Scandinavian Jazz Church Revival

Do you know anything about Scandinavia? Did you know they are crazy in love with New Orleans jazz?

Americans know that Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and sometimes Finland and Iceland)  is in the furthest northern part of Europe; it’s really cold, and that many of the people there are blond, with blue eyes (well, a lot of them).

Also, you might not know that Scandinavians travel more than any other region in the world, according to many travel studies.

The top five travelling countries, according to are 1) Finland (although Finns don’t consider themselves Scandinavians); 2) the United States (there are a lot of us compared to Scandinavians!); 3) Sweden; 4) Denmark and 5) Norway.

Hmmm. So why are northern Europeans such travel freaks?

The Finns make an average of 7.5 trips a year. americans take 6.7 trips annually, but most travel within the US. Swedes take 1.5 outbound trips and 4.4 domestic trips a year, with Danes traveling an average of 3.9 domestic trips a year and 5.3 total trips. Norwegians average 5.2 trips annually. So Scandinavians travel a lot. The cost of living is high in Scandinavia, but many Scandinavians own second homes (and travel to get there), and they get more bang for their buck by traveling outside the US.

Scandinavia is relatively under-populated compared to southern Europe, but I can tell you from personal experience that Scandinavians are serious music fans, especially fans of jazz and New Orleans.

For hundreds of years, Scandinavians were seafarers, especially Norwegians, and that country established missionary-style churches to cater to Norwegian seamen all over the world in port cities in 1864, to provide a taste of home, comfort and spiritual counseling, and a place for respite from the ships they lived on and the hardships of living at sea.

The New Orleans Norwegian Seamen’s Church was established in 1906, and at one point in time was one of 30 US churches. That number has dwindled now to only six, and recently the Norwegian Seamen’s Church New Orleans (NSCNO) was closed by its Bergen, Norway-based home church.

I have a Norwegian connection: my husband’s daughter (and my stepdaughter) was raised in Norway, and we patronized the church a fair amount, especially when she visited so she’d have a connection to home (the church provides newspapers and magazines in Scandinavian languages, Norwegian food, and has always been a center not only for visiting Norwegians but for those oft-travelling Scandinavians who love to visit New Orleans (the church also has a guesthouse, a commercial kitchen, apartments for rent, as well as a splendid saltwater swimming pool.

The NSCNO also became known for the jazz that was played there regularly. At least once a month (usually the first Sunday at 11 a.m.) there’s a service that features local jazz musicians. And there are many events at the church that feature local musicians too.

The NSCNO became known as “the Jazz Church.”

When the local community found out that the NSCNO was closing, a group put together a committee to try to find a way to keep the church open, and through a lot of hard work over at least a year, the group has managed to buy the church from Norway, and it’s now been re-christened the Scandinavian Jazz Church and Cultural Center.

If you’ve never been there, you should go to enjoy the jazz services, to say nothing of the phenomenal Norwegian and Scandinavian coffee and pastries after the Sunday services.

The new operators, headed by Father Winston Rice, are devising new programming to capitalize on the church’s reputation for music presentations, and to continue to market the church as a center and guesthouse for traveling Scandinavians worldwide.

Rice says “Of course, music will continue to occupy an important place in our worship as we continue the practice of a jazz service on the first Sunday of each month. In due course, we hope to expand our schedule of jazz services and further enrich our regular worship liturgy by incorporating into it more music, especially jazz. We also aspire to become a center for the celebration of Scandinavian history and culture and are planning exhibits and events to accomplish that goal.”

For many years, the church has had a Christmas Bazaar and Scandinavian Festival in the fall as a revenue-producing event to support the church. The next festival has not yet been announced. Nor has the schedule for using the pool (memberships are available), but the new group has just taken over and there are many plans circulating.

But a small part of the New Orleans cultural blend has been saved is and is set to flourish again with new leadership.

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