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Jazz festival celebrates unique Swedish sound

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.

Jazz festival celebrates unique Swedish sound
Press pic, Press pic, Art Siegel

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.

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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 www.ticnet.se 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

MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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