Singers such as Bruno Mars attract fans from outside the traditional jazz genre. // © 2015 Andreas Terlaak
Feature image (above): Janelle Monae was among performers at last year’s event // © 2015 Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival
What’s better than sipping a glass of wine under the moonlight as gentle waves lap against your feet? Well, it doesn’t get much better — unless you’re also listening to rhythm and blues legend Chaka Khan perform live on a Caribbean island. That was one of many highlights during last year’s Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival, which is celebrating six years of music, Caribbean eats, wine and revelry in 2015.
The 2014 edition featured artists spanning all manner of genres and demographics, from Rod Stewart and Mana to Smokey Robinson, Dr. John, Janelle Monae, Boz Scaggs and Bruno Mars. While admittedly light on true jazz musicians, the North Sea Jazz Festival seeks out popular, well-known artists who will not only resonate with locals but also attract travelers from the U.S. market.
This year’s festival will be no different, with a lineup that offers something for just about everyone.
John Legend, returning for his second North Sea Jazz Festival performance, will have fans singing along to his Grammy Award-winning tunes, while The Pointer Sisters and The Isley Brothers will provide a blast from the past. Lionel Richie will work the stage, and with any luck, he’ll make the crowd feel like they are “Dancing on the Ceiling” during his headlining set. Heartthrob Enrique Iglesias — who celebrated his 40th birthday this month, to the astonishment of many fans — will also take the mic. Singer-songwriter Randy Newman, Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean, jazz musician Cassandra Wilson and others are also set to play on the festival’s three stages.
Last year at the indoor Celia stage, I got a kick out of Smokey Robinson, who told stories about the early days of Motown, some 50 years ago. Clad in red leather plants, a shiny satin jacket and a pirate-like shirt that was unbuttoned a little too low, Robinson joked about his dear friend Stevie Wonder and spoke of the intricacies of his longtime relationship with The Temptations.
Rod Stewart’s set was a ball — both literally and figuratively — as he kicked dozens of autographed soccer balls into the crowd while performing the mega-hit single “Hot Legs.” Right beside me, a festivalgoer in his mid-20s caught one of the soccer balls and was beaming with excitement.
Stewart played all of his hits, including “Maggie May” and “Forever Young,” but the best part of the set had to be his meta-performance of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” While the 70-year-old icon belted out a song that he must have sung thousands of times before, our eyes were drawn to a quote on the big screen, excerpted from a Rolling Stone interview: “I don’t want to be singing ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ at 50 and become a parody of myself.” Stewart’s tongue-in-cheek performance made me realize that the key to a long-lasting career isn’t just raw talent — a sense of humor goes a long way, too.
The 2015 North Sea Jazz Festival will take place on Sept. 4 and 5 at the World Trade Center Curacao, near Willemstad. While tickets are on the expensive side ($195 per day), a free concert with salsa master Oscar D’Leon and Latin rocker Juanes is open to all and scheduled for Sept. 3.