Jazz in Luxembourg (I) After the 1950s, jazz managed to establish itself in the Luxembourg music scene

The history of jazz in Luxembourg is a long process. Imported by American soldiers during the First World War, this very particular musical style quickly found its place in the Grand Duchy. Let's go and meet some of the talents who made jazz emerge in Luxembourg. 

Jazz originated in the United States in the early 20th century. With its origins in blues and gospel, this style of music was soon associated with the legacy left by black slaves in the American cotton fields at the end of the 19th century. Despite this fact, the first recording considered to be jazz music was made in 1917 by the Original Dixie Jazz Band.

Although the band recorded in Chicago, it is often said that the cradle of jazz is in New Orleans. In any case, it was from here that the improvised sounds of jazz were exported to the whole world.

Luxembourg was quickly seduced by jazz, which was introduced by American soldiers during the 1914-1918 war. The first bands emerged with the Auguste Donnen/Emile Boeres Jazzband (1920), The Big Six (1926) and The Hot Boys Band (1928). Hotels (Alfa, Majestic, Pôle Nord, ...) and cabarets became the Mecca of jazz in Luxembourg. Culturally speaking, this was the heyday of jazz clubs. But, with time, jazz gave way to jazz-swing, a cheerful derivative again imported by the American army, this time in 1944, during the Second World War. 

© Orchestre Johnny Glesener Trio - Collection Roger Spautz - Rattlesnake Pictures (A. Bausch)
© Orchestre Jean Roderes - Collection Evelyne Hornemann - Rattlesnake Pictures (A. Bausch)

After the 1950s, new trends emerged, in particular rock'n roll, a style of music with which jazz now had to compete. Carried by musicians such as Johnny Glesener, Johnny Horne, Camille Back, Johnny Nimax or Jean Roderes, jazz finally succeeded in establishing itself in the Luxembourg music scene.  

Later, this music with its different cultural mixes gained in popularity and seduced a large audience in the Grand Duchy. The jazzy scene is now more than ever in full swing. Several places dedicated to it were created: the Wiltz jazz club (1959), the Luxembourg jazz club (1967) and in the 1970s, the Melusina in Clausen opened its doors. The big national and international names met there. Bob Scholer, Michel Pilz, Keith Jarrett, Charles Mingus and Chet Baker are just a few examples. 

© Let's Make it Happen

Want to meet Luxembourg's jazz artists? Then mark your calendars for these three popular events:

  • The Blues 'n Jazz Rallye turns the narrow streets under the old fortifications of Luxembourg City into a little New Orleans every summer. On several stages or just on the pavement, bands perform live and free until late at night.
  • The Like a Jazz Machine festival in Dudelange takes place over 4 days in spring and brings together internationally renowned artists and local newcomers in an eclectic mix. The festival also encourages crossovers, adding unexpected dimensions to the genre.
  • The Blues Express in Differdange is a one-day summer event dedicated to blues, jazz and art exhibitions and takes place in one of the most enchanting settings in Luxembourg: the Fond-de-Gras! Here the music is played in the backstage area of the Train 1900 and the old industrial and railway buildings.

Gast Waltzing - jazz-expert and legend

"I remember their concerts very well. I went to see them when I was still very young", Gast Waltzing recalls. If there is a name to be associated with Luxembourg jazz, it is undoubtedly his. He promoted and popularised jazz like no other in Luxembourg. 

His first steps in jazz go back a long way, more precisely to his teenage years when he wrote compositions for his first jazz-rock band Atmosphere (1972), with which he performed regularly in the 1980s at the bistro Artscène. "After the end of Atmosphere, I created Park Café, then Largo in 1995. Today I manage the Gast Waltzing Quintet," he says in an interview.

His success is inseparable from his famous trumpet, an instrument he literally discovered at a young age when he played in the Useldange brass band. "I was six years old when I discovered this instrument in the brass band's cupboard. That's all there was to it. So I took it and I've been playing the trumpet ever since."

After studying music theory, he followed a classical course to the National Conservatory. But it was during his studies at the Athénée that he fell into the pot of jazz when he played in the Bigband or the Kolléisch brass band. He even gave his trumpet a new dimension by expanding his repertoire to the world of jazz. "What inspires me is freedom, this organised anarchy," he reveals, admitting that he also has a weakness for bands that wear blazers, such as Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago or Blood Sweat and Tears. 

© WP Productions

'For me, jazz means life. Jazz is a philosophy, an attitude'

But it is mainly thanks to Gast Waltzing that the evolution of jazz in the Grand Duchy took off. In 1986 he founded the jazz department of the Conservatoire de la Ville de Luxembourg and formed the Orchestre National de Jazz Luxembourg (ONJL). This was a godsend for the jazz scene, as the teaching of this musical discipline has now become more structured.  

These initiatives are now bearing fruit. Jazz in Luxembourg has become more professional and a range of local musicians has emerged. And according to Gast Waltzing's equation, Luxembourg produces a lot of young talent in comparison with other countries and in relation to its population. And he also provides the proof. "A year and a half ago, 400 candidates took part in the jazz course at the National Conservatory in Paris. Ten people were selected and among them were two Luxembourgers."

In view of the positive evolution of the jazz scene, he points out that it is difficult for young people to find their place in this constantly changing world. Many clubs have closed down and if you want to listen to jazz, you can only find it on specialised radio stations or on CD. Despite this, he remains optimistic about the development of jazz in the Grand Duchy: "We have a whole host of young talents, who also have the opportunity to go abroad to develop. But you have to show yourself. If you're in Arlon, you're not yet in Namur, let alone Brussels."

For the record ...

Gast Waltzing's passion has always been music. Not only has he worked in the world of jazz, but this mastodon of the Luxembourg musical universe is a multi-faceted talent: arranger, composer, conductor and trumpet player, depending on demand. On stage, he has performed with such greats as the Scorpions, Amy McDonald, Gregory Porter, Patrica Kass, Didier Lockwood and Andrea Scholl.  

In 2004 he launched a label dedicated entirely to local jazz talent, WPRJazz, which releases several CDs a year and has built up an international distribution network. In 2008 he was also appointed artistic director of the Jazz section of the Echternach Festival.

Thanks to him, in 2016, for the first time, a Luxembourg production received the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.