Cool jazz at 63 degrees north

Jazz may have been born in New Orleans, and matured in the melting pot of the United States, but its European offshoots are thriving – particularly in Norway at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Jazz Programme. Just one example of this vitality is the recognition by the International Jazz Festivals Organization (IJFO) , which awarded its prestigious International Jazz Award for new talent to a graduate from NTNU's Department of Music to trumpet player Mathias Eick in 2006 -- after having awarded the same honor to another NTNU musician, Kjetil Møster, the previous year.

Jazz violin player Michal Urbaniak with jazz students from NTNU.

The Jazz Programme's graduation lists read like a Who's Who of Norwegian jazz musicians, and includes such talents as piano player Tord Gustavsen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad, who play together as the Tord Gustavsen Trio. The New York Times described the Trio's work as melting "off the bandstand into puddles of feeling". Their album, ‘The Ground' topped the Norwegian national sales charts, the VG lista top 40, which is more traditionally dominated by pop music. All three musicians have studied at NTNU's Jazz Programme, as have the groups Supersilent and Urban Connection, and Ola Kvernberg, a jazz violinist.


Kristoffer Lo, a native of Oslo who plays the tuba and the guitar, is a graduate of the NTNU programme and now works as a musician who has played professionally with such greats as the Indian tabla player Trilok Gurtu.

He came to Trondheim because of its strong reputation throughout Europe. He is also a fan of Kjetil Møster, the Bergen saxophonist and 2006 winner of the IJFO award who also graduated from the programme. "He's a great inspiration," Lo said of Møster. "Everyone here is. All the teachers here are people I like to listen to."

Norway's first jazz programme
The NTNU Jazz Programme was established in 1979 and is the oldest in Norway. Carl Haakon Waadeland, an associate professor, said the programme came about because Trondheim was a magnet for jazz musicians – and because the Trondheim Music Conservatory was open to the idea of adding jazz education to its musical mix. That spirit of cooperation remains today, where the city's chamber orchestra and the jazz orchestra play together. In fact, Trondheim is the only city in Norway with its own jazz orchestra, which has collaborated with jazz greats such as Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Joshua Redman, and played in numerous jazz festivals in the US, Japan and Norway. More recently, jazz studies have been added at the universities in Bergen and Oslo, but Trondheim's long tradition makes it an attractive environment for students. Another strength is the programme's strong reliance on performance as a way of learning. "It's very musician-oriented – it's not academic. We encourage people to play all the time," said Erling Aksdal, a jazz pianist and assistant professor in the programme. "It all started with musicians being hired to teach. That made it practical, and the teachers were very enthusiastic."

Photo: Øyvind Brandtsegg playing the vibraphoneInternational cooperation and a new performance space
Erling Aksdalis developed a master's programme that enables students to spend time at other great music schools in Europe.

Another exciting development for jazz musicians in Trondheim was the opening of Dokkhuset. The building is a performance space in the city centre that is rented by the university in a cooperative approach to showcase both university artists and others. The Mid-Norway Jazz Centre, the Trondheim Jazz Forum, the TrondheimSoloists and the Trondheim Chamber Music Festival are also housed in the building and are partners in the programming. Dokkhuset's opening performance was a part of the Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, which featured the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra in addition to more traditional classical music performers."Contemporary classical music and jazz have a lot in common, both can be very defiant of traditions," Aksdal said. In performing together, "we try to erase the borders between classical and jazz, and I think both benefit."

Building contacts, finding your voice
Trondheim's prominence as Norway's first jazz programme has always attracted top students. "People don't become jazz musicians for a career, they become jazz musicians because they are fanatics," states Aksdal. "They're motivated. I think that is why people come there – they get to meet their peers."Aksdal said that is because so many students go on to successful professional careers, working with student peers often leads to long-lasting musical relationships and later collaboration.

(updated 17 January 2013)

Facts about The Jazz Programme

The Jazz Programme is a part of NTNU's Department of Music, Music Performance Studies

30 instructors, of which 5 are permanent part-time positions, and 2 are full-time positions

The Music Performance programme admits approximately 35 students per year, of which 8-13 may be jazz students. The composition of each year's class is dependent upon the applicant pool