Jazz Station in Brussels : Creativity never stops

Welcome to the club.

Take the ‘E’ train (the Easy Swing special), get off at the Jazz Station, walk up the stairs and enter one of the most original jazz hubs in Brussels and far beyond.

To make things clear from the start, Jazz Station is not only a building but first and foremost an association committed to essential values as inclusive and social accessibility, especially since it is located in a dense neighbourhood with people coming from totally different cultures.

A little bit of history

How do you convert an old abandoned train station from 1885 into a jazz club? It helps when the mayor himself is a musician and a great jazz fan. That man was Jean Demannez. He got this crazy idea and obtained his goal with financial help from private partners and grants from the European Commission and Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. In 2005 on 30th september Jazz Station opened officially.
Trains don’t stop there anymore but you can still hear them passing by on warm evenings when the windows are open. Some musicians get inspired by the sounds of trains on the tracks and start improvising on the spot!

From the beginning on the club had a very faithful crowd that shows up at every concert. This nucleus of aficionados, including a couple of photographers and some die hard journalists, is constantly joined by a flock of a different colour depending on who is playing. It results in a very kaleidoscopic community. The fact that Brussels is the capital of Europe with all the official institutions helps of course.

Normal seating capacity with tables everywhere around is 70. With sold out gigs, which happens all the time, the tables are put away and only chairs set out on those evenings. There are a couple of standing places near the bar but once the maximum capacity of 120 is reached, you don’t get in anymore. It’s the policy of the house that its audience should be able to enjoy optimum conditions. 

What’s on?

Let’s start by stating that there are other venues if you are looking for the really free jazz stuff. Old school Dixieland is also a genre you won’t find here. So what’s left? Almost everything, ranging from classic piano trios to electrojazz. 

At the beginning, programming was centered around Belgian groups and artists with exceptionally an international act on a blue Monday. Lately however since Kostia Pace became general manager in 2015, the reputation of the club gained gradually international interest thanks to the warm and professional welcome and the superb sound. The wide offer of artisanal Belgian beers might have something to do with it as well. Some names that stopped by this year at the Jazz Station: Billy Hart, Rudy Royston, Gilad Hekselman, Peter Bernstein, Nate Wood, Norma Winstone and Doug Weiss. Let’s not forget the new wave of Belgian jazz with names as Don Marsh V, Antoine Pierre, Jean-Paul Estiévenart and Guillaume Vierset. Also Aka Moon, Philip Catherine and David Linx have been here.

General manager Kostia Pace explains how they make the choices. “It’s not easy and we have to take some tough decisions since the offer is enormous. To make things clear, I am not the only one doing this challenging job. My foremost role is to give directions about the themes we want to put in the picture the coming months or season. We are a board of four members who all work here. After listening sessions choices are made. There has to be a minimum majority of three out of four voices. The accent stays on Belgian and European artists. Other points of interest we take into account are gender and generations although we don’t work with mathematical comparisons on that level. Quality and “coup de coeur” still stay the main motivation.”

The educational side

Every season there are lectures and conferences on the history of jazz or around central themes like one particular artist or group. Masterclasses (often with international guests), singing classes (to develop the natural voice, rhythm, instinctive harmonization, improvisation) and even dance classes (from swing to lindy hop) are also part of the package. These latter go on under the principle of the E.L.E.F. technique (Everybody Leads Everybody Follows).
The venue is also available as a completely free rehearsal space. These rehearsals are open to the public. An interesting way to get connected with the stage aspect. And of course, afterwards the bar is the ideal place to ask some questions and interchange ideas. Another asset is that the club is open for residencies. New since this season are the jams on Sunday, starting in the early evening and becoming more and more a popular hangout. And last but not least, let’s not forget the exhibitions of different art fields like photography, design, painting and even sculpting. 

We can add our connection with music schools and conservatories who organize here yearly their final exams in the best professional conditions for the pupils. 

A very special extra are the Friday gatherings organized by Sweet & Hot, an association of experts and collectors founded in 1959. Listening to recordings and giving commentary is their thing. All this takes place in a small building belonging to the Jazz Station a little bit further.

Jazz Station Big Band

Among a lot of Carte Blanche and residencies, the Jazz Station has its own big band currently under the supervision of Stéphane Mercier. The original idea was (and still is) to allow the members to engage in writing for a larger ensemble. In the spirit of New York clubs such as Village Vanguard, they perform once a month. They released already three albums.

Local Networking

The offices of the Jazz Station are on the ground floor, adjacent to the concert venue. On the first floor the jazz organisation Les Lundis D’Hortense and the label Hypnote Records have also their home in the same building. It leads to interesting interactions such as International Jazz Days, coproductions, and other linked projects.
On the second floor there is a professional studio for acoustic radio and video projects under the name of Jazz Lines. This was made possible by a successful crowdfunding. The podcast Wagon Jazz, hosted by journalist Georges Tonla Briquet, is recorded here, but also a lot of live sessions, interviews, and other recordings – free of access. 

In cooperation with Théâtre Marni and Espace Senghor, Jazz Station organizes the River Jazz Festival. The name comes from a small brook that flows now underground and connects the three venues. During two weeks a great variety of musicians and groups can be heard in these places. Highlight is closing night during which one musician offers a different project in each of the three locations. You can walk from one club to another, go by bike or take the bus. Anyway, a festive atmosphere is guaranteed each year between November and December.

The Future

Kostia Pace might not be saying that the future is so bright they have to wear shades but he is optimistic. “We have a solid artistic structure that is appreciated by the public but also by the local and national institutions who are responsible for grants. The latter is very important to be able to pay the artists the right salary. Lately there have been some hard times like for everyone and even in 2023 the fight will continue to keep things going like we want due to overall costs. Very positive is our growing network with organizations abroad like the French AJC, Offbeat and the new Propulsion, an organization that covers France, Switzerland, Germany, Luxemburg and Belgium. Together we are momentarily working on solutions concerning legal points, the organization of tours including exchange of groups and of course the ecological impact of all this. Some points, especially the latter, are still a process of discussion, trial and error but we all are striving for the same goal: bringing jazz to a large public in the best conditions for everyone. We will get