In 1962, the year the Beatles cut their first record and the Rolling Stones made their debut at London's Marquee Club, a bearded, balding jazz pianist with sad, brooding eyes walked into a recording studio in Stockholm to make an EP of four Swedish folk songs. By 1964 he had recorded eight more, enough for an LP. This was titled Jazz pa Svenska (Jazz in Swedish) . At the height of the rock revolution, with interest in jazz otherwise plummetting, it went on to sell a quarter of a million copies and become the best selling Swedish jazz album of all time.
The pianist was Jan Johansson, already a major figure on the Scandinavian scene after becoming the first-ever European musician to play on Norman Grantz's Jazz at the Philharmonic roadshow. Johansson's rediscovery of Swedish folk music was to have a huge effect on his own and future generations of Scandinavian musicians. Though he didn't see it that way at the time. "I just wanted to give listeners the possibility of hearing these melodies," he explained on the sleeve of Jazz pa Svenska. "Otherwise they would have lain, unknown, in a dusty pile in the loft of a library, which was where I found them."
Johansson's groundbreaking album went totally against the free form and fusion trends of the day. "I was drawn to Swedish folk songs because they reminded me of certain elements of jazz," he explained. "The blue notes attracted me and the songs had a very suggestive rhythm built into the melody. It's enough just to play them as they are. I didn't want to embellish them in any way." His only accompaniment was Georg Riedel's bass.
Jan Johansson's musical legacy is jealously guarded by his sons Anders and Jens via their record company, Heptagon. The original Jazz pa Svenska is still available, now with alternative takes of four tracks and extras that include Johansson and Riedel talking between numbers, downloadable in MP3 format. Also available from Heptagon are the follow-up albums. Jazz pa Ryska (Jazz in Russian) features Johansson and Riedel joined by drummer Egil Johansen and, on occasion, Arne Domnerus (clarinet), Bosse Broberg (trumpet) and Lennart Aberg (tenor saxophone). On Jazz pa Ungerska (Jazz in Hungarian) they play with Danish violinist Svend Asmussen.
However, for the average, uncommitted, non-Swedish jazz fan wanting to know what all the fuss was about, Anders and Jens Johannson have issued Piano, an excellent retrospective of their father's work between 1960 and 1968, the year he died in a car crash, aged 37. The album, fittingly, kicks off with the hauntingly beautiful "Visa fran Utanmyra," the first track Johansson recorded that historic day in 1962 and which encapsulates the magic of this man Swedes called Trollkarlen (The Wizard).
While the album comprises in the main folk songsincluding three tracks from Jazz pa Ryska but none, for some reason, from the much better Jazz pa Ungerskait also amply demonstrates this seminal Swedish pianist's abilities in a more conventional jazz context. Specifically on the two standards, "One For My Baby" and "Willow Weep For Me" and on a couple of presumably self-penned blues. There's also the poppy "Dubbeltwist," on which Johansson plays Hammond organ. It's like Dave Baby Cortez minus fun, plus Swedish melancholia.
Musik Genom Fyra Sekler
Musik Genom Fyra Sekler (Four Centuries of Music) was recorded as background to a Swedish radio quiz show. The 46 tracks of Swedish folk and classical music could well be a bit much for an average jazz listener. But, as it was Johansson's last recording, made in October, 1968, just one month before his death, it's pretty indispensable for devotees.
This was workaday music for The Wizard and a bunch of fellow professional jazz musiciansa routine pay day. Yet there are moments of brillianceglimpses of genius eventhat make it all worthwhile.
Some numbers, such as "Alundavisan," on which Johansson choosesinadvisably and inexpertlyto play chimes, are little more than gimmicky muzak, though, even here, there are redeeming features; in the case of "Alundavisan," Rune Gustavsson's guitar.
The children's song "Lilla Lasse Sitter Och Grata" and "Liksom en Herdinna," by the 18th century Swedish bard Carl Michael Bellman, are among the more interesting tracks. And it's instructive to hear the ballad "Ack Varmeland du Skona" as it was before saxophonist Stan Getz and another great Swedish pianist, Bengt Hallberg, turned it into "Dear Old Stockholm."
Other numbers, especially, as we come closer to the modern age, are just downright corny.
Both albums contain bonus tracks, downloadable in MP3 format.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Visa fran Utanmyra; Stepp, min stepp; Visa fran Jarna; Bolles vaggvisa; Klara stjarnor; Blues i dimma; Dubbeltwist; Visa fran Rattvik; Prisma; One for my Baby; Willow Weep for Me; Liksom en herdinna; Nej, se det sn? Har du sett min lilla katt?; Arbetsbyte; Ack Varmeland du skona; Blues i oktaver; Mellan branta strander; Pa angen stod en bjork; Polska efter Hook Ole; Byssan lull; Svallvagor; Flickorna i Smaland.
Personnel: Jan Johansson: piano; Bro Broberg: trumpet; Arne Domnerus: alto saxophone, clarinet; Andreas Skjold: trombone; Rune Gustavsson: guitar; Claes Rosendahl: flute; Sven Berger: fagott, oboe; Georg Riedel, Sture Akeberg, Roman Dylag, Gunnar Johnson, Arne Wilhelmsson: bass; Egil Johansen, Ingvar Callmer: drums.
Musik Genom Fyra Sekler
Tracks: CD1: Skanklat fran Floda; Vem kan segla forutan vind?; Herdedans; Vedergallningen; Alundavisan; Liksom en herdinna; Ganglat efter hammare; Dalvisa; Stolt Karin getepiga; Kvasarvalsen; Lille Lasse sitter och grata; Klara stjarnor; Gota kampavisa; Den overgivne; Ack Varmeland du skona; Sinclairvisan; Konung Gustaf I och dalkarlarna; Daldansmelodi; Vals efter Blecka-Anders; Emigrantvisa; Herr Tores Dottrar i Vange; Skangens Hemlangtan. CD2: Herr Peder och Malfred; Vi ska stalla till en roliger dans; Ack hogaste himmel och fallande jord; Domaredansen; En gang i min ungdom; Vava vadmal; Elvira Madigan; Brannvin ar mitt enda gull; Konvaljens avsked; Klockan ar tio slagen; Vi aro musikanter; Ack Gota konungrike; Sy ihop dom, spratt opp dom; Fjorton ar tror jag visst att jag var; Froken Agnes; Gallivarevisan; Vallarevisa fran Bjuv; Den motstravige brudgummen; Sotartoner ur duetten "Sotarne"; Hyllning till Sverige; Tukkipoika; Polkan gar; Polska efter kronolansman Per Johan Johansson; Herr Peder han ganger.
Personnel: Jan Johansson: piano; Rune Gustavsson: guitar; Claes Rosendahl: flute; Sven Berger: fagott, oboe; Arne Wilhelmsson, Georg Riedel, Sture Akerberg: bass.
Personnel: Piano. Jan Johansson: piano; Bro Broberg: trumpet; Arne Domnerus: alto saxophone, clarinet; Andreas Skjold: trombone; Rune Gustavsson: guitar; Claes Rosendahl: flute; Sven Berger: fagott, oboe; Georg Riedel, Sture Akeberg, Roman Dylag, Gunnar Johnson, Arne Wilhelmsson: bass; Egil Johansen, Ingvar Callmer: drums.
Musik genom fyra sekler. Jan Johansson: piano; Rune Gustavsson: guitar; Claes Rosendahl: flute; Sven Berger: fagott, oboe; Arne Wilhelmsson, Georg Riedel, Sture Akerberg: bass.