Stockholm's jazz scene puts up a fight

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Stockholm's jazz scene puts up a fight

The sixties were a golden age for live, improvisational music in Stockholm. Back then clubs like Gyllene Cirkeln attracted American jazz icons almost nightly and there was tight collaboration between international and Swedish artists. A lot has changed since then and most of it for the worse.


If you walked into the Gyllene Cirkel on a cold autumn night back in 1962 you might have caught jazz-legend Dexter Gordon together with some of Sweden’s finest rhythm men like Sture Nordin and Rune Carlsson as they played in the ABF-building’s smoke-filled ballroom. Back then artists played week long gigs where dozens of different jazz musicians would gather to exchange ideas and inspirations from both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the years though, the live music scene in Stockholm has changed dramatically as the forces of big-business, pop-culture and modern society have done their best to stamp the remaining life out of modern musical development.

At the end of 2005, Mondo, a popular venue for improvisational music, declared bankruptcy after it lost its liquor license. A few months later Lydmar Hotel, a well-established scene for jazz, soul and hip-hop, was forced to close its doors after the building owners decided that a bank office would be a much better use of the space than a legendary center for creativity and performance.

“The Stockholm live-music scene is almost dead and it seems as if everyone is doing their best to try and kill it off,” says Ingmari Pagenkemper, who before it closed was responsible for booking acts like The Jungle Brothers and Isaac Hayes to the Lydmar Hotel. But there are signs of hope with recent rumours that Stockholm’s Debaser club might take over Mondo’s business.

Likewise, Pagenkemper has now started working as producer at Södra Teatern. She is involved in two international musical projects and hopes to eventually start booking individual acts to that venue. But there are still many challenges facing the live-music scene in the Swedish capital.

“Audiences have become lazy and spoiled. People get their entertainment through the Internet and TV, so it is increasingly harder to get them to go out and buy a ticket if they don’t know exactly what to expect,” Pagenkemper says.

As always, the necessary evil that keeps the ship floating but can also run it into the rocks, and send it to the bottom of the ocean, is money.

Venues take big financial risks when they book new or upcoming artists. A few mistakes can bankrupt a place. For this reason, according to Pagenkemper, a lot of venues have chosen more mainstream acts over lesser known artists because there is a greater chance they will make a profit.

This is what has happened at the Stockholm Jazz Festival whose recent headliners include stars like Stevie Wonder, Jonny Lang and Lauren Hill. This year’s festival will put artists like Kayne West and Sting under the “jazz” headline.

Pagenkemper is well aware that events like the Stockholm Jazz Festival need to be run as businesses but she doesn’t agree with the way they are managing the music. “They think this is their way to reach a new generation and new target groups. I think it is necessary to find new audiences but they are going about it the wrong way. It is a disaster for the improvisational music scene”.

Pagenkemper sees collaboration as the way to breathe life and inspiration into the live music scene.

“At Lydmar one of my passions was to bring foreign artists together with Swedish producers and musicians, where they could exchange ideas or go into a studio together. It was greatly appreciated by both foreign artists and Swedish producers alike”.

This is the same concept that Gyllene Cirkeln used back in the sixties when Stockholm was a European center for live, improvisational music. With international and local artists constantly exchanging ideas the music and creative scene in Stockholm blossomed.

While today’s music scene is suffering, it is not yet dead. According to Pagenkemper there are good promoters and good venues in Stockholm. The Glenn Miller Café for example, is doing a fantastic job of offering new music while Mosebacke, which does not have as much jazz as it used to, is still offering a lot of high-quality concerts and independent artists.

Berns has also begun to offer a wide range of not-so commercial jazz, soul and R&B and finally Södra Teatern is promoting world music, spoken-word and jazz.

So despite the setbacks at the Lydmar and Mondo, many on the music scene are hopeful that Pagenkemper will continue to put her experience of forming collaborations between top international artists and Sweden’s young, creative minds to good effect.

David Francisco

Photo on homepage: Bajofondo Tango Club & Luciano Supervieille at Södra Teatern


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