I grew up thinking that all jazz was jarring to the ears and a musical genre that was best avoided. Now that I’m a bit older and have more experience of the different forms of jazz, I really enjoy its softer side. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to appreciate or love the noisy stuff though.
It might be worth giving it another go, however, because along with fado and classical music, there’s rather a lot of jazz in Portugal. This week, Coimbra hosts its 10th International Jazz ao Centro (Jazz in the Centre) festival with a series of concerts scheduled in different venues around the city.
Salão Brasil, with its big arched windows and creaky wooden floors, is one of the main venues and there are already some arty black and white photos of jazz musicians on the walls . The acoustics may not be the best but it draws in people wearing black and looking serious as they appear to appreciate the random pluckings of the double bass player and the flurries of notes from the other musicians. Other people go there too, so don’t feel you have to wear dark clothes.
A couple of years ago, the Jazz ao Centro organisers set up a stage in the ancient cobbled street of Quebra Costas. Just a few rows of chairs on a gentle slope in the warm May dusk and an air of expectation made for a very atmospheric setting. What a shame the musicians seemed hell-bent on ignoring each other. The three or four young men were so absorbed in their own instruments that the effect was discordant and off-putting. But then maybe I’m missing something, not being an aficionado of jazz.
This year’s Jazz ao Centro highlight is likely to be the concert in the recently renovated Santa Clara a-Velha Convent. I can just imagine the romantic effect of soft lighting on the golden sandstone walls. I only hope the music doesn’t spoil it all.
Talking of stone walls and ancient venues, I’m intrigued by the jazz concerts that are planned around the network of central Portuguese schist villages this summer. The schist villages I’ve been to are a mixture of abandoned homes that have disintegrated into piles of multicoloured stone and rotten wood and tiny houses that have been lovingly restored. Tucked away in the hills, these pretty villages will make great venues and are worth the drive even if the music turns out to be rubbish. One of the concerts, on July 14th, coincides with the outdoor art festival, Elementos à Solta (Art in the Wild), which I thoroughly enjoyed last year.
If you can’t make it to any of these jazz festivals in central Portugal this summer, not to worry. A a musical genre, jazz’s popularity has increased enormously in this country over the last twenty years and there are many events and clubs springing up all over the place. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, some of the popular jazz festivals such as the Dixieland Festival, are on hold for the time being but there is still plenty of interest in and demand for the music.
I’m not likely to become a fan of fado music any time soon but I think it might be time to give jazz another chance.
What’s your opinion / experience of jazz in Portugal? Let me know in the comments.
Jazz in Portugal links: