Talkin’ All That Jazz

| Words: Peter Steen-Christensen
RATING:

“Jazz originally was the accompaniment of the voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. The weird chant, accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the voodoo invokers, has also been employed by other barbaric people to stimulate brutality and sensuality. That it has a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists.”

It is fair to say that jazz music didn’t have the best of reputations in the early days. The passage above could be found in The Women’s Home Journal in 1921 and is a parallel to the 1970’s perception that rock music was all to do with devil worship. Today jazz music, as well as 70’s rock, is looked upon quite differently.

ZZZ MUS vintagejazzband

This year Stockholm Jazz Festival is expanding – both in terms of the number of days and the number of venues. The diverse program of delicacies totals well over a hundred gigs over ten days, spread across 30 venues. And what’s even more interesting is that more focus has been put on the female portion of the Swedish jazz scene.

To highlight that female presence, we rounded up five of the most interesting Swedish names, some jazzier than others, and vented some meticulously-prepared thoughts and questions.

 Isabella Lundgren

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(Photo: Press Image)

One of the most exciting names on today’s Swedish jazz scene, Isabella Lundgren spellbinds audiences with a voice evoking jazz greatness of old, with commentators throwing out names like Billie Holliday in an effort to describe her. That wouldn’t be us though. Oh no, we would never do that.

What’s your relationship with the Stockholm jazz festival and what does it mean for you?

Stockholm Jazz Festival means a week full of fantastic and multifaceted music from all around the world. I have visited the festival several times and I’m so proud and happy about being allowed to participate this year.

When looking through this year’s line-up one thing that strikes us is the strong presence of female names. Is the female portion of the Swedish jazz scene growing more vigorous?

I have always perceived the female Swedish jazz scene as vigorous. Now it is getting more attention and more press, and that is very positive.

 Please share your best festival moment.

Erykah Badu at North Sea Jazz festival! I was 17 and had spent three weeks with my best friends going around Europe and got to finish it all with a concert that wasn’t like anything I had ever heard before. Intention, vision and love, just like it is supposed to be.

Is it the curse of a jazz singer to always get comparisons with the great old classic singers? You are a new Billie Holliday, by the way.

Everything stands in relation to something else and nothing becomes one unaffected vacuum. Personally I see comparisons with Billie Holliday, a woman with so much integrity, musicality and substance, as a great honour, even if I don’t always take the big words seriously. To get stuck in the comparison is something different, and to become myself in relation to all there is around me is obviously my aim. But I will never underrate the value of those who sang before me.

 I know there is a church in Queens, New York that has a specific monthly jazz service, and in a church on the north side of Chicago you can hear Coltrane’s Dear Lord or something from A Love Supreme every Sunday, but this all is a bit ironic since jazz used to be viewed as sinful and immoral. You are studying to become a priest, I suppose you see jazz as more spiritual than sinful?

The word “sin” comes from Greek and means “to miss the target.” It’s meant to describe what happens within us when we do something without benefit for ourselves, or for others. Unfortunately the word has been used all too casually to control and put people down.

Jazz music was connected to something that was chaotic, extreme and wild. Jazz music challenged people’s ears, both rhythmically and harmonically. Its roots is blues and gospel music – music that sprung out of the suffering that Afro-American men and women had to endure during slavery, and that’s what gives the music its earnestness, depth and spirituality. So for me, as a person interpreting spirituality as something that challenges, awakens and astonishes, I really see jazz that way.

Lina Nyberg

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(Photo: Miki Anagrius / Collage: Matilda Ruta)

I seriously doubt Lina Nyberg would enjoy being called a grand old lady of Swedish jazz. It’s just that it feels like she’s been part of the Swedish jazz scene forever. Always stretching musical boundaries, Lina’s eclectic brand of jazz has ventured all the way from traditional jazz into free-form, bordering on experimental. For this year’s festival she cherishes the musical heritage of Brazil and sings Jobim’s bossa nova during a lunchtime serving of a creamy corn soup with coriander.

What does Stockholm jazz festival mean to you?

I spent a lot of time at Stockholm Jazz when it was situated at Skeppsholmen in the summers, and my relationship to the festival is strong and sentimental. It will be exciting to see how the festival can develop in its new form. And I’m really impressed by their work when it comes to gender.

When looking through this year’s line-up one thing that strikes us is the strong presence of female names. Is the female portion of the Swedish jazz scene growing more vigorous?

No, I don’t think so. We have always been incredibly vigorous, it comes a lot more down to what the promoters want to illuminate.

 Please share your best festival moment.

As an artist, it would be last years concert with the Norrbotten Big Band and the maiden performance of the music I had been working on for so long. Otherwise, it’s BB King at Skeppsholmen in 94 or 95.

You have a particular relationship with Brazilian music and during this years festival you’re singing Jobim. When and why did you fall for the bossa nova?

The Brazilian music is multi-faceted and breathtakingly deep, both rhythmically and in its poetry. I didn’t understand a thing the deeper I went digging. It inspired me a great deal and it still does.

You have been moving within the Swedish jazz scene for a long time but you always seem to want to find new ways. You stretch boundaries but have also sung traditional jazz. How would you define jazz?

Music that has a high ceiling, eclectic music that has improvisation as its starting point.

Rigmor Gustafsson

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(Photo: Press Image)

A Stockholm jazz festival without best-selling, award-winning singer Rigmor Gustafsson is as rare as rubies. And rightly so, as Rigmor pops up on each and every line-up in different constellations. She has ventured out of the traditional frame and into collaborations with strings before, such as when she played with the Radio String Quartet of Vienna. This year she goes one step further in performing with Dalasinfoniettan as the opening act to the whole festival.

 What does Stockholm jazz festival mean to you?

It feels like it’s been there all my life and it has given me so many fantastic experiences because of it!

When looking through this year’s line-up, one thing that strikes us is the strong presence of female names. Is the female portion of the Swedish jazz scene growing more vigorous?

I think the female portion of Swedish jazz has been vigorous for a long time, but it is great that it finally gets more attention!

Please share your best festival moment.

If I was to pick a memory from Stockholm, it would have to be the Wayne Shorter Quarter concert in 2001. It really was totally magic. As for my own shows, I have a hard time pinpointing a particular performance, I really think it’s incredibly fun every time I’ve been here.

You have previously performed with Radio String Quartet of Vienna and now with Dalasinfoniettan, what is it that is so special in the meeting between jazz and strings?

Oh, that’s two quite different constellations, even if they have the strings in common. I fell for RSQV when I heard them live for the first time and they had transcribed a lot of Mahavishnu music. I listened a lot to Mahavishnu when I was 13 and was convinced I would be a guitarist, and I got an incredible kick out of hearing RSQV do their songs now, so many years later. Their arrangements and way of improvising feels completely unique, and is hard to compare with anything else.

I also love their incredible meticulousness when it comes to intonation, that you can work a lot with when you just have strings. As for Dalasinfoniettan we have done many concerts together through the years, and I really think they are a wonderful orchestra, especially musically of course but there is also a very good atmosphere on the personal level that makes it extra great to work with them. Our collaboration doesn’t sound anything like what I did with RSQV but I’m very fond of the more traditional sound of an orchestra and a piano trio, and I think we really have hit the sweet spot.

You are one of our most heralded singers in jazz and you have played Stockholm Jazz Festival several times, does it still feel special to get to open an event like this festival?

Oh yeah I really do! I look forward to it very much!

Elin Ruth

USA Portrait - Elin Ruth

(Photo: Press Image)

Elin Ruth may not be a household jazz name, but the singer-songwriter has certainly ventured a tad closer to the genre after her years in New York. Her new soul- and blues-inspired album Here Comes The Storm is clear testament to that.

You have previously been dubbed a singer-songwriter with hints of folk and country. Usually, you would say there’s a giant step away from that to jazz, but you are at least slowly approaching the genre with your new album. Is it your time in New York that has pushed you towards the direction of soul music?

I’m not musically schooled. In my music there aren’t any obvious and evident jazz references, but on the other hand I have many role models that sing both jazz, soul and blues, like Etta James. And you could say it’s because of soul music that I found my own voice. After having felt rather inhibited and afraid when I was younger, I suddenly dared to really sing when I sang soul and blues. And I realised that if I was going to sing I was going to put my full heart and soul into it. So I would say that slowly the genre is finding its way into my music, but my songs are still, and will probably always be, driven by lyrics and longer stories. I suppose I land in some sort of hybrid between folk and soul, strange as it may seem.

How does it feel playing at the festival and to an audience that one may suspect is somewhat different from what you are used to?

It feels fantastic, fun and it’s an honour to be on the jazz festival bill. I think and hope my music will be appreciated by a jazz-loving audience, even though me and my band will give them something different.

What does Stockholm Jazz Festival and jazz in general mean to you?

I still cannot say that I understand jazz to the extent that I can dissect it into atoms, but my time in New York has definitely made me appreciate and enjoy it.

When looking through this year’s line-up one thing that strikes us is the strong presence of female names. Is the Swedish portion of the Swedish jazz scene growing more vigorous?

It’s incredibly refreshing to hear. I don’t know much about the male/female quota within the Swedish jazz scene but I suppose it pretty much mirrors how the music business – and the world – looks in general. Naturally there are, and has always been as many interesting and talented women as men; the problem is that they don’t always get as much exposure as the male acts, such as at festivals.

Please share your best festival moment.

One favourite memory is from the Stockholm Jazz Festival at Skeppsholmen in 2006. I was knocked out by Eva Dahlgren and her band. She is an old idol of mine since childhood and I had never seen her live before. I remember I was in love, a bit tipsy and completely taken by Eva’s authority, voice and charisma. It was magic!

Emilia Mårtensson

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(Photo: Joanna Natalia Gourley)

Emilia Mårtensson left these shores in 2000 to be musically schooled in London, which eventually led to being awarded the title the New Face of British Jazz in 2012. At Stockholm Jazz Festival she performs with interesting act Kairos 4tet. Band leader Adam Waldmann has a hard time describing them verbally but gives it a shot: ”It’s jazz music as I understand it. Improvisation is at its core and expression in the moment. I always think about melodies as little gifts almost, that people can take away and put in their pocket and carry them around with them.”

Should be good enough to whet your appetite, we hope.

What does Stockholm Jazz Festival mean to you?

I have never visited or played at Stockholm Jazz Festival before. This will be first time and I am super-excited!

When looking through this year’s line-up one thing that strikes us is the strong presence of female names. Is the Swedish portion of the Swedish jazz scene growing more vigorous?

The program this year looks great and yes, it’s wonderful to see that there are so many amazing female artists being featured. It is unfortunately unusual to see so many female names in a jazz festival program and I can only hope that other jazz festivals around the world are going to feel inspired and copy the initiative.

Please share your best festival moment.

I can’t say I have only one. My favourite week during the whole year is in November during the London Jazz Festival. London is buzzing a little bit extra that week, and it’s a great time to meet and listen to musicians from all over the world, as well as performing myself to great audiences. My birthday happens to fall during this week too, so I’m surrounded by family, friends and amazing music. It doesn’t get any better than that.

You moved to London almost 15 years ago. What do you feel you have brought with from your Swedish upbringing when it comes to influences?

I grew up in Österlen on the Swedish countryside and although I have lived in London for more than 14 years I will always be a country girl from Skåne.

Swedish folk music plays a big part in the music I perform and write today. I still fall in love with simple and slightly melancholic melody lines and I strongly believe that this comes from growing up singing all the beautiful traditional Swedish folk songs. I love mixing up Swedish folklore with jazz, and my other influences and I always perform one or two traditional Swedish folk songs in my set, which the English audiences seem to really enjoy.

 In Stockholm you will perform with Kairos 4tet that you have been singing with for a long time. Adam Waldmann, the group’s composer, says he still gets moved every time he hears you sing. What have you got to say about him and his quartet in return?

Adam and I studied together at Trinity College of Music and we have known each other for a very long time. We know each other very well, both musically and as people. We also share the same passion for good songs and strong lyrics and we both love artists such as Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Billy Joel as much as we love jazz and improvised music. I feel that Adam’s music includes all of these elements and therefore it comes naturally for me to connect with his songs. Ivo, Jasper and Jon are also great friends whose musicianship I admire hugely, and it’s an adventure each time I get to sing with these guys as you never know where the music is going to go.

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About daniela trujillo evb

instagram: @whenawildone danianajones, drunk nutella thief, tour mamma, phởever young, empath. togetherness, that is all i am after. Medellin / NYC / Stockholm