International appeal: Molde’s famed jazz festival thrills

Photo: John Barry

Patricia Barry
Hopewell Junction, N.Y.

Molde in July is the place to be for jazz artists and enthusiasts as the acclaimed Molde International Jazz Festival takes place. This year my family had the good fortune to experience Moldejazz, “arguably the prize among Norway’s rich jazz festival circuit” (Downbeat).

High standards at Moldejazz
Moldejazz, established in 1961, is Europe’s second-oldest jazz festival. Approximately 120 concerts are held, 22,000 tickets are sold, 500 artists perform, 600 people volunteer, and 60,000 people visit Molde (more than tripling the city’s population) for the annual six-day festival, according to the official 2017 Moldejazz website.

The Moldejazz program committee headed by festival director Hans-Olav Solli works year round to put together a high-quality and attractive program. Arne Torvik, a committee member and teacher at Molde kulturskole, describes the challenge: “We try to put together a program with a combination of big jazz names and artistically interesting and new names—all within the diverse genre called jazz—so that the high quality will interest people enough to come to Molde. In addition we try to focus on having a blend of local, national, European, and American jazz. Additionally it is very important to have the right artist in the right venue so that both the audience and the artist feel good about the gig.”

By these standards the 2017 Moldejazz program was a success. Downbeat described this year’s program as “an embarrassment of riches.” Jazzwise Magazine writes about the adventurous spirit and breadth of program. “We could shake our bluesy hips, but we could also tremble under the full onslaught of free-squall. We could leaf through the standard Broadway songbook, but we could also nod cerebellums to the most advanced forms of avant-rap.”

Photo: John Barry
“Jazzgutten” (The Jazz Boy) overlooks downtown Molde, with a stunning view of fjord and mountains for his backdrop.

Moldejazz has featured jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, and this year Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny, with Vijay Iyer, American pianist and composer, as artist-in-residence. Pop musicians who fit into an expanded definition of jazz and rhythmic music have also performed at Moldejazz—an impressive list including Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Sting, Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, and Eric Clapton.

This year for the first time, a brass band performed at the festival. Molde’s own Molde Brass Band, one of the top 10 brass bands in Norway, was selected to play with trumpeter and composer Jan Magne Førde. At Molde domkirke on the last night of the festival, Førde, his ensemble, and Molde Brass performed Førde’s work “Mezzing,” a “great end to a fantastic festival,” writes Romsdals Budstikke.

Solli, festival director, points out that among the many special things about Molde­jazz, “About half our program is unique in that these concerts happen only at Molde­jazz. One example is this year’s mini-residency with guitar legend Pat Metheny who did three concerts together with Norwegian artists—bassist Arild Andersen, Jaga Jazzist, and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.”

The beautiful Molde setting contributes to the uniqueness of Moldejazz to attract artists from around the world, notes Torvik. “Many jazz artists (especially Americans) have fallen in love with the area of Molde and Romsdal.”

Bond between Molde and the festival
Moldejazz shares a special bond with the city of Molde, as Torvik has observed. “One special treat is the combination of an ambitious program of jazz music and the beautiful nature and surroundings of Molde. The city changes for a few days into a place where many residents want the festival to be great for both artists and audience and they work as volunteers or simply just enjoy the good music themselves. The festival has a profound impact on the city. Many people have been working as volunteers for the festival all their lives. So I think people from Molde feel like they own a little bit of the festival themselves.”

As Moldejazz gets underway, people fill the performance venues, streets, hotels, cafés, and shops. Alexandraparken, a city park, is the hub of activity, the site of the opening ceremony, a daily parade destination, and venue for free concerts during the day. For some, spending their days in Alexandraparken is in itself the Moldejazz experience, listening to various artists, soaking up the atmosphere (and sun if they are lucky, as we were), while enjoying coffee and waffles or beer and popcorn.

Photo: John Barry
The Moldejazz parade band Jazzlogen arrives at Alexandraparken for the opening ceremonies.

Several locations around the city also serve as concert venues, including the city’s cultural building Plassen, Molde domkirke, Romsdalsmuseet, and Bjørnsonhuset at the Scandic Seilet. At every turn street musicians can be found playing along Storgata and at outside cafés.

The six-day concert schedule runs from midday well into the night, with some concerts starting as late as midnight (yes, those tickets we just purchased are for midnight, not noon). With the late-night concerts and the long daylight hours in July, it’s a special treat to be walking, along with many others, after midnight without the aid of street lamps or flashlights.

During Moldejazz, Storgata becomes a pedestrian walkway lined with vendors. You can buy Moldejazz and Molde Fotballklubb merchandise, handmade crafts, and souvenirs—or try Fonte Verdi “Cheese from Molde,” fresh-picked berries from Sekken and Skåla, self-proclaimed best Belgian waffles in Norway, or an elgburger (mooseburger).

Getaways from Molde
Besides Moldejazz, there is much to enjoy in this beautiful area of Norway. If you want an easy getaway from the downtown bustle, you can take a quick boat ride to Hjertøya, an island one mile away in Moldefjord with swimming and picnic areas, walking paths, and a fishing museum. Or go the opposite direction, up the hill to Moldemarka, where there are hiking trails with gorgeous panoramas of Moldefjord and the Romsdal Alps. Molde is also a great place for kayaking and biking.

Beyond Molde, the awesome must-see Norwegian scenic route Atlanterhavsveien (Atlantic Ocean Road) is just a 45-minute drive. In the opposite direction, a couple hours away, is the famous Trollstigen.

Also close to Molde are a couple lesser-known but worthwhile destinations. Consider a trip to the island of Ona and see its much-photographed lighthouse. In Tingvoll stop by Tingvollost for Kraftkar, the most recent “World Champion” at the World Cheese Awards. Nearby is Den Glade Ku (The Happy Cow), a charming farm shop and café. Den Glade Ku is known for its marmalades, jams, and dairy products, as well as other locally made food products and crafts. Tingvollost and Den Glade Ku products can also be purchased in Molde grocery stores and specialty shops. If you go to Moldejazz, be sure to take home some of the local fare.

A venerable festival
Moldejazz, with its rich history, is unique in its program and setting. Whether you want to enjoy a concert in the park or take advantage of the many performances and venues or just walk the streets and enjoy the festive atmosphere, there is something for everyone. I would highly recommend experiencing Moldejazz. And absolutely take in the beauty of this part of Norway while you’re there.

“Iyer’s Idiomatic Adventurism by the Fjord,” Downbeat, link:

Moldejazz website:

“Steve Lehman and Pat Metheny Lead The Moldejazz Pack,” Jazzwise Magazine, link:

“Verdig og flott avslutning” (Worthy and great conclusion), Romsdals Budstikke, link: (Norwegian)

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.