Bimhuis: how it was, how it is the most famous jazz venue of the Netherlands
by Francesca Spanò
There is a peculiar sound which comes from the city of Amsterdam, well known abroad not only for the quality of the instruments involved but also for the attention to details and the acoustic of the spaces in which it is produced. It is the sound of the Bimhuis, filling the skies of the capital with jazzy notes from the southern banks of the River IJ.
“It is the mix of various ingredients that makes the Bimhuis achieve such a great sound everytime”, says Jurre Wieman, head of the Technical Department and Sound Engineer at Bimhuis. “First of all there is the design of the concert hall, built according to the latest insights and best standards. It has a specific shape with a very short reverb and both ceiling and walls have a high acoustic absorption. We also have a team of sound engineers, experts in taking care of every single instrument on stage. And, the most important, it’s the world-class perfomance of the musicians playing in Bimhuis that makes the sound so great.”
After the closure of the old venue, on the 14th of February of 2005 the Bimhuis reopened in the new building next to the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. That was the time when this unique sound made even the more skepticals change their minds, deeply worried about loosing the informal atmosphere of Oude Schans 73-77.
It is the artistic Director of the Bimhuis, Huub van Riel, to confirm that, remembering what Mike Zwerin, music writer for The International Herald Tribune, said at that time: “The place is a triumph. It’s the same as the old one, but way better”.
A big change, therefore, since that far 1st of October 1974, when a small group of musicians from the Beroepsvereniging van Improviserende Musici (BIM) decided to make the Bimhuis the house of the hectic jazz. A movement which went viral all around Europe since the 60s and made Amsterdam the fulcrum of experimental music, with artists such as John Zorn, Cecil Taylor and Misha Mengelberg.
Van Riel himself, who had alredy joined the Bimhuis in 1976, has been at the same time spectator and main actor in the evolution of this club, which became in a few years one of the leading jazz venues in the European scenario. “Zwerin’s words perfectly reflected our ambitions”, Van Riel explaines. “To keep the intimacy, the informality and the lay out of the old room, with a bar/restaurant area easily reachable from any point. But all of this improving the acoustics, the technical equipment and the choice of materials.”
Starting from 1995 two different issues appeared, threatening the permanence of the Bimhuis in the center of the city. On the one hand the strict environmental limits imposed by the Municipality about acoustic pollution and, on the other, the renewing program aiming to convert the easter banks of the IJ, next to the Central Station, in a new artistic and cultural center. After a short period of time the Bimhuis was included in the IJ project, being ready to reopen its new doors to the public ten years later, in more modern position but still in the center, allowing them to overcome the sound restrictions imposed by the law.
The choice was faultless: in the last two years, the club doubled the number of shows and cultural activities, hosting international musicians – the Argentinian saxophonist Javier Girotto, the Italian trumpet and flugelhorn player Paolo Fresu, the Corean pianist Soo Cho, the American Saxophonist Mark Turner, to cite someone. At the same time, more space to improvisation, jam sessions and new talents’ debut is given, while an internal radio is live streaming most of the concerts.
Moreover, as Van Riel explains, “those who are listening from the music hall are offered one of the best scenaries all around Amsterdam, with an amazing view over the city and the harbor”, while the noise of the trains – which can be seen from the big window behind the stage – accompanies the artists’ notes during their performances.