American Jazz maverick Andy Fite formed part of the opening night line-up at Stockholm’s latest addition to the local jazz scene. The new club, entitled ‘Keep Swinging’, is quaintly located in Slakthusområdet, the meat-packing district close to Globen.
Fite, who played some sets with Jerry Stensen, Per Nilsson, and Uffe Flink, had the audience responding with recognition and delight to his mixture of mad-cap songs, traditional jazz pieces and wild flights of improvisational fancy.
While the atmosphere at ‘Keep Swinging’ is unpretentious and true to the club’s name, the average age of these jazz lovers was well over fifty.
“There is a strong tendency in Sweden towards age segregation, and this generation took jazz as the banner of their rebellion when they were young. The generation that followed had to make their own break with the past, and that included leaving jazz behind,” says Fite.
And so nurturing young talent is another of his many endeavours, both as a teacher and at the monthly open mike sessions at Aguéli, a groovy little café on Södermalm. The ‘No Paper Jam’ nights attract a more mixed audience, with young students jamming away with the older generation.
“I also started these open mike nights at Aguéli because I missed the unbridled musical sharing that was part of my experience in New York”, says Fite.
He was born and raised in Pittsburgh and in his twenties he moved to New York and furthered his trade at the musical feet of Connie Crothers. Soon he was playing regularly with a number of close friends to the late pianist Lennie Tristano, one of Fite’s personal heroes and great source of inspiration.
“Tristano said the greatest thing you ever did is the true measure of your ability. And when you know that and truly believe it, you’ll find your way back to that state of being much more easily and consistently. And then you’ll still have inspired moments, which in turn you will understand to be your new real level”.
He describes himself as a Jazz Comic Philosopher, and a musical evening with Fite is like a rollercoaster ride of deep musical and philosophical contemplation, interspersed with rounded belly laughs, and outrageous anecdotes about his early days on the New York jazz scene:
“In Jazz improvisation, anything can happen, and moments of brilliance can emerge as artists let go of what they have been taught and place themselves in a constant uninterrupted flow, a creative state that feels to me like channelling a cosmic energy. Connie opened my eyes to the possibility of communicating pure life energy through music; that ultimately the feeling we express includes not only emotion, but physical sensation, intuition, and at the deepest level, soul.
“Our very identity is communicated. Which is why, I think, so many of us have the feeling that we actually know those artists we love the most. It’s because we really do. This is especially true for jazz improvisation, where there is no place for the left brain”.
For a rare moment he falls silent as he remembers how profoundly this affected him, and then he grins; “basically, she taught me to breathe”.
He has written over 400 songs, in which he offers a rich repertoire of satirical, political, social, sexual and philosophical commentary, accompanied by an almost symbiotic relationship with his favourite instrument, the guitar. Songs with titles such as Sex With My Ex, I Wanna Die, and It Was Really Your Roommate I Wanted, combine bittersweet reality with humour and self deprecating insight.
I imagine the New York jazz scene to be a world apart from tonight’s gig in the suburbs of Stockholm, and I ask Fite what, if anything, unites the two. Without hesitation he answers “People”.
“People want to have a good time, share some laughs, and vibrations, and, in the Jazz context, want always to see what might happen next.”
As far as Fite is concerned, what happens next is a performance in Hälsingland in July, trips to Denmark and Germany, and of course the resumption of the No Paper Jam evenings at Cafe Aguéli, starting August 31.