Jazz in Saint Joos – A walk through a gallery of jazz musicians only to be seen after-hours along the Chausée de Louvain in Saint-Joos-ten-Noode
Belgium has a reputation for jazz. At least in Belgium’s own mind. Belgians will be quick to remind you that “they” invented the quintessential jazz instrument. Well, to be sure, Adolphe Saxwas Belgian. But in 1846 when he patented the saxophone he was living in Paris. Also he intended his instrument to be used by marching military bands. The jazz saxophone didn’t really become a thing until the 1920s.
Okay, the saxophone isn’t the only claim Belgians have on jazz. Even somebody as ignorant as I am of this music form has heard of a couple of Belgium’s big-name contributions to the jazz pantheon. Toots Thielemans (who I know of as a harmonica player) was Belgian before he became American. And Django Reinhardt, the demon gypsy jazz guitarist, turns out to have been born here.
History apart, there is a flourishing modern jazz scene in Brussels. If this is your preference you’re pretty well served. Even if you’re not particularly keen, you still find yourself stumbling across jazz references wandering about town. Never more so than along the first stretch of the Chausée de Louvain/Leuvensteenweg between the Madou metro station at Place Madou and St Josse Place.
This is a well-trafficked though rundown shopping street on the edge of the European quarter. It’s just inside Belgium’s smallest and most densely populated municipality, Saint-Joos-ten-Noode. During the working day, you probably won’t see anything so much out of the ordinary, but walk down here in the evening after the shops are shut, or on a Sunday, and you’re confronted by a gallery of jazz musicians.
The pictures are painted on the roll-down metal blinds that cover the doors or the whole display windows of some of the shops. The portraits show an international array of stars, each playing their instruments. Behind each is something “typical” of their home country – the Eiffel Tower, the Congress building in Washington DC, the Sydney Opera House. I’m not sure how many there are, but when I went to take photographs for this article at the beginning of November I found eleven. (Though the pictures are numbered up to eighteen.)
As I’ve implied, I’m not a great jazz aficionado. I don’t actually recognise the names of any of these musicians (with the exception of Josephine Baker). But several of them are quite obviously jazz musicians. Here is Terumasa Hino blowing his horn in front of Mount Fuji. Here is Manu Dibango playing his sax in front of what appears to be a spiral playground slide. And here is Nils-Henning Örsted Pedersen plucking his double bass in front of a seal. No, sorry, it’s the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen harbour.
A couple of the pictures include an Internet website address: sarendip.org. Follow the link and you find the website of a street art collective, Sarendip. They look as if they were quite active a few years ago. The most recent entry on their website, though, dates from 2012. There are two entries from September 2011 titled “St-Jazz Ten Nood” (sic). It isn’t entirely clear to me what the website is trying to say. However, I think the pictures were created to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of a jazz festival – Saint Jazz – that takes place annually in Saint Joos every September.
Well, these are the remnants of that commemoration. I’m guessing that some of the pictures have since been removed – the blinds replaced – but it’s impressive that the ones that remain have escaped being graffitied over. Honour among graffiti artists perhaps. How long will the pictures that remain last, I wonder.
Remembrance Day 2016 as commemorated in Brussels and a meditation (or a rant) on the meaning of the day, plus an apology for the recent break in service.
It’s five weeks since I last posted here, and this post is itself a good week late. I apologise for this, but I’ve been taking an unplanned break from blogging. I’m recovering from an operation (and visiting with Mr Despond and Anxty his dog). I’m hoping to return Stops and Stories to regular service now. We’ll see.
This week, some photos from November 11th. Remembrance Day is observed here in Belgium for good historical reasons, though perhaps with less hysteria than in the UK. Although the day is a national holiday, the crowds turning out to observe the ceremony were conspicuous by their absence.
The whole of the road from the Royal Palace to the Congress Column (where the ceremony took place) was blocked off and empty. Beyond, way off down the road, you could see the dome of the Royal Church of St Mary. It was as if the authorities expected huge crowds, but there was only a small gathering. If you discount the soldiers, the troops of scouts and cadets and what appeared to be an invited audience of schoolchildren, there were perhaps 200 or so of us.
It doesn’t matter. It was a raw, cold day and, honestly, I think it’s understandable that most people chose to stay away and get on with their lives. I wouldn’t want the commemoration of the end of the First World War to be forgotten. At the same time the ostentatious militarism and emotionalism that the British indulge in annually on November 11th I find more than a bit distasteful.
The war was a terrible event, it claimed millions of lives. If we can remember it in the spirit of “never again” then that seems good to me. But what goes on in Britain nowadays doesn’t fall into that category. The bullying that ensures every public figure wears an artificial poppy for weeks before and after the event. The pomp and ritual of the Remembrance itself, the massed bands and uniforms, speeches and cannonades. As the last of the veteran survivors pass away, the event is extended and extended. “Our glorious dead” from World War Two, from Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan…
It all gives the lie to that line about “the war to end all wars”. We – and by “we” I mean the Brits – we don’t seem any longer really to be commemorating the conned and the killed from the world’s deadliest cock-up. (And of course it’s since been surpassed by other, similar events.) Nor do we seem any longer to be empathising with the lost generation or sympathising with the survivors. Instead we seem to be celebrating the on-rolling juggernaut of war. Worshipping the god to whom we’ve sacrificed a quota of every generation – not only of our people but also of theirs. Them, the many enemies of our imperial splendour.
Well. Pardon my rant. This Remembrance Day in Brussels had its pomp and uniforms – and a King as a figurehead – but it didn’t seem nearly so triumphalist or popular as Anglophone Remembrance Days I’m used to.
The lancers and trumpeters included women soldiers talking to their bored horses. There was a posse of street cleaners with shovels and wheelbarrows cleaning up after the horses while the ceremony was underway. The King was followed about comically by a fussy group of TV journalists with cameras on their shoulders and boom microphones in socks.
There was a three minutes silence.
Then king got in his limo to cheers of “Vive le Roi!” (I’m not kidding.) And the rest of us broke up made our several ways home.
Yoko Tsuno reflected: A visit to Japanese engineer Yoko Tsuno’s strip frame at Rue Terre-Neuve on the Brussels Comic Book Route
Just before the Comic Strip Festival earlier in the year, I took myself off on a photo-walk following the Brussels Comic Book Route. Brussels is proud of the Belgian comic book tradition, which stretches back to Tintin in 1928 (and earlier). Celebrating this, Brussels has decorated house gables across the city with comic-strip frames. The City of Brussels tourist offices can provide a printed map so you can follow the route. Or you can follow it in virtual reality on line here.
At the time I published my photo essay from the Festival it felt like too much of a good thing to follow up with more comic strip photos. This week, though, I’m travelling and rather busy with personal matters. It feels OK to share these photos of the Yoko Tsuno cartoon at Rue Terre-Neuve.
Yoko Tsuno is Japanese engineer. Her adventures on Earth and in outer space started in 1970 and currently run to 27 volumes. Sad to say, most are not available in English. Read more about her on this Wikipedia page.
As you see (below) I do try trying to do more than just reproduce other people’s artwork. I was pleased to find the following reflections in the windows on either side of the street.
The Saint Job Fair in Uccle: giants, a brass band, death and the baker, a boy in a bubble, a jousting knight and a sleeping cat… among others things
About the middle of September, all around Brussels (and for all I know around Belgium too) fairs are taking place. Some of them seem to blend into the weekly markets (such as the one at Place Flagey), but others are unique to themselves. There are sideshows and performances, parades and music, and some take the opportunity to promote a local district or municipality. My guess is that they have developed from harvest festivals in much the same way as Thanksgiving in the USA, but as local rather than national affairs. Last year, my first September in Brussels, I simply registered what was going on. This year I thought I should get out with the camera and take some photos.
Then came the question – where to go? Up the road towards the city centre, the Parish of Saint Giles (Parvais Saint-Gilles) was advertising a major effort with processions from four different starting points in the municipality all leading to a celebration of Les porteuses d’eau (the women waterbearers). I was tempted.
Then I saw that my own municipality was offering the “129th Annual Market of Saint Job”.
I’m not sure why the Old Testament prophet is dignified as “Saint” Job in this corner of Belgium. A trawl through the Internet doesn’t leave me much the wiser (though I really doubt it has anything to do with the Orthodox Saint Job of Moscow, Wikipedia). But I’ve always had a soft spot for Job, so Saint Job’s market won the toss.
The Belgians have a fascination for géants – giants. This seems to be a tradition that has hung over from the Middle Ages. Every district of Brussels has its own giants who are wheeled out (literally) every year for these fairs. They also make occasional appearances at other spectacles and events to represent the spirit of their district. At the Saint Job fair the two principle giants were a fellow in a bicorn hat and a curly-haired blonde. The two had a couple of half-sized giant children who orbited around them.
Several of their helpers (the people necessary to manhandle them over cobbles and kerbs) were also dressed up – as you can see from the photo. They looked like toys the giant children might want to pick up and play with.
Of course, you can’t have a parade or a festival without music, so there was a brass band on hand. In this photo you can just make out the tuba-distorted reflection of the male giant at the head of the parade.
The band had a lot of blowing to do, so they were happy take a break now and again. Here on the steps outside the church. (I think they’d want me to remind you, by the way, that the saxophone was invented by a Belgian – Adolphe Sax. You can post your heartfelt thanks below in the comments. Or not. As you wish. 🙂 )
Apart from the parade and the giants there was an exposition d’animeaux de la ferme. (This was one goat, one donkey, some chickens and a small selection of child-magnet-rabbits).The donkey was very obliging and happy to pose for photos when other people pointed their cameras at her. Me, she turned her back on.
There were also some ponies that had been coralled into an area like a small roundabout, and were walking around in a circle. Each had a small child uncertainly perched on top. There was a recorded – very distorted – voice blasting out a message in French. A message punctuated with the sound of a cracking whip and a “Yeeha!” I just can’t feel convinced by a “Yeeha!” when it’s part of a sentence in French. I’m probably deeply prejudiced.
The inevitable stall for face painting meant there were quite a number of kids running around with startling faces. The one that startled me most of all was this young man’s face. He was watching with intense interest as this baker demonstrated his craft. You could buy samples of the bread once baked, but personally I found the presence of death at the baker’s side a bit off-putting.
There were other things for kids to do at the fair. They could visit the exposition de chats d’exception. A lot of very indolent pedigree cats in travelling cages. The cat show took place in a rather a dark, enclosed hall, so I came away without any photos. On my way home, though, I met a street cat I know who was happy to let me photograph him in his favourite place, on warm tarmac under a parked car. By way of a fill-in photo for all the siamese and persians I missed.
There was a piste d’agilité vélo, a bicycle obstacle course, overseen by two dour police officers. It didn’t look a lot of fun and certainly while I was there, didn’t seem to be attracting much interest. By contrast kids could also get their parents to pay to have them zipped into plastic balls in a paddling pool. This looked to be really popular. It gives a new sense to the Boy in the Bubble.
It didn’t surprise me that so few kids were interested in the bicycle obstacle course, though I was disappointed so few wanted to try out the medieval jousting. However, I was patient and eventually a happy tourney rider showed up to reward me.
I hung around the fair from about 11 a.m. until 14.30 hoping to get some photos of the concours du chien le plus sympathique. I like sympathetic dogs – and these were very sympathetic dogs remember.
Unfortunately for me it seems everyone likes sympathetic dogs . (Well, of course. I should have guessed.) Probably the most well attended event of the fair, by the time the parade started the crowd pressed too densely around the stage. I tried, but there are no photos I want to share.
So I gave up. I was actually on my way home when I met another giant. Not quite in the same league as the official ones, perhaps, but he had a charming face and happily posed for me to take a photo. This Green Man was standing on stilts. He was about as tall as the bicorn hat giant’s shoulder.
United Music of Brussels was a day of music to launch a new season of classical music, and I heard it announced over the public transport address system
“What are we going to do this weekend,” she asked.
I’m usually stumped by this question but not this time.
“Listen,” I said. Over the tannoy a message was being delivered in English. This weekend… United Music… Belgian National Orchestra… BOZAR… La Monnaie… Bourse…
“That’s what we’re doing!”
“Listening to United Music,” I improvised. “It’s a promotional day for the Belgian National Orchestra and the Royal Theatre. The beginning of the autumn season. Musicians, singers, dancers – short concerts – all afternoon in different locations. There’s more information on-line!”
“Are you sure about that?”
The Internet can answer all your questions
It’s never easy to find information about what’s on in Brussels if you don’t read French. Even if you do read French, I think it’s probably a challenge. Belgium seems about 15 years behind Sweden in terms of Internet usage and Internet literacy. I remember how it used to be. We were just as starry eyed and innocent. Just as clumsy.
Many Belgians – individuals as well as institutions – clearly want to believe that the Internet can answer all your questions. Everyone is always making promises about how you can find so much on-line. How you can book tickets or appointments on-line. How you can easily transfer money from one bank account to another on-line. How you can check deliveries or send messages on-line.
Mmmnnno. Not really. But I remain hopeful.
It seems the Belgian advocates of the Internet haven’t quite grasped – yet – that design is not all. For people to take advantage of services on line, someone needs to write the software to enable the service actually to work. That if someone is to be able to get correct information out, somebody else needs first to put that correct information in. And to put it in, in such a way that getting it out is both logical and easy.
I think the truth is, most Belgians really prefer the personal touch. Face-to-face contact, human interaction, these are the things that add value to Belgian society, not digital interconnectivity and virtual reality. Which is very endearing.
Everything would happen in the afternoon, we learned from various sources. At 2 pm. Or maybe 2.30. But where? That remained a mystery.
Because we knew that BOZAR were involved, we took ourselves there first. BOZAR is the jokey local name for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in the centre of Brussels. (Beaux-Arts sounds like BOZAR.) The three people staffing their ticket office were sure they knew they’d heard about the event. Absolutely. Didn’t they have some brochures about it? Over there in that rack? No? Oh well they had had some brochures.
Two of them went into the storeroom behind the scenes to check. The sound of cardboard boxes being torn open, but, sadly, no. They didn’t have any left. We are desolate. Sad emoticon. They couldn’t suggest a place we could go to get more information, but we might find some brochures left in the racks at the entrance to the art gallery across the road.
We looked, but no.
So we walked down into the Grand Place and went into the tourist information centre there. The young man we spoke with said, Yes! He’d also heard something about the music event. Though he too was desolate. Are there brochures? We have no brochures. Wouldn’t you prefer to listen to the dance-band/oom-pah performance going on in the square?
We said thanks, but no thanks. He couldn’t make any suggestions about where we could go to find more information either.
United Music at the Bourse
When Mrs SC and I were wrestling with the information dearth on-line, she’d stumbled across something… (Her command of French is several orders of magnitude better than mine.) Something about a concert in the Saint-Géry Market Hall. Meanwhile I remembered that I’d heard something about the Bourse in the original announcement. For want of any more reliable information, we walked down to the Bourse and thought we could go on to Saint Jerry’s after.
It turned out that the Bourse was exactly the right place to go.
Here there was a little band playing under a tent and young people in T-shirts advertising the United Music of Brussels giving out the very brochures we had heard so much about. Brochures that included maps of the city showing the different venues. At first glance they were perfect. Just what we had been looking for.
There were sixteen different venues scattered across the town with small groups performing concerts of all sorts.
The Tanners’ Studio
Glancing through the brochure Mrs SC saw The Juliet Letters. That was for us! A place called Atelier des Tanneurs, so we took ourselves there.
Do you know The Juliet Letters? It’s a song sequence for a string quartet and a strangulated voice. A co-production by Elvis Costello (punk hero) and The Brodsky Quartet (classical music heroes). The singer at the Tanners’ Studio was the Flemish tenor Philip Defrancq. I thought he was pitched a bit high till I got home and listened to Elvis Costello’s performance again and realised – Defrancq nailed it.
On the way to the Tanners’ Studio we discovered that the map in the United Music of Brussels brochure was not really as accurate as it might have been. However, with a certain amount of guesswork and asking the way, everything worked out. Not only did Defrancq sing a couple of The Juliet Letters, he also sang an aria by John Cage (brilliant and weird and involving at one point the singer gargling with water).
The Tanners’ was an interesting space – presumably a former tanning factory though there was no evidence of the industrial process left. Just a two story interior space with a wrought-iron or cast-iron colonnade and a bridge across the middle. Acoustically rather good.
The swimming pool at Jeu de Balle
Which was more than you could say about the next venue.
From the Tanners’ we took ourselves to Les Bains de Bruxelles. An interesting experience in itself, just trying to find it. I’ve heard about this public swimming pool. It is an architectural feature, not least because of the pool itself – on the second floor of the building with views from the window out over the town.
The performers had a stage at one end of the pool in front of the windows and a drummer and a violinist played while a woman danced a wild modern ballet.
The acoustics were – interesting perhaps is the kindest word. There were a lot of echoes and a lot of foot stamping as well as drumming. But it was an experience to sit there on the tiled benches enveloped in a faint cloud of chlorine to watch and listen. There was quite a crowd at this venue – possibly because of the building rather than the performance.
The lap of victory
At the end, after the performers had taken their bow and the applause, they dived into the pool. Well, the dancer and the violinist dived; the drummer jumped. And they swam the length of the pool to even more applause. The dancer and the violinist racing one another (the dancer won.) The drummer kept his glasses on and did the breaststroke and came in last. Mrs SC and I reserved our special cheers for him.
After that we took ourselves to the Saint Jerry Market Hall and were in time to hear the United Music’s concluding performance. A pianist played in the main hall and a choir sang in the market’s upper level. As it turned out, the choir were from the Belgian National Theatre, La Monnaie. The venue was crowded and the choir were a bit of a surprise as they were dressed like the rest of the audience. We only realised who they were when they started to sing. It was a good way to end the day.
In all we saw and heard three concerts (plus a little bit at the Bourse). And I’m not sure we’d have managed more than one more even if we’d had the brochure-map and got into town for when the whole event actually kicked off at 14.30.
Besides, we had all the pleasure of our initial face-to-face human interaction with the good people in the BOZAR ticket office and at the Grand Place TI centre.
More than the music, the exercise was interesting for the opportunity to see the different venues. To see parts of the city we might not otherwise visit. I’ve kept the map and will, later, try to see some of the other sites.
Afterwards Mrs SC and I took ourselves to the Cuban restaurant La Cantina on Rue du Jardin des Olive for our evening meal. (And she continued her dogged search for the perfect iced-coffee.)