Clarinetist Felix Peikli Celebrates International Jazz Day in Norway During a Pandemic

with Felix Peikli

What’s it like to be the curator and artistic director of the number one jazz club in Oslo? What are some of your responsibilities?

To be the music curator at Club Gustav at the prestigious Hotel Amerikalinjen in Oslo, which has become the most popular jazz venue in Oslo, is of course personally rewarding on many levels, but also comes with a great responsibility. 

The series "Friday Night Jazz hosted by Felix Peikli" has been packed at every single show with people from all walks of life: young and old, tall and short, dark and blond, musicians and non-musicians, singles and couples, a circle of friends and families. Everyone united around a unique atmosphere with top American cuisine, cocktails, dimmed lights, historic surroundings and authentic traditional American jazz at the center of the experience. It has really become a trendy spot and, I most emphasize that even though everyone is welcomed and represented at our concerts, it's particularly enjoyable to witness that the majority of the audiences are young professionals who're discovering a hidden love for a genre and lifestyle that we are bringing back to life. 

 Hotel Amerikalinjen, which opened in March of 2019, is already ranked as one of Europe's best hotel destinations and carries with them a unique history and tradition. The Norwegian America Line was the passenger ship and, for along time, the sole method of transportation between Norway and America with their headquarters being the same building as where the hotel is today. Here the journey began for thousands of hopeful Norwegians. They were going to travel with Amerikalinjen to the land of opportunity, and many brought back cherished memories and stories of witnessing the vibrant and energetic jazz scene in New York. 

Having lived 10 years in the US and the majority of that time in New York, I have a clear understanding of that sensation myself. Now I can share that inspiration and incredible atmosphere to my own people back home in Norway and see the amazing effects and the power of music. 

Our efforts at Club Gustav has not only created an unparalleled experience for the audience, but also created a platform to showcase talented Norwegian jazz artists with love and respect for the american jazz tradition. Each show have created a historical journey by dedicating each performance to the legends in jazz. We've featured the music of Frank Sinatra to Chet Baker, Benny Goodman to Sonny Rollins, Ella Fitzgerald to Sarah Vaughan and many more. 

Club Gustav is really at the forefront of focusing on the connections that brings our joint heritage and history together with jazz at its centerpiece, and nurturing a community where anyone can join in the experience. I'd say that's a huge responsibility and a challenging task, but I have dedicated my life to that responsibility and I love a good challenge, so as I stated, I find this personally very rewarding. 



Why is it important to you to participate in this event?

The European classical music tradition is well preserved in European countries, and rightfully so. It's prestige for any European country to have a state of the art opera house, a breathtaking opera orchestra, a top notch philharmonic orchestra and so on. In addition to resulting in great musical performances, it also promotes culture and are symbols of wealth and cultivation. I understand some people may disagree that it's "well preserved", but mind you that I am coming from the perspective of a jazz artist, so in that sense I justify that position. 

Speaking from a Norwegian standpoint, the jazz community here is really hurting. Where as a classical musician can follow the steps of using their under/post graduate years honing their skills and learning repertoire they can later use in auditions to various orchestras around the world, the equivalent in jazz will complete their degree and have nowhere to go but to be a freelance musician. Very often accompanied with a lack in business skill and entrepreneurship (to no fault of their own I may add). There're no professional big bands or jazz orchestras, let alone a yearly salary, so the musicians are left to themselves and their own creativity as visionaries to make a difference. This, unfortunately, amounts to very little and often results in unrelated experimental expressions of music, which perpetuates the decline and importance of jazz as it propels the audiences away, and by nature is exclusive as opposed to inclusive. This creates a divide and is directly caused by a lack of musical standards and the historic context of which jazz came from, including its values and beliefs. 

I view jazz exclusively as an American art form, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have global ties, just like classical music has a global presence outside of Europe. UNESCOs International Jazz Day is a unique opportunity to highlight just that. A day to remember and celebrate the core values that jazz represents. Among them; diversity, unity, acceptance and community in an aura of appreciation for the traditional and historic heritage and contributions of our predecessors. The music of Benny Goodman was the catalyst that ushered me into a world of music that would end up being my life's journey. To that I am eternally grateful and I intend to use every opportunity available to share the joy of jazz, music and life, along with its values. 

"A day to remember and celebrate the core values that jazz represents."

How can you use Jazz as a tool to elevate society in good times and bad?

Count Basie's small group and their iconic “Shoe Shine Boy” was made in 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression. This was also the period that gave us Benny Goodman’s small-group sessions, and the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra recording “Happy as the Day Is Long.” Then there were Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, delivering equally sanguine work. To put it simply, the hour of our greatest hardship coincided with a golden age for jazz, when the music was not only a creative force but also a national source of comfort.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has put our community and country through an enormous challenge. It is in times like these we come together and show our true strength as a community. I believe jazz is a metaphor for solidarity. Because jazz is improvisational, it celebrates personal freedom and encourages individual expression. Because jazz is swinging, it dedicates that freedom to finding and maintaining common ground with others. Because jazz is rooted in the blues, it inspires us to face adversity and hardship with persistent optimism. 

I believe that times of crises often presents new opportunities and alternate methods of collaborations to strengthen communities. We already see a dramatic change in online performances and new creative ways to use the internet to communicate and enrich our community. Personally I have hosted numerous online performances with different configurations from Club Gustav in the past weeks, as the artistic director of the Norwegian Jazz Orchestra we have made a "quarantine compilation" video where all the members of the orchestra recorded our arrangement of the Horace Silver composition "Peace" from home, and now we're ready to perform an online celebration of International Jazz Day to be broadcasted worldwide on April 30th. 

No one knows what the future holds, but the more important it is to trust in oneself and use ones past experiences and knowledge as a compass and guide towards the unknown future. And most of all enjoy the process to the best of ones abilities. It is in times like these I feel extra grateful to be a clarinetist and have the music as my life's companion, at the same time as we discover new avenues and outlets for creative expression to bring us all a little closer in times of hardship.

"I believe that times of crises often presents new opportunities and alternate methods of collaborations to strengthen communities." 

How has COVID-19 affected your performance schedule?

My performance schedule this spring went from fully booked to non-existing in just a matter of days. I had just returned from Amman, Jordan in the beginning of March where I performed with the Norwegian Jazz Orchestra for their Majesties the King and Queen of Norway during their visit to Jordan. I was due to perform in Singapore and the US ending the tour performing at ClarinetFest 2020 in Reno, NV which was all cancelled. The jazz series as Club Gustav and my monthly jazz brunch series in Oslo was suspended, in addition to other performance engagement was all cancelled as well. 

Unfortunate as it may be, I do take public health very seriously and I think it's important that we all do our part to ensure an effective and expeditious recovery as a society. This has certainly been a time for me personally to reflect upon my life, my choices, my values, and also a time to reinforce my beliefs and ambitions. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed bringing music and inspiration to audiences in good times and now I feel honored to bring music, inspiration, and light to audiences in dark times as well. As musicians we are storytellers, inspirations to personal reflections, reminders of a shared past and a joint future. The time will come when we can again can gather around live music and share our happiness, and I think those times will be even stronger and even more powerful knowing what we all have just been through.

What’s next? How will you continue to share jazz in the online community?

Who knows what's next. I certainly don't, and feel oddly comfortable not knowing. Quite frankly I think a lifetime as a freelance artist has prepared me in that regard. I direct my focus towards what I do know. I will continue to play and perform, albeit for the time being online, which I also used to do prior to the shutdowns. I will continue to conduct lessons online which I also did prior to the outbreak. I will continue to write music, check out new music, and plan the future to the best of my abilities. I will continue to look for new avenues to explore and new ways to present music and share inspiration. I will use this opportunity to become á jour with self-imposed projects I normally wouldn't have the time to do. I will continue to challenge myself in any way I can, as I stated earlier, I enjoy a good challenge and that is definitively the case in these trying times. I am certainly very optimistic about the future and I believe a pro-active and creative attitude towards the current situation is best for me. I encourage everyone to participate in the online movement and development what we currently see, either by playing themselves or tune in as audiences. It may be cliché, but the show must go on!

The Performance 

The Norwegian Jazz Orchestra with Felix Peikli and Carl Nilsen have celebrated International Jazz Day annually since 2018, making it a yearly tradition. As the 2020 JazzGala is cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they'll continue this tradition online - live from Hotel Amerikalinjen in downtown Oslo.

All governmental guidelines are being respected and the Norwegian Jazz Orchestra is performing in a reduced configuration with guest soloists Marlen Tjøsvoll, Knut Kippersund, and Felix Peikli.

Watch the live broadcast

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