Belgians love jazz and the country has a long history with the musical genre. There are festivals every year across the country and loads of concerts taking place around Brussels.
It all started with the famous Adolphe Sax who invented the saxophone around 1900. Jazz music however only became popular in the country after the First World War when it was introduced by American and Canadian soldiers who liberated the country (at least according to Wikipedia :)). But in the years that followed, the jazz following grew and produced some great musicians. One in particular, Toots Thielemans, became an internationally known harmonica player and guitarist and is celebrating his 90th birthday this year.
To mark the occasion, the Vanderborght building (50 rue de l’Ecuyer, entrance to Galerie du Roi) is hosting the Toots 90 Exhibition, a multimedia exhibition looking back on his life. Originally from the Marolles district, Toots is one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians. He’s played alongside Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Ella Fitzgerald and many others, and composed numerous famous film soundtracks.
The exhibition is open now through 6 January (Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm). Tickets are €12 and you can buy them online in advance. You can also enjoy a beer or one of Toots’ favourite dishes in the “Café Toots” after visiting the exhibition.
If you want to hear live jazz in Brussels there are a couple of places I would recommend.
The Music Village, close to the Grand Place, hosts 250 concerts a year with Belgian and international musicians. It’s a relaxed setting and offers dinner and drinks during concerts. You can book in advance by phone or online, reservations are recommended. Concerts start at 8:30pm on weekdays and 9pm on Friday and Saturday and finish around midnight (see the program for details). Prices range from €7.50 to €20 depending on the evening. You can also sign up to be a member and receive reductions on concert tickets. There are actually three free concerts this Friday starting at 7pm as part of La Fête de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles.
The Sounds is another notable spot for jazz music in Brussels. Located just next to the Ixelles maison communale on Place Fernand Cocq (28 rue de la Tulipe), this small concert hall has been hosting jazz musicians for more than 20 years in a warm and cosy atmosphere. There are concerts almost every night (10pm-4am), including Master Sessions on Monday evenings and Latin jazz on Wednesdays. This Saturday there is a tribute to Etta James, the legendary jazz singer who sadly passed away earlier this year. See the full program online. There is a bar and Italian food to enjoy as well.
Flagey also hosts loads of jazz concerts. I’ve heard one of my favorites, Stacey Kent, here twice in Studio 4, which has great acoustics and yet makes for an intimate setting with the artists. There’s an upcoming concert on 27 October with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, a big band group that has played around the world.
I know jazz isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but believe me it’s worth giving it a try. Especially as the days turn colder, what could be better than a drink in a cosy bar listening to a little music?
Images via Visit Brussels, The Music Village and Sounds Jazz Club.