Jazz festival celebrates unique Swedish sound

The Local Sweden
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Jazz festival celebrates unique Swedish sound
Press pic, Press pic, Art Siegel

If you like your bebop served up with a unique Nordic flavor, then the Stockholm Jazz Festival is the place to be. This year, Mary J. Blige, Van Morrison and Joan Armatrading will all take to the stage as one of the finest jazz festivals in Scandinavia celebrates its 25th anniversary.


Back in the 40’s and 50’s, legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Stan Getz and John Coltrane all came to Stockholm to check one of the hottest jazz scenes in Europe. A lot has changed since then but almost every year since 1980, artists from all over the world as well as tens of thousands of music fans, return to a tiny island in the centre of Stockholm to celebrate jazz.

In 2007, the Stockholm Jazz Festival sold about 27,000 tickets, around the same amount that a typical jazz club might pull in over an entire year. According to Bosse Persson managing director of the Stockholm Jazz Festival, fans come for the great line-up of international artists, the good food and the fantastic waterside location on the island of Skeppsholmen.

However, attracting big audiences to jazz festivals has not always been an easy task. That is why in recent years the Stockholm Jazz Festival has added popular headlining names like Sting, Lauryn Hill, Angie Stone and The Roots in addition to its traditional jazz programme.

Some purists have criticized this move while others see it as a positive development.

Persson says that jazz festivals all over Europe have similar programmes with similar kinds of bands.

“We are a festival in the year 2008. We are not a historic festival.”

This year’s jazz festival will again showcase a combination of popular, international artists such as Mary J. Blige, Van Morrison, Tower of Power and Joan Armatrading in addition to well-known Swedish jazz names like Peter Asplund, Rigmor Gustafsson and Bobo Stenson.

Sadly, Sweden lost its most accomplished jazz musician when pianist and composer, Esbjörn Svensson died during a tragic diving accident in June 2008. His critically acclaimed band, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, was scheduled to perform at this year’s festival.

Rich musical history

The Stockholm Jazz Festival has its roots in a long and rich Swedish musical tradition that began already in the 1930s. That is when jazz from America found a unique home in Scandinavia by fusing Nordic melodies with the rhythms, instrumentation and structure of jazz.

“The Swedish soul and temperament is a good combination with American jazz;” says Swedish trumpeter Peter Asplund.


Artists such as Lars Gullin, Jan Johansson and Bengt-Arne Wallin are just a few of the names who fused Scandinavian folk melodies with improvisational jazz to create a style known as the ‘Swedish sound’.

“They sort of found the Swedish blues,” says Asplund.

Bengt Säve-Söderbergh, president of the Swedish Jazz Federation says that after the Second World War, Stockholm was one of the centres of European jazz along with Paris and Copenhagen. Later, during the fifties and sixties, American artists like Stan Getz, Quincy Jones and James Moody actually moved to Sweden, and toured and recorded with Swedish artists.

Some played month-long gigs at clubs like Gyllene Cirkeln (Golden Circle) in Stockholm. Ornette Colemen even recorded a 1965 album, ‘At the Golden Circle Stockholm’ chronicling his performances there.

Even though jazz may never be as popular as it was during the fifties, there is still a healthy music scene found at clubs like Fasching in Stockholm and Nefertiti in Gothenburg as well as at more traditional festivals like the Umeå Jazz Festival.

With Svensson’s passing, there will be a sad cloud hanging over this year’s Stockholm Jazz Festival. However, many of Scandinavia’s finest improvisational artists will still be on hand to show that Sweden is fertile ground for jazz in Europe.

The Stockholm Jazz Festival kicks off on July 16th and runs through the 19th. Tickets are sold online at or at the festival entrance. Depending on which day you want to attend, a one-day pass to the main venue at Skeppsholmen will cost between 400 to 495 SEK. Separate tickets are needed for satellite stages at Jazzclub Fasching and at Hågelby.

David Francisco


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