvid Meyer persuaded him to start playing the saxophone. For 23 years (1966-1989), Thilo was a member of the DR Big Band where he mainly played alto saxophone. In the 1980s, he performed in Ernie Wilkins’ Almost Big Band and collaborated with Wild Bill Davison and Niels Jørgen Steen.

Jesper Thilo | © Hreinn Gudlaugsson/Wikimedia Commons

Alex Riel

Alex Riel is a renowned Danish jazz drummer who he has recorded among others with Dexter Gordon, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jackie McLean, and Thomas Clausen. Born in 1940, Riel lived among Copenhagen’s jazz scene during the 1960s and had the chance to meet and collaborate with many national and international artists. He won the Danish Grammy Award Jazz in 1996 for his album ‘The Riel Deal’ and the Montreux Grand Prix Award at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival with his group, the Alex Riel/Palle Mikkelborg Quintet.

Alex Riel | © Gorm Valentin/Wikimedia Commons

Jakob Bro

Being trained at the Conservatory of Music in Aarhus, The New School in New York, and at Berklee in Boston, Jakob Bro developed his skills in guitar and managed to become one of the most notable names on the jazz scene. He has worked with many established jazz artists such as Paul Bley, Chris Cheek, and Bill Frisell. He also leads a trio with Joey Baron and Thomas Morgan. His albums have been selected as the ‘Danish Jazz Album of the Year’ three times and twice as the ‘Danish Crossover Album of the Year’.

Jakob Bro | © Hreinn Gudlaugsson/Wikimedia Commons

Bob Rockwell

In the age of 37, Bob Rockwell left the United States and moved to Copenhagen where he continued his already great career as a saxophonist. As a teen, he performed in various rock, R&B, and big bands; he also toured all over the States throughout his teens and twenties. He later performed with many funk and organ groups until 1978 when he moved to New York. He became a member of the Thad-Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and performed with several other artists such as Tito Puente, Ben Sidran, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Drummond. Since moving to Copenhagen in 1983, Rockwell has collaborated with many Danish artists such as Marilyn Mazur, Jan Kasperson, and Jesper Lundgaard, and he still performs in the city’s jazz clubs.

Bob Rockwell, cafe central | © Luis de Bethencourt/Flickr

Bo Stief

Bo Stief is a famous bassist and composer whose long career started more than 50 years ago. Stief is not only known for his talent but his ability to play different genres of music such as swing, hard bop, funk, rock, Afro, Latin, and floating Nordic jazz as well. He has worked with Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, and Ben Webster. In 2005, he was selected as Master of Jazz at the Django d’Or awards.

Bo Stief | © Hreinn Gudlaugsson/Wikimedia Commons

Palle Mikkelborg

Even though Palle Mikkelborg’s influences include Miles Davis, Art Farmer, and Don Cherry, he has managed to create his own distinct style characterized by a melodic and airy tone. His playing style is in a great extent influenced by his interest in Eastern philosophy and he has said that, ‘I have never had a musical ambition in my life, only a spiritual one’. He produced Miles Davis’ ‘Aura’ and when the album was released in 1989, it won two Grammy Awards.

Palle Mikkelborg | © Nomo michael hoefner/Wikimedia Commons

Fredrik Lundin

The renowned saxophonist Fredrik Lundin entered the Danish jazz scene as a teenager back in the 1980s when he founded his own jazz quartet. Over 30 years later, Lundin has won more than 10 jazz music awards including the Ben Webster Prize. Besides artistically playing his saxophone, the Danish jazz musician is also acomposer, organizer, and orchestra leader. In 2000, he founded his own 11-piece band, the Fredrik Lundin Overdrive, which has been met with great success and has received many awards.

Fredrik Lundin | © Hreinn Gudlaugsson/Wikimedia Commons

Pierre Dørge

The avant-garde guitarist Pierre Dørge is the founder and leader of the New Jungle Orchestra. From the moment it entered the music scene in 1980, it gained critical acclaim for its innovative compositions. Their sound is a mix of jazz influenced by Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Sun Ra as well as elements of the African music, Balkans sounds, Chinese culture, and Indian culture. Dørge has received the 1984 JASA Prize, the DJBFA’s Honorary Prize in 1987, the HC Lumbye Prize in 2000, and a Django D’Or Band Leader of Excellence in 2002. Along with his band, he has toured in more than 40 countries all over the world.

Pierre Dørge | © Wangfo/Wikimedia Commons

Niels Lan Doky

When Niels Lan Doky finished school in 1981, he moved to New York, and then studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Shortly after his graduation, he entered the American jazz scene and performed with some of the most notable musicians at the time. The Danish pianist, composer, and producer has already released 37 albums as a leader and has toured all over Europe and the States. After living in Paris for some years, Lan Doky returned to Copenhagen and co-founded two of the city’s high-end jazz clubs, The Standard and Jazzhus Montmartre.


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