Frank-ly Speaking

FRANK KOULEN – Porgy In de Polder is the compelling story of Frank Koulen, founder of jazz club Porgy en Bess in Terneuzen, The Netherlands.

Tjeu Strous - Porgy In De Polder

Journalist Tjeu Strous carefully maps out the life of Koulen, who grew up in poor conditions in heady, colonial Surinam, landed in Dutch Flanders in the latter stages of the Second World War, parading into Terneuzen with the Allied Forces. The only brown-skinned man in Terneuzen never looked back, fell in love, married and started lunchroom Porgy en Bess in 1957, which slowly but surely, and with many ups and downs, developed into a center for traditional New Orleans jazz, Dixieland and modern jazz. When one visited Porgy en Bess, one went to the welcoming host ‘The Negro’, renowned for shaking hands with every customer who entered his picturesque public house. It’s a nickname which nowadays would be viewed as unacceptable, instilled rather mixed feelings in the hearts of some of Koulen’s heirs but back then was a fairly innocent and endearing way of embracing the liberating spirit of the exotic entertainment guru.

Porgy In De Polder is a biography underlined by socio-cultural history. It is also, of course, the story of jazz club Porgy en Bess, a haven for the libidinous, restless youngsters in the sixties which brought the swing to the small harbor town of Terneuzen that it until then lacked. In Koulen’s lifetime ‘Porgy’ staged, among others, Jimmy Witherspoon, Cecil Payne, Eddie Boyd, Nathan Davis, Don Byas, Dave Pike, Ted Curson, Booker Ervin, Paul Bley, Chet Baker, Art Blakey and Boy Edgar with Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton and Art Taylor. After Koulen died in 1985 and friends, with the help of investors and the municipal and provincial departments re-built the club from scratch, Porgy en Bess grew in stature and hosted, among others, Arnett Cobb, Lou Donaldson, Phil Woods, Toots Thielemans, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Lee Konitz, Charles McPherson, James Moody, Cedar Walton, Betty Carter, Astrid Gilberto, John Handy, Horace Parlan, Danilo Perez, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Porgy In De Polder by Tjeu Strous is published by Uitgevery Den Boer/De Ruiter. It is available here. Dutch language only.

I Loves You, Porgy

PORGY & BESS – Good clubs are a blessing for jazz musicians and, as a consequence, for the audience. Professional equipment, a fine-tuned piano, supportive management and atmosphere are all part of the attraction. Porgy & Bess, the famed jazz venue in Terneuzen, The Netherlands, which celebrates its 60th birthday in 2017, scores way above average. The passionate and welcoming handling of affairs by the team built around general manager Maja Lemmen, who has been associated with Porgy & Bess almost from the start, and the warm-blooded atmosphere are something else. Musicians from all over the world love to perform at Porgy & Bess.

Porgy & Bess was founded in 1957 by the Suriname-born Frank Koulen, who had arrived in Dutch Flanders with the Allied Forces in 1944. It started out as a tearoom but soon staged dixieland, and later on, modern jazz. Koulen, who passed away in 1985, was famous for organising street parades, a novelty in Holland. Porgy & Bess has hosted concerts by Chet Baker, Arnett Cobb, Don Byas, Art Blakey, Benny Golson, Ray Brown, Horace Parlan, Cedar Walton, Phil Woods, Lou Donaldson, Nat Adderley, Lee Konitz, Cecil Payne, Ray Bryant, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine, Christian McBride, Danilo Perez, Diana Krall and many others. Simultaneously, Porgy & Bess is a cultural institution that also stages roots music, classical music matinees and literary readings.

Porgy & Bess started off its year of celebration with the return of Porgy regular Roy Hargrove on January 14. In April, festivities continue as Porgy & Bess organizes a Mini Anniversary Festival. On April 20 the Dutch guitarist Anton Goudsmit performs with blues singer Phil Bee, on April 21 Ambrose Akinmusire, one of America’s greatest young trumpet players, performs with musicians from the Conservatory Of Antwerp, April 22 will see a cooperation of the Dutch pianist Bert van den Brink and the Greek pianist/singer Maria Markesini, and on April 23 the Belgian writer Tom Lanoye will mix jazz improv with literature.

For info and tickets, go here.

For my interview with general manager Maja Lemmen, go here.

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