Nordic Jazz Lights Up the City of Duke Ellington

By Lisa A. Fanning

For many jazz aficionados and Scandophiles, the annual DC Nordic Jazz festival marks both the beginning of the summer solstice and the time when the city pauses to welcome the cool sounds of artists from across Northern Europe’s Nordic region. In a city that has been a hotbed of jazz since the early 1900s, musical events celebrating this rich American tradition are not uncommon. What the Nordic jazz festival offers Washingtonians that is different from other festivals is a rare opportunity to expand their jazz repertoire and discover Nordic culture through music. This year’s festival goers were treated to the biggest line-up of groups and solo artists representing Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden since the event began in 2006. These eight internationally acclaimed performers entertained audiences at sold-out concerts at the House of Sweden, Twins Jazz, and the Embassy of Finland.

House of Sweden

Organized by the Nordic embassies, this popular musical event started out as a one-night only affair linked to inauguration activities for the new House of Sweden. Fast forward 7 years later, it has grown into a full festival that unfolds over nine days. Gabriella Augustsson, Public Diplomacy and Press Counselor for the Embassy of Sweden/House of Sweden, is thrilled by the growth of the festival. She believes the Washington community continues to embrace it because of the quality of the event and the reputation it has built over the years. For one night during the festival, the House of Sweden, situated on the bank of the Potomac River across from Roosevelt Island, hosts a special concert on their rooftop terrace that is nothing short of magical. The audience is completely surrounded by nature, a very important part of Nordic life and culture, all while listening to great performances by multiple artists and watching a summer sunset. For Augustsson, this event is important for the House of Sweden because it helps connect the embassy with U.S. citizens in an interesting way and exposes Washingtonians to a new sound. Tickets for this year’s rooftop jazz concert sold out in less than 23 hours.


Reception at House of Sweden. Gabriella Augustsson, public diplomacy and press counselor at the Embassy of Sweden.


Reception at House of Sweden.


Reception at House of Sweden.


Reception at House of Sweden.


Reception at House of Sweden. Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson, ambassador at the Embassy of Iceland.

Twins Jazz

In a city known for both its diplomatic and jazz communities, it was only a matter of time before the festival would come to serve as a bridge between embassy row and jazz row – DC’s historic U Street jazz district. Twins Jazz, an intimate jazz club located on U Street, became involved with the jazz festival three years ago when it was asked to partner with the embassies to host some of the concerts. The embassies were looking to collaborate with a cultural institution that was a staple in the community in order to bring Nordic talent and culture to the people and Twins Jazz represented that kind of institution. According to Twins Jazz Managing Partner, Love-leigh Beasley, this type of direct public outreach from larger cultural institutions seeking out smaller community-based spaces for cultural programs is welcomed and needed. The club, founded 26 years ago by twin sisters Kelly and Maze Tesfaye, hosts artists from around the world and has been voted Downbeat Magazine’s “Top 100 Jazz Clubs in the World.” For Beasley, Twins Jazz is more than a destination … it’s a gathering place. She describes the club as a place where a person can drop in and hear top notch live jazz in an authentic setting with authentic people and feel like they are at home. This year Twins Jazz hosted 6 concerts during the festival.


Kelly and Maze Tesfaye. Owners of Twins Jazz (Early Years)


Kelly and Maze Tesfaye and Love-leigh Beasley.

Embassy of Finland

Finnish jazz saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen, a performer in this year’s festival, has his sailor brother to thank for leading him down the path to jazz. While living in the bustling port city of Kotka in his youth, Koivistoinen’s brother would bring back jazz records he bought traveling on the seas that Eero fell in love with and cherished. It was also his brother who treated him to his first Benny Goodman concert. Those early influences played an important part in Eero becoming a jazz musician, composer, arranger, conductor, producer and educator. For Anneli Halonen, Cultural Counselor at the Embassy of Finland, music is an international language that helps unite people and breaks down cultural barriers. It is one of the many reasons she values the festival. Bringing musicians like Eero to Washington not only showcases the best of Nordic talent, it also gives the musicians an opportunity to see the birth place of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Charlie Byrd, and Shirley Horn, exchange with Washingtonians, and play in the historic U Street jazz district. Over three hundred people traveled to embassy row to hear the Eero Koivistoinen Quartet at the Embassy of Finland.


Ritva Koukku Ronde, ambassador at the Embassy of Finland, with her family.


Anneli Halonen, cultural counselor at the Embassy of Finland.


Embassy of Finland. Washington, DC.


Reception at the Embassy of Finland for Eero Koivistoinen Quartet.

Listen to festival artists talk about Nordic jazz and describe the jazz event(s) that made them want to become jazz musicians in this audio/photo slideshow.

Watch video of excerpts of concerts from the festival


2013 DC Nordic Jazz Festival Artists

Soren Moller and Line Kruse

Tómas R Einarsson

Lina Nyberg

Eivind OpsvikChristian Wallumrød and Maren Selvaag

Eero Koivistoinen


Lisa A. Fanning Photo

Lisa A. Fanning is an American photographic artist. She was raised in a small town in the state of Indiana, but has lived in the Washington, DC area for over 20 years. Lisa holds a BA in French and MA in French and Intercultural Communication and has lived in both France and Germany. She has exhibited her work at galleries throughout the United States and in Brazil. Recent highlights of her photography career include having her work selected for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, winning a juror award for her piece “Resting Place” in the “Glimpses in Time: An International Juried Photography Exhibition in Honor of James Van Der Zee” and having her work purchased by and included in the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Art Bank Collection. Lisa loves all things Nordic, jazz music, and fashion.

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