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Jazz Middelheim is an annual summer jazz festival in Antwerp, Belgium. The first festival took place in 1969 as a jazz promenade in the Middelheim Park.

In 2016 Jazz Middelheim will celebrate its 35th edition.


Last year Ashley Kahn presented for the first time Jazz Talks during Jazz Middelheim. This year the known jazz journalist and author returns to the festival in the Belgian city of Antwerp for interviews with musicians. The audience really appreciated the educational meetings last year.

Ashley Kahn speaks the language of the musicians. They know that the jazz world for him has no secrets. And they respect him. Ashley Kahn also teaches at New York University. He won a Grammy in 2015 for his liner notes to the previously unreleased John Coltrane recording Live At Temple University.

“My intention with these talking events is to, whenever possible, to allow the musicians to speak and explain and demystify the music. So much of jazz — especially instrumental jazz — is looked upon as something that first must to be studied and understood, and can’t just be enjoyed like other styles of music. Do we think we need to read something or go to school before we go to a rock, hiphop, or pop concert? Of course not. Too many people I think have that misconception about jazz.’’

“So these talking events are a way to help open up the music — to both deepen and expand the appreciation of the music, and also create a comfortable place where the information and stories and history behind the music can be told, in a way that is easily understood and without that “academic” cloud that sometimes surrounds the music. I do what I can to make them fun and informal, to create talking formats that are not just lectures, and to play some audio or show some video when appropriate — anything I can do really to make the music come alive for people and to allow the musicians who participate to relax and reveal themselves. Some of my favorite moments are the questions that the audience will ask — there’s always a surprise in there — and the energy that happens directly between music fans and musicians. That’s exactly the connection I am trying to create with these events — it might sound funny but the less I have to talk, the more successful I think I am!’’

In the run up to Jazz Middelheim Ashley Kahn was preparing talks with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, the artist in residence in Antwerp this year, and with drummer Denardo Coleman, son of the legendary saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who will be remembered in a special concert. ,, I also plan to do something I call “Pleased To Meet You”, where two musicians who play the same instrument or same style meet for the first time –  each of them will choose one or two tracks to play by the other, then explain what they like and hear in the other musician’s music. Should be fun. There could be one or two more talking events and they’ll all be worth making the time to be there –  I promise!’’

In Ashley Kahn’s view jazz is here to stay. Questions about surviving in this “tech” world are not relevant in his opinion. ,,I mean jazz is always changing, that’s what makes it so special is that jazz as a genre has survived very well for over a hundred years and has faced a lot bigger challenges – stylistic upheavals, economic hardship –  than whatever the digital era can throw at it. A music fan only has to go out and hear the music live, in the clubs, theaters and festivals, or even go to the source point – at conservatories and schools and rehearsals and jam sessions – to realize that the music is doing very well, and keeping young and vibrant. The music ideas I hear in my home of New York City and around the world are fresh and full of surprises.’’

“I think the problem we have with this “tech” question is that sometimes we – by “we” I mean music consumers – confuse the faucet for the water that comes out of it. Let’s remember that music should be enjoyed live and in person whenever possible –  that websites and streaming sites and mp3’s are like business cards or invitations to get together face-to-face.’’


Jazz Middelheim: 12th to 15th August 2016
in Antwerp’s Den Brandt Park.

More information and tickets:

Photos: Alchetron  – Caterina di Perri/ECM Records

Last modified: July 15, 2018