Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2013: Freddy Cole

Nikolaj Bentzon: Jazz Prince of Denmark

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The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra is heading east for their next concert, “1001 Arabian Jazz Nights.” Of course, jazz musicians have long been attracted to the exotic sounds and rhythms of other musical cultures—think of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” recorded first in 1942 and still one of the most-loved jazz standards.

For this concert, the WJO welcomes Danish pianist, Nikolaj Bentzon. From a musical family, Bentzon took to the piano at an early age, and distinguished himself at 19 as the best soloist at the Dunkerque Jazz Festival. In 1983, he began his studies at Berklee College in Boston, and was honoured with the Oscar Peterson Jazz Award before he graduated. Over the years, he has played with a who’s-who of jazz artists, including Clark Terry, Maria Schneider, Toots Thielemans, Joe Lavano, Carla Bley, Jon Faddis, and Joe Henderson. He continues to be singled out by critics and juries alike for his work at the piano.

Bentzon isn’t easy to categorize. As a recording artist, he has seventeen albums as a leader (and many more as a sideman), and they range widely in genre and style. His piano trio is featured in five recordings, the most recent of which is Bentzon with Odense Symphony Orchestra, featuring his original works and standards for symphony orchestra and jazz trio. His group, Bentzon Brotherhood, is a popular jazz/funk fusion band whose recordings include Funkenstein and Godzilla Des Groove. He often performs with singers, including operatic bass Stephen Milling, and new Danish sensation, Signe Juhl. Last year, he released 12 Songs for Mature Lovers, a recording of original songs—featuring his own vocals. He also continues to perform classical repertoire, including compositions by his father and grandfather.

Bentzon is absolutely at home in a jazz orchestra setting. From 1990 to 2008, he was a member of the Grammy Award-winning Danish Radio Big Band, one of the most respected jazz orchestras in the world. He conducted the band from 2001, and was its artistic director for his last three years there.

Bentzon is also an accomplished composer-arranger—not only the son of Denmark’s revered composer Niels Viggo Bentzon, but also (according to his website) “the 9th generation of a 250-year-long unbroken reign of outstanding Danish composers.” The centerpiece of the WJO concert is a Bentzon suite, “1001 Arabian Jazz Nights,” a far-ranging exploration of Middle Eastern sounds. Rounding out the concert will be Ellington’s “Isfahan,” from his Far East Suite, “Go East, Young Man,” by Slide Hampton, and a Richard Gillis original, “Patha.”

The band, with percussionist Scott Senior adding some exotic colour to the palette, will be in fine form, and the music will transport you!

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