‘In Australia I found freedom’

Every year the North Sea Jazz Festival gives a free composition assignment to a promising jazz musician. Jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger Marike van Dijk already received the invitation in December 2019. But due to corona, the festival was canceled for two years. Moreover, due to the travel restrictions, Van Dijk was stuck in Australia, the country where she was working on her PhD research.

“Finally I can now show my composition assignment,” says Marike van Dijk (39). In a writing house in Renkum, Gelderland, she is putting the finishing touches to the compositions at the intersection of jazz and contemporary composed music with which her nine-piece ensemble will open the festival next weekend. After a few hectic weeks, the peace and quiet is pleasant here. She had withdrawn to a quiet writing spot in Portugal, until her father became seriously ill and she returned to her parents in Friesland. “Fortunately, he is recovering well,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to Portugal anymore, because corona plays on it again. The last thing I want is to get sick now that North Sea Jazz is approaching.”

Traveling around is no stranger to Van Dijk. She has only been back in the Netherlands for a few months after spending two and a half years in Brisbane, Australia. There she did a PhD in composition and was not allowed to leave the country due to corona measures. “A um, interesting sensation,” she says. That’s why she named her program for North Sea Jazz: Stranded† Van Dijk: “Let’s say: memories of an intense period.”

Marike van Dijk Photo Andreas Terlaak

She says that her parents visited in December 2019 and that the bushfires around Sydney made a big impression. At the beginning of 2020, she gave a performance with singer-songwriter Jeff Taylor in New York and, according to her, has already received ‘the original Covid’. Back in Australia, in March, the borders closed. “The university was clear about it. You could leave, go home, but on unpaid leave and nobody knew when you could return to Australia.”

Worthless, she thought, and heavy: “I was homesick, especially during the lockdowns. I had panic attacks and sometimes could not see it all well. Everything was so disproportionate and with all the travel restrictions, all humanity disappeared.”

Marike van Dijk, born in the Frisian Wikel, studied jazz at the conservatories of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. With the then still existing Huygens grant, she applied for a master’s degree in saxophone and composition at New York University in 2011. She took lessons from the famous arranger and composer Gil Goldstein, whom she visited almost weekly in Brooklyn.

She lived in New York for four years, making a living from performances, film scores and, above all, side jobs. Just like saxophonist Ben van Gelder, drummer Mark Schilders and bassist Ruben Samama, who also resided there at the time, she got a ‘huge click’ with the new New York scene. This was heard on The Stereography Projectan album with music full of intelligent twists and beautiful sound images by five wind players, a string quartet, rhythm section and vocals.

Back in the Netherlands in 2015, she also hoped to perform often with this ensemble. But that was disappointing: “It was mainly a lot of arrangement for so many people and there are few places where you can play with such an ensemble.” Her desire to leave again grew. “It started to itch again. I always had plans for PhD research and I found a PhD with a stipend, a basic income for music and research at the same time.”

It is striking that her choice fell on faraway Australia. This country is not exactly known for its jazz. “The combination of artistic and practice-oriented research in Australia appealed to me. Moreover, after a year I would be able to do a large part of the fieldwork, such as a dive into music archives, in New York and the Netherlands.”

It wasn’t really about jazz on the other side of the world for her, she admits. She needed more ‘air and light’ in her life, she wanted a ‘playful turnaround’. “I was quite a workaholic. I envisioned a year in which I quietly set up my PhD and there was also some more free time and fun in my life. Music, yoga, dance, an attempt at surfing and nice weather. That’s why I chose Brisbane over busy Melbourne.”


Van Dijk’s research, with the working title: ‘Bigband of the future?’, is a deepening of her composing. She has long been intrigued by the work of the experimental New York School composers such as John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown and Christian Wolff. They mapped out their quest in the fifties and sixties to allow more individual input from the musicians into their compositions through ‘indeterminacy’ by digging through music archives. “Because you don’t get enough information about the composition process from sheet music alone.”

Her interest in ‘indeterminacy’ was aroused by Feldman’s essays, in which he associates music with visual art and humor. “This avant-garde approach is almost the opposite of my way of composing. What would it be like, I thought, to apply such super-abstract techniques to a large jazz ensemble?”

Somehow, she says, her PhD research is about her own ‘battle between control and letting go’: ‘To what extent do you decide as a composer what is played and to what extent do you let it become something of the performing musician? And especially for me: when do I let it go?”

To what extent do you let your composition become something of the performing musician?

Marike van Dijk

As an example of her newfound playfulness, she gives her composition in which she uses John Cage’ Cheap Imitation used. „Cage’ composition for string quartet leans on Socrates, a work by Satie”, she explains. “By changing pitches, he sidestepped a rights issue. In turn I have from Cheap Imitation changed the pitches and wrote some stuff in it. A homemade cookie, you might say.”

This led to a looseness she hadn’t allowed herself in her music before – earlier compositions sometimes seemed a bit too serious. The freedom she now feels is not only due to her PhD research, which she wants to complete next year, but also due to her stay in Australia. „Cut off from you roots you can become someone new. It’s kind of a reset. And hopefully you can hear that in my music.”

North Sea Jazz composition assignment. 7/7 Bimhuis, Amsterdam. North Sea Jazz 8/7, Ahoy Rotterdam. Inl: northseajazz.com

North Sea Jazz timetable
Saul of Stapele

1. Tems
The Nigerian future world star Tems colored world hits from Drake, Future and WizKid with her unique voice and has already released two very strong solo EPs. Her vocals and idiosyncratic melodies are brooding and melancholic.
Sat 5 p.m. in Darling

2. Erykah Badu
She hasn’t released any new music in a while, but Erykah Badu is 25 years after her debut baduizm live still highly recommended. Quirky, funky, spiritual, playful and passionate. As a front lady, she smoothly leads her band through a timeless oeuvre.
Sat 8.45 p.m. in Nile

3. HER
Don’t miss the performance by singer, songwriter and guitarist HER, who impressed with combative tracks like Oscar winner ‘Fight For You’ and Grammy winner ‘Can’t Breathe’. A great live performer and a versatile vocalist with a voice that knows many nuances.
So 20 h. in Nile

4. Gaidaa
The music of Gaidaa from Eindhoven has been well received on music sites like Okayplayer. Her music is warm, soulful, atmospheric and intimate. “My songs arise in the moment itself,” she said NRC last year. Fri 10 p.m. in Murray

5. Nile Rodgers
Where is the party? Here’s the party! Nile Rodgers himself, driving force behind the legendary band Chic and producer of countless mega-hits for others, will close the Saturday with his grooving hit revue.
Sat 23.15 h. in Nile

6. Thundercat
The singing Thundercat is a virtuoso and versatile master bassist. Live he is stunning with instrumental jams that sometimes seem to go in all directions and then are relaxed and glowing. The ‘pop act’ for people who complain that ‘North Sea Jazz is no longer a jazz festival’.
Sun 10.15 p.m. in Darling

North Sea Jazz timetable
Leendert van der Valk

1. Cimafunk
If funkhead god gives George Clinton his blessing, then the funk is all right. And if Chucho Valdés agrees, then Afro-Cuban jazz is also in safe hands. The performance by singer Cimafunk should be the festive conclusion of the first day of the festival.
Fri 10.30 pm in Congo

2. Makhathini
South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini is known for his work with Shabaka Hutchings & The Ancestors. His own albums are overflowing with gospel and Zulu traditions that he combines with spiritual jazz.
Fri 22.30 h. in Missouri

3. Lady Blackbird
Lady Blackbird feels at home not only in jazz and blues, but also in gospel and soul. Whether she’s singing covers or her own songs, her phenomenal voice sands and polishes the listener’s soul.
Sat 21-22 h. in Darling

4. Black Pumas
The Black Pumas album should not be missing in the record collection of any soul lover. On stage, vocalist Eric Burton adds a little more showmanship to the unctuous songs, picking up where Otis Redding left off.
Sun 17.45 h. in Nile

5. Fatoumata Diawara
The Malian star Fatoumata Diawara is an old acquaintance at North Sea Jazz. She has released new work, an album inspired by the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu.
Sun 4.30 pm. in Maas

6. Thackray
Start the Sunday with Emma-Jean Thackray. The Londoner sings, plays the trumpet and uses many electronic effects. The exceptional multi-instrumentalist mixes jazz with p-funk, dance and rich orchestrations into a future-proof cocktail.
at 3 p.m. in Darling. DJ set 8.30 pm in Tigris.

North Sea Jazz playlist