Since its opening in 1938, Flagey has been a music house with a heart for jazz. It was, in fact, the first home of the national radio (NIR/INR) with its own big bands and halls/recording studios which were renowned throughout the world for their acoustics. Since 2002, the building has become the home of vzw Flagey and once again jazz has found a unique, stylish spot in the capital.
The art deco building was designed by Joseph Diongre. The first national radio broadcast was transmitted from here. From the very start, it showcased the big names in Belgian and international jazz history. One of the Belgian jazz icons of the time, Stan Benders, was one of the permanent conductors and Chet Baker, and even Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, went on stage here. The first live television broadcast in Dutch was also recorded here.
An ideal location for jazz
When what was then the BRTN and RTBF (the public broadcasting organization of the Flemish and French Community) moved to a new location, the packet boat, as the building is sometimes called, was put to a new use and in 2002 the doors of art centre Flagey were officially opened. The mission was clear: provide a valuable and high-quality cultural programme covering various disciplines, but with the necessary attention to jazz.
Maarten Van Rousselt, responsible for planning and production, gives some background. “Since the opening in 2002, jazz has been an important part of our programming. The demand from the public for jazz is irrefutable, and sold-out concerts prove this. And let’s admit it, we have the ideal venue. The smaller Studio 1 is ideal for intimate concerts with a club ambiance. It is also the perfect location to give young artists the opportunity to perform under the best possible professional circumstances. Big and well-known names generally perform in Studio 4, with a seating capacity of 860. In recent years, we have invited artists such as Enrico Rava, Manu Katché, Matthew Herbert Big Band, Anouar Brahem and Thomasz Stanko to perform here. Jazz takes a prominent place in our programming, alongside classical and world music and a broad variety of films. Flagey is one of the most important venues during the Brussels Jazz Marathon. From January 2015 we will be hosting the Brussels Jazz Festival Flagey, and we are also taking part in the Brussels Jazz Platform.”
Choosing from an enormous range
And then there is the challenge of putting together an interesting jazz programme. “It is always ideal if you can first see a group or artist performing somewhere else live and that’s why we try to attend as many concerts as possible organised by others such as Brosella, Jazzstation or during the Skoda Jazz Festival. In addition, professional meetings such as Jazzahead and the Dutch Jazz Day are extremely interesting. Contacts with colleague organisers are also very important. A number of informal networks have been set up so that you are kept well-informed about new developments. But there are also practical reasons. By working together, we try to lower the costs. And then there are those tips from friends who follow the jazz scene and also a number of specialised media channels. And of course there are the piles of demos and CDs that are sent to us.”
Belgian artists are intentionally given a lot of attention in Flagey. “We are a co-community cultural house and receive subsidies from the Brussels Region and from the Flemish, French and German-speaking Communities. We consider it our task to feature artists from these three regions. For this we work on the one hand with JazzLab (the Flemish organisation for promoting jazz through tours) and with Les Lundis D’Hortense on the other (see the article on our website). We also regularly organise CD releases together with companies such as the Belgian Igloo label. And thanks to the residency of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, we continue the historic tradition of the thirties, when big bands set the tone here.”
We asked Maarten Van Rousselt in closing which three records every jazz lover should have in his collection. “The recording Chet Baker made in 1983 for the Belgian Igloo label with our two Belgian artists, bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse and guitarist Philip Catherine is certainly one of them. From more recent times, I would like to mention the British-Scandinavian Phronesis with ‘Life to Everything’ (2014) and ‘To the Unknown’ (2013) by Omer Klein is also highly recommended.”