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Soren Petersen

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Jazz: A Cross Cultural Jam Session

Posted: 04/30/2012 5:30 pm

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen is known for Hans Christian Andersen, the Little Mermaid statue, its many bicycles and, of course, cool jazz. Every year, the two-week Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July, warms the hearts of jazz lovers. One of the city's most innovative composers and entertainers is Nikolaj Bentzon. Genetically predisposed for jazz (his father was the famous jazz musician Niels Viggo Bentzon) and educated at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Nikolaj creates jazz for a particular niche of jazz aficionados. Together with various big bands, he consistently develops new musical jazz bricolages for a global audience.

Where does his music originate? For Nikolaj, many of his musical ideas are percolating inside and the trick is simply to let them come out. Although the ideas might be triggered in different ways, once a musical phrase is established, his inner voice picks it up from there. Or he might borrow elements from his musical (and environmental) surroundings and let that same voice decide the continuation. Later he structures his ideas and lets his formal education and experience have their say in the mix.

One of his latest and favorite pieces is "El-Mahalla El-Kubra -- Straight Ahead," named after an Egyptian fishing village on the Nile. The piece blends Arabic and Big Band music into a playful story. The combination of two very strong individual cultural identities applied to rhythm and melody results in a surprising and vibrant composition.

The idea of combining two opposing cultural expressions was to create a musical traffic jam and in doing so, invent a new and unique identity. The composition reflects the cultural challenges that Danish and Middle Eastern cultures have experienced within the past decade, inspiring new hope for cultural cooperation.

Nikolaj shared what keeps his music flowing: "The purpose of my life is to compose music and if I am not composing, I feel unfulfilled so I have to keep the motor running. In the world of music, there is a strong demand to develop your own voice and write something original, so, coming up with something that presents a strong combination and speaks to one's being is challenging."

The idea of combining Middle Eastern music with jazz is rather original especially when viewed from our Western perspective. People of the Middle East have incorporated Western music for centuries while in the West, we tended to be more conservative or closed toward other musical combinations.

Assembling a band that can execute this innovative music is challenging since the music requires a high level of musicianship. This means finding musicians with a level of skill, knowledge and experience who are also aware of different concepts and genres of music. These inspired musicians with their innovative music may subtly assist all who listen, to reach a new appreciation of other cultures, since the language of music transcends all cultural and linguistic barriers.

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