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Niels Lan Doky
River Of Time

by Howard Lawes




Niels Lan Doky


Pianist Niels Lan Doky is something of a national treasure both in Denmark where he lives and which is the native country of his mother but also in his father's country Vietnam.  In the summer of 1998, Niels went to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi and for the first time, his father Thai travelled with him. This return to Vietnam was Thai's only visit to his old home in 53 years and it is recounted that the visit to Hanoi was a very emotional experience, made even more so as the current residents of Thai's house invited them in and they played music together.

Niels had long been fascinated by his Vietnamese roots and had established close bonds with some of the country’s leading music luminaries, performing concerts in Vietnam on a regular basis in prominent venues such as the Hanoi Opera and the Ho Chi Niels Lan Doky River Of TimeMinh City Opera. In 1999, in collaboration with Vietnamese artists Quoc Trung and Thanh Lam, Neils Lan Doky released an album called Asian Sessions, an ambitious project that was applauded for its "marriage of Asian melody and Doky's increasingly Metheny / Mays-esque writing"  (Lyle Mays was a member of the Pat Metheny Group who together with Metheny composed and arranged much of the group's music, winning 11 Grammy awards in the process). In 2009 Niels Lan Doky travelled to Vietnam once more for the inaugural European Jazz Festival in Hanoi which has now become an annual music event sponsored by the European Union.

Incidentally Asian Sessions has been re-released for streaming this year along with two other Niels Lon Doky albums, Niels Lan Doky (1998) and Haitek Haiku (2001).

Niels Lan Doky's background is decidedly cosmopolitan, having been raised in Denmark but at a French school where he showed remarkable musical ability and he was able to enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston at the age of just 17.  Lan Doky's contemporaries included Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Terri Lyne Carrington, Diana Krall and Tommy Smith, which must have been both daunting and inspirational in equal measure.  Lan Doky prospered and received The Oscar Peterson Award, The Count Basie Award, and The Boston Jazz Society Achievement Award along the way before graduating with honours in May 1984 with his degree presented by his hero Oscar Peterson. 

Lan Doky moved to New York, and released a string of great albums such as The Truth: Live at Montmartre (1987) with Bob Berg on tenor saxophone, Bo Stief on bass and Terri Lynne Carrington on drums and Storyville and Dreams (1989) with Bob Berg again, Randy Brecker on trumpet, John Schofield on guitar, Chris Minh Doky (Niels's brother) on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums.  Lan Doky regularly travelled to Europe for festivals but in 1989 moved to France to live with his wife and twin children and focussed his burgeoning career in Europe. Evidence of his high status includes a commission by UNESCO to compose an original suite for the lunch in Paris of  UNESCO’s International Year of Biodiversity 2010. In 2013 Lan Doky moved back to Copenhagen having become joint owner the Jazzhus Montmartre which had reopened to great acclaim.


Jazzhus Montmartre


On her 70th birthday, April 16th, 2010 HM The Queen of Denmark knighted Niels Lan Doky as “Knight of the Order of Dannebrog (Ridder af Dannebrog).” For the occasion, Niels developed an original piece to perform for the Queen on the day, titled “Langt højt mod Nord” (which would later be recorded on a 2014 album with Jeff Tain Watts and Ira Coleman called “Reunion”). 

In 2020 Niels Lan Doky's latest album is called River of Time, the title suggesting an ever changing series of experiences that is common to everyone.  One of the tracks on the album is World Peace and in typical Lan Doky style the piece was performed live (but socially distanced) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen.

It was introduced by the Danish Foreign Minister in collabthoration with Blue Note Japan’s JazzAuditoria and UNESCO to celebrate the UN's International Jazz Day on 30th April, which as Lan Doky remarks 'is the first International Jazz Day with no live jazz'.  The Foreign Minister, Jeppe Kofod expressed his appreciation for the music and noted that Jazz is "truly the international language of freedom and cooperation which is exactly what we need in the world today".  The album itself was released online on 2nd April (UK digital release 29th May) following a series of daily live streamed performances by Niels called Live From Home and is available from all worldwide streaming platforms. 


Here is a video of the occasion on International Jazz Day:





The music on the album is also a bit of a journey. Lan Doky seems to be looking back with titles like Sita's Mood (named after his current partner) with a nod to Thelonious Monk, and Are You Coming With Me? (resembling Pat Metheny's Are You Going With Me) but it is also concerned for the future with titles such as World Peace and Hope 2020


Niels playing World Peace.




Greasy Sauce and Pink Buddha add a touch of mischievous humour with the latter title alluding to the western world's love affair with eastern philosophies, while Houellebecq was inspired by the controversial French author. 


A live performance of Greasy Sauce.





Accompanying Lan Doky on piano are two young Danish musicians, Tobias Dall on bass and Niclas Bardeleben on drums making the classic piano trio that has been so effective with some of Lan Doky's heroes such as Oscar Petersen and McCoy Tyner.  The music is always melodic with elements of soul, rock and blues but jazz is the primary feature with excellent solos not only from Doky but also Tobias Dall.  Niclas Bardeleben demonstrates his versatility on Are You Coming With Me? using mostly just a tambourine. Lan Doky was once criticised in the past for "lite-jazz" but River Of Time should certainly satisfy all but the most fanatical be-bop aficionados. Click here to listen to Are You Coming With Me?


Here is another live video of Niels playing Sita's Mood in 2019:




As an aside Niels Lan Doky's website (click here)  must have one of the longest and most comprehensive biographies of any musician on the internet and it really makes very interesting reading. 


Niels Lan Doky poster




A poster, depicting Niels Lan Doky by Mads Berg and commemorating a series of live streamed performances during the Covid-19 pandemic has been produced to raise money, half of which will be used to commission master classes from musicians whose income has disappeared and the other half to donate to the Spotify Covid-19 Music Relief Project (click here for details).


Click here for more details of the River Of Time album.







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Jazz As Art

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