The 2012 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival opens on Thursday and will feature a wide range of Swedish, European and American jazz artists. Artistic director and pianist Jan Lundgren [pictured above] will be performing, along with Eliane Elias, Billy Harper, Hiromi Uehara and others. On Sunday—the festival’s last day—there will be a tribute to Quincy Jones, who first performed in Sweden in 1953. He will be interviewed by Doug Ramsey.
All of which brought back fond memories for jazz writer and critic Ira Gitler [pictured above], who attended last year's festival. Yesterday, he sent along his recollections of the 2011 bash:
“These days, jazz is where you find it, particularly when it comes to jazz festivals. Since the 1990s, a growing number of jazz festivals have been booking a larger percentage of rock and pop groups in an effort to fill seats and boost box-office revenue. While I realize they have to do this to stay in business, organizers should call them what they are—music festivals.
“Last year, however, I discovered a bona fide jazz festival while reading Jazz Hot, the venerable French magazine. Half way in, as I turned a page, an ad jumped out—“The Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival… Artistic Director, Jan Lundgren.”
“I had met Jan when he was visiting New York a few years earlier and found him a likable guy and a very talented pianist. So I contacted him about the festival, and as I grew enthusiastic about the line-up, Jan invited my wife, Mary Jo, and me to attend.
“As many jazz fans know, the Swedes after World War II became one of the hippest jazz audiences in Europe. And many of their stellar jazz musicians picked up on the new sounds in the late '40s—faster than most others.
"I first discovered Sweden’s passion for jazz in the early 1950s, when I worked for Prestige Records in New York. Back then, Prestige traded masters with Metronome Records of Stockholm. As a result, I was able to hear Lars Gullin, Arne Domnerus and Bengt Hallberg—to name just a few.
"When Clifford Brown and Art Farmer visited Sweden in the fall of 1953, they recorded for several Swedish labels along with the Swedish musicians named above and others. Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims and James Moody did the same.
“Fast forward to last year. Ystad is a beautiful, serene town at the bottom of Southeast Sweden by the Baltic Sea. At the festival, there are many performance sites, but the main concert venue is the Ystad Theater [pictured above]. There, we first enjoyed the diversified offerings of the Stefano Bollani Trio, with bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund. Bollani is from Italy and is dynamic, creative and zany, but Lund matched him with a drum solo that he managed to play mostly in the air, as pantomime. The repertory came from Bollani’s Stone In the Water CD.
“Later, Jan Lundgren’s Trio provided the music for LaGaylia and Hal Frazier [pictured above]—two winning vocalists. Hal, the father, flew in from Florida for the concert, while his daughter LaGaylia divides her time between Sweden and the U.S. Hal is a robust blues singer and scored with Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’.
“But Hal can also handle a romantic ballad, and his daughter has a distinctive voice with an exciting upper register. The Fraziers’ rendition of The Shadow of Your Smile brought an ovation that led to an encore. Jan’s accompaniment and solos were apt and uplifting, and his ‘Round Midnight was personal and moving.
“Another exciting session at the Ystad Theater found guitarist Pat Martino [pictured] and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander raising the temperature with help of a cooking rhythm section: Harold Mabern on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.
"The Scott Hamilton/Jesper Thilo Quintet was billed as a “Tenor Battle,” but their contrasting styles wound up being more friendly than combative, putting everyone in a swinging groove. [Illustration of Scott Hamilton above by Mary Jo Schwalbach Gitler]
"Also performing was Toots Thielemans, with Karol Boehloe on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson on bass and Hans van Oosterhout on drums. [Illustration of Toots Thielemans above by Mary Jo Schwalbach Gitler]
“I didn’t get a chance to hear everyone at the festival, but two other concerts I did attend were particularly special. Alto saxophonist Herb Geller played in a garden setting with a group of young musicians from Germany. Since 1962, Herb has been living in Germany, where he teaches at the Hamburg Conservatory.
"Herb played like an angel, and his accompanying students did him proud. I was surprised when Herb told me later that his guitarist, Sandra Hempel, had said she had been in a jazz history class I taught at the Manhattan School of Music some years back.
“The other noteworthy concert was a solo recital by pianist Bengt Hallberg [pictured above], who had been off the jazz scene for quite a number of years. He played in a style that was quite different from his 1950s approach—using a delicate, rhythmic stride. His pieces included some Ellington and a handful of standards, such as Stardust.
“After the concert I went backstage to see Bengt. There was the pianist who had played so beautifully on the recording of Dear Old Stockholm with Stan Getz in 1951. When Miles Davis recorded the song after Getz, he inserted a series of interludes. I asked Bengt what he thought of Miles’ version. “I have the record, but I’ve never played it,” he confessed.
“I’ll close by recommending two fairly recent CDs: Geller’s duo Moon Mist (Phonector), with Wolfgang Kohler on piano, and Lundgren’s Together Again at the Jazz Bakery (Fresh Sound), with Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums.
“By the way, Jan, I’m still waiting for the Hallberg-Lundgren collaboration. Have a great time with this year’s festival, and send my best to Quincy!”
JazzWax note: For more on the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, go here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Bengt Hallberg in the 1950s playing Dinah...
And here's pianist Jan Lundgren, accordionist Richard Galliano and flugelhornist Paolo Fresu a few years ago...