I love the Netherlands. I love jazz music. And I love festivals, though preferably the mud-free kind.

I did something about all of the above by attending the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam last month. With the likes of Sting, Bobby Womack, The Roots and Dionne Warwick topping the bill, I had high expectations from the three day festival that takes place in the Ahoy venue, a huge corporate style expo centre that is transformed into over thirteen intimate and not so intimate – in fact, ginormous is more accurate – venues where some of the worlds finest soul, R&B, jazz and hip-hop acts gather for an annual event that grows and grows.

North Sea Jazz Festival Dutch Youth Jazz

It’s a festival that’s already travelled as it began in nearby The Hague but its popularity and reputation as a worldwide authority on jazz-influenced music – old and new – meant it outgrew itself and needed a bigger venue. You have to go to their new(ish) Ahoy venue and see how easily that vast space is filled to appreciate how big this festival is.

Audience North Sea Jazz

So that’s pretty much what I knew about the North Sea Jazz Festival before I went; it was big, famous and the place to be for jazz-inspired music.

And it was. But I also learnt a lot more, about the festival and about the acts I enjoyed watching.

Here are five things I now know about five of the artists who performed there this year.

1. Jamie Cullum is the white-male-jazz-pianist-version of Beyonce. He did not sit still for more than a few seconds and he has some serious moves.

2. The “screwface” did not originate in the UK grime and dubstep scene but in the downright soulful blues of guitarists like Shuggie Otis.

Swing Brothers

3. Everyone should see Seasick Steve once in their life. And not just because of his crazy beard. He plays a mean old blues guitar.

Seasick Steve

4. Sting is looking GOOD for his age!

5. Every woman who’s ever had her heart broken needs to buy Lianne La Havas’ album. Like right now.

Now here’s everything I didn’t know about the North Sea Jazz Festival -please also use this list as a compilation of “Reasons to go to the North Sea Jazz Festival”

1. Amazing Food

If North Sea Jazz Festival was looking for a new byline, they should consider “North Sea Jazz Festival: Actually an amazing world food festival disguised as a music festival”. I was amazed at how good and varied the food was. There were food stalls selling Thai, Vietnamese, Suriname, Caribbean, Italian, and BBQ pork, to mention but a few. On some days I wasn’t sure what I was most excited about the food or the music.

BBQ North Sea Jazz Pork Wrap Surinam Food North Sea Jazz

2. New Artists

North Sea Jazz Festival has been known to showcase some of the most exciting new artists to break through and become something big. How do I know this? Because Jamie Cullum told me. Well, he actually told a packed concert hall when he explained  that the Dutch people and the North Sea Jazz Festival were some of the first to start really pushing his music, over ten years ago. This year the line-up included hot new artists Lianne La Havas, Gary Clark Jr. and Laura Mvula whose critically acclaimed album has already been tipped to win album of the year awards across the world.

Lianne Havas North Sea

3. Impromptu Performances

On the first night of the festival, my boyfriend and I were getting down and funky with famous bassist Larry Graham. After an hour or so I stupidly suggested we go and get another round of drinks while the queues were short. He agreed, stupidly. In the fifteen minutes we left to refill our cups, we missed Prince hopping on stage to perform with Larry Graham. Prince is one of our favourite artists. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say we nearly cried. But performances like this were happening all over the festival so expect the unexpected at North Sea Jazz!

4. Dutch Jazz Legacy

The North Sea Jazz Festival represents more than just one music festival in one city in one country. The North Sea Jazz Festival represents a legacy of love for jazz among generations of Dutch. And it’s spread over to the Dutch Antilles with North Sea Jazz Curacao taking place very soon. Beginning in the early twentieth century, the Dutch have long welcomed jazz performers – and become jazz musicians themselves – and the country was a leader in the post war European jazz movement. The growth and fame of the North Sea Jazz Festival is testament to this, but it’s also a hint that the future of jazz-influenced music in the Netherlands is equally as bright and soulful.

Sax Man

5. Round Town Music

While the North Sea Jazz Festival may seem to be a one venue festival – which is great, because it makes seeing as many acts as you want much easier than if the venues were scattered across the city – it is actually responsible for live music across the city thanks to its Round Town initiative. From brass bands in the Centraal Station to late night bars and clubs hosting free live performances you don’t need a ticket to enjoy wonderful music in Rotterdam during the North Sea Jazz Festival.

Round Town Jazz North Sea Jazz Festival

All photos by Frankie except Photo 1 by North Sea Jazz Festival.



This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.