Jazz music in the Netherlands has been firmly rooted in the general music life since the Second World War. The public broadcasting system used to work to the advantage of musicians who found employment in various radio orchestras from 1945 on. The last and still successful remnant from that bygone era is the 52-piece Metropole Orkest, a big band with a large strings section and added woodwind instruments.

Many musicians from the Metropole Orkest and other radio bands became the first teachers in the jazz departments of conservatories that started in the late 1970s, propagating a bebop orientated approach to advanced jazz education.

As a counterpoint, a rebellious new generation of jazz musicians began to dominate the Dutch jazz scene in the mid 1960s. People like Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink were associated with free jazz, and also had links with contemporary composed music. They created a ‘Dutch School’ which has been documented by the American author Kevin Whitehead in his book New Dutch Swing (1998).

This same generation of musicians laid the base for government funding of jazz, and in 1971 created the first trade union for jazz musicians, the BIM (Beroepsvereniging van Improviserende Musici). In 1974, the BIM also established the Amsterdam Bimhuis, which evolved into the principal jazz venue in the Netherlands. During the 1970s, in the wake of these initiatives, new contemporary jazz scenes emerged elsewhere in the country, especially in Tilburg, Groningen and The Hague.

Until the turn of the century the Dutch jazz scene still was somewhat divided between the two conceptions of playing jazz. Since then that divide has all but disappeared. Today’s musicians have a less dogmatic, more eclectic approach to their art, also influenced by musicians from abroad and the influx of international students at the jazz departments of Dutch conservatories.

Partly due to the relocation of North Sea Jazz Festival from The Hague to Rotterdam in 2006, the Rotterdam jazz scene has been revitalized with more festivals, events and concert locations than before.

In 2012 the Dutch government made massive cuts in the subsidies for performing arts, seriously damaging the funding and support structures for jazz. The adverse effects are still being felt today. Nevertheless, many musicians remain resilient and active in promoting and releasing their own music in the Netherlands and abroad. Although the possibility to perform in jazz clubs has been reduced over the years, the number of festivals has grown. 

Unfortunately there are no current statistics on the number of jazz concerts and their attendance. The most recent data are from 1997 when approximately 8.000 annual jazz concerts were counted in the Netherlands.

Guide compiled by Paul Gompes & Buma Cultuur