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 noisier 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.
Jazz ao Centro
Every May, Coimbra hosts an 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 indoor venues and you’re likely to spot 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.
The Jazz ao Centro organisers also 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 makes for a very atmospheric setting.
Another Jazz ao Centro highlight is usually 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.
Jazz in the schist villages of central Portugal
Talking of stone walls and ancient venues, you may want to look out for the jazz concerts that are planned around the network of central Portuguese schist villages. 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 not to your taste.
If you can’t make it to any of these jazz festivals in central Portugal, not to worry. As a musical genre, jazz’s popularity has increased enormously in this country over the last twenty years and there are many jazz events and clubs springing up all over the place.
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.