Turning Japanese in Holland.

By Posted in - Festivals & Netherlands & Rotterdam & Travel Blog on April 5th, 2016

I didn’t expect it to happen here.

San Francisco? Definitely. Paris? Sure. Amsterdam? Certainly. But Rotterdam?

That’s where I was wrong. Rotterdam is a world-class jazz city; I just didn’t know it, yet. Thankfully, Tokyo jazz band, Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, were already in the know. Last year, they laid down my dream jazz show in Rotterdam. It was a raucous affair, similar to what I imagine performances were like in American nightclubs in the days of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt.

Motoharu of Soli and Pimp Sessions playing sax in Rotterdam at North Sea Round Town.

Motoharu (left) and Shacho (right) on stage at Bird in Rotterdam doing what they do best.

But it was more than just a dynamite show. For me, their performance, which came towards the end of our stay in the city, capped off a weekend of discovery in South Holland, both musically and culturally.

Bombed sadistically by Nazis during World War II, Rotterdam is the rose that grew from concrete and then went on to win first place at the county fair. The silver lining to Adolph Hitler’s Rotterdam Blitz is the architectural landscape and smart urban planning that took root in the city following its destruction. In 2015, Rotterdam was named “European City of the Year” by the Academy of Urbanism.

Inside looking out at Rotterdam's Markthal, an indoor market in South Holland.

Markthal in Rotterdam is a great spot to swing by for lunch, spices, flowers, etc. It’s an indoor market located in a super cool building (no surprise) full of yummy goodness.

Rotterdam’s port has long been a key gateway to Europe. (Currently, it is the tenth largest in the world.) In the mid-20th century, as jazz musicians headed across the Atlantic, their travels likely took them through Rotterdam, helping to turn the city onto modern jazz.

For the last decade, Rotterdam has hosted the North Sea Jazz Festival. What started in The Hauge in 1976, with six venues, 300 artists and several thousand attendees, has blossomed into a three-day festival across 15 stages with 1,200 artists and 75,000 visitors. The festival is now recognized as the largest indoor jazz festival in the world.

A jazz group performs at NRCafe in Rotterdam for North Sea Round Town.

A Tuesday night groove session in Rotterdam at the NRCafe, once the city newspaper headquarters. Trombonist Efe Erdem moved the house with special guest musicians from the Big Hunger and a few other Holland players. It was a perfect introduction to North Sea Round Town.

To build excitement for the jazz festival, Rotterdam started North Sea Round Town. The two-week festival showcases local artists as well as international musicians at venues and clubs throughout Rotterdam, such as Dizzy and the NRCafe. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions had a gig at Bird for North Sea Round Town, and we were fortunate enough to be in attendance. Neither Beth or I had heard of the band before we saw them that evening. I expected it to be a good show, but within minutes of the group taking the stage, I knew we were in for something special; I just didn’t realize how special it would be.

Soil & “Pimp Sessions is a son born of two fathers: Miles Davis and George Clinton. A tremendously talented band, the quintet performs Death Jazz, a form of aggressive alternative jazz that has no boundaries when it comes to eras or musical styles. All the while, the group’s hype man (think: Flavor Flav of Public Enemy), Shacho, paces the stage, at times with a megaphone, bridging the gap marvelously between the audience and band.

“We always felt that in the world of jazz, there was an unwritten rule that the musicians were to concentrate on their techniques and the audience were simply there to admire, like a transmitter/ receiver relationship,” the band states on its website. “We wanted to break away from that and create exciting jazz with far more interaction between the players and the audience.”

Mission accomplished.

Know Before You Go

The 411 on North Sea Round Town

  • North Sea Round Town occurs each year in the two weeks leading up to the North Sea Jazz Festival. The dates for the 2016 festival are June 24 to July 10.
  • Ticket prices vary from show to show.
  • Information and publicity about the festival seems to be rather limited. For example, outside of a few posters in shop windows, we wouldn’t have known about the festival had we not been there specifically to cover it. The best place for updates about the festival is the North Sea Round Town Facebook page.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Markthal Rotterdam, the city’s new indoor market, is great place to grab quick, cheap meals or snacks, like fruits and nuts.
  • The Rotterdam Welcome Card offers visitors unlimited travel on the city’s excellent public transportation system, plus 25% discounts at 50 museums, attractions, and restaurants. We took advantage of the discount at the Rotterdam Zoo. Highlights for us included the Amazonia and Oceanium.
  • The Student Hotel is a budget design hotel with tons of character (see below). It’s got a great vibe as well as some tasty food too, and it won’t break your budget either. The hotel is located on a main metro line so it makes getting around the city a breeze.

A collection of images from The Student Hotel in Rotterdam, Holland. Want to discover more unique festivals? Follow our friends and fellow travelers as they share their journeys from this summer and fall with Must Love Festivals and through the #MustLoveFestivals on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

Disclosure: Rotterdam Partners is a Must Love Festival sponsor. They lent us support while we were in the region to cover North Sea Round Town. As always, though, our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.

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(3) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Tina -

    April 14, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    The place looks really nice.

  • Hans -

    April 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I would have never associated Rotterdam with jazz music … looks like I’ll have a reason to head there when I do make my way to the Netherlands in the near future.

  • Nick -

    May 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Who would have thought Rotterdam was a cool place… I always thought it was just a port city. Seems like a Berlin type city with all the street art and music. Haha I will put it on the never ending list of places to visit!