Frank Koulen – Founder of the Jazz Club Porgy and Bess

Written by | Festivals, jazz history, News

The life of Frank Koulen may well serve as a scenario for a feature film. The founder of the jazz club Porgy and Bess in Terneuzen, The Netherlands. Frank  was born in Suriname (1922), he came to the Netherlands as a soldier at the end of the Second World War in 1944 with the allies. Helping to  liberate Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. He arrived in Terneuzen, fell in love and married the Terneuzense Vera van den Bruele. In 1957 he started a lunchroom opposite the famous wool shop of his in-laws; ” Porgy and Bess ” was born. He named the place Porgy and Bess, after the opera of Gershwin, which he had once seen. The lunchroom soon became a jazz club where many celebrities performed over the years.

Frank Koulen leads the Allies into Terneuzen in 1944

After Frank Koulen death in 1985. The jazz club which he opened in 1957 continued as a foundation. Now 60+ years on it is also a venue for classical music, roots and literature. This year the town of Terneuzen decided to honour Frank Koulen with a statue. Not just because of the fact that Terneuzen is known all over the world thanks to Porgy and Bess. It’s because Frank Koulen did a lot for the positive integration of Dutch natives from Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles as well.

With sponsorship, subsidies and crowdfunding the money was raised to allow for the commissioning and erection of the Frank Koulen memorial statue this year in front of the old town hall, near Porgy and Bess.

It was also decided to produce a biography about Frank Koulen. The book “Porgy in de polder” will be presented on 07th June, rightly at the Porgy and Bess venue, and on the eve of annual Zeeland Jazz festival.

Over the years, famous musicians have performed at Porgy and Bess, they included:  Art Blakey,  Chet Baker,  Arnett Cobb,  Bill Hamad, Sal Nistico, Al Cohn, Freddie Hubbard, Machito, Toots Thielemans, Roy Hargrove, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lew Tabackin, Philip Catherine, Betty Carter, Roberta Gambarini, Kenny Werner, Monty Alexander and many more.

In 1967  and to celebrate the first 10 successful years of Porgy and Bess. Terneuzen was the first place in the Netherlands where the tradition of the New Orleans style street jazz parade took place.  From that year on wards, the annual Braderie was brightened by musical parades. People dressed as a sailor, pirate or nobleman, Frank Koulen led the street parade, as the piper often playing a flute. The parade was very successful and it developed into an annual jazz festival which started in 1972.

This year is the 46th Festival in Terneuzen (June 8-17). The event is now called Zeeland Jazz and held in Terneuzen as well as in Middelburg. Well-known artists this year are pianist Ramon Valle, saxophonists Tini Thomsen and Rick Margitza, singer Tutu Puoane, the singers Steffen Morrison and Myles Sanko, and pianist and rapper Alfa Mist, a great talent from the London jazz scene. In addition, bands from the Netherlands and Belgium will perform.

More Information about the festival:

“Porgy in the Polder” is only available in Dutch. It is published by Den Boer I de Ruiter (

Text: Peter Beije

Photos: Louis van der Hooft

Last modified: May 30, 2018