Brosella is a maverick in the festival circuit. And Belgian through and through, thanks to its backdrop of the Atomium and to the broad attention it gives to national jazz talent. From 1986 upon his passing, Toots Thielemans was the godfather of the festival.
Jazz in the forgotten Théâtre de Verdure
The story of how the festival came into being is a sad illustration of how Belgium neglects its own heritage. Henri Vandenberghe, initiator and person who thought up the festival, worked at the time for the Youth Service of the city of Brussels. At a given moment, he was told to organise “something” in the Théâtre de Verdure at the foot of the Atomium. This green lung on the edge of Brussels had become rather desolate and forgotten since the expo of 1958. Vandenberghe immediately saw the potential, got in touch with his good friend Geert Currinckx, as well as the people of folk club Tsleutelgat (later Toogenblik) in Haren, and bingo! Brosella came into being. The year is 1977. Initially two days of folk, then, from 1982, one day of folk and one of jazz. But here again the unique character of Brosella comes to the fore: every year there are groups that alternate between the jazz day and the folk day without upsetting the lovers of either genre. The boundaries between various music styles may be fading, but Brosella manages time and again to find artists who fit into the whole, in other words, no hip dilettantes who are eager to cash in on the so-called cross-over trend, but musicians who are prepared to accept the challenge presented by a sensible symbiosis.
Your own profile
You have festivals, and you have Brosella. The musical choices are always coloured by a certain form of obstinacy and rebellion. You will not find any commercial top names here. But you will meet artists who go in their own direction (Paul Bley, Maria Schneider, Chico Freeman, Richard Galliano, Bobo Stenson, Charles Lloyd, John Abercrombie) or who are on the threshold of an international breakthrough (Ambrose Akinmusire, Jon Irabagon, Jon Batiste & Stay Human). Arriving too late is not an option at Brosella; the day always begins with a bang. Carla Bley Big Band, Johnny Griffin, Clark Terry and Billy Cobham all took the stage here early in the afternoon. Each year, all eyes are on the Belgian musician who is given a carte blanche. They in turn invite national and international musicians to work on an exclusive project. Often this is the unofficial première of a story that will unfold further during other festivals, and generally results in a recording. Belgian groups always enjoy huge attention and are definitely not just there to fill up space on the poster. Presenting a new CD at Brosella is the highlight of the year for many artists.
No VIPs, but kids from 3 to 73
In addition to the backdrop and the musical quality, the success story would not have been possible without the team of highly motivated staff (now in its second generation) Without them, no Brosella, for until 2013 the festival was completely free! That year, for the first time, a semi-voluntary contribution was asked and since 2014 everybody is assumed to have purchased a friendship band (costs € 5) as an entry ticket. Assumed, because there again Brosella is unique. You won’t find this sort of atmosphere anywhere else. That is why there is no separate VIP area. Artists are given a dressing room, but there is no private, enclosed back-stage area. “Everybody is a VIP” is what they say in Brosella. Everything revolves around the music, even things for the kids.
Brosella has done pioneering work in the field of kids’ entertainment during the festival. Here again it was Henri Vandenberghe who came up with the right ideas and found the most suitable people for putting them into practice. The “kids’ parking” with make-up and balloons twisted by a clown was quickly replaced by a fully-fledged programme for the small ones. This has proved so successful that in some families it’s the children who drag their parents to Brosella! Brosella Kids has now become a festival within a festival.
And it doesn’t end there. For the last few years, there has been close collaboration with Kunsthumaniora Brussels, with which Brosella organises three concerts annually under the name Kristal Klaar. This gives pupils the chance to taste what jazz is all about after gaining their diploma. They are required to draw up their own press bio and are involved in the media aspect of things.