Singer/songwriter Rigmor Gustafsson is perhaps best known for her vocal interpretations of other great singers, including Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach. Gustafsson's unique songwriting style has, however, garnered her accolades and top-ranking hits; she is the recipient of gold records in both Germany and Sweden. With Alone With You (ACT, 2008), Gustafsson showcases her amalgamated sound of jazz and pop. As the title hints at, the album focuses on the audience and the listener becomes her guiding light. The inspiration is audible with just one listen to the album which features musical traces of Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand.
Alone With You features the work of Eric Harland, one of today's most in-demand jazz drummers, and bassist Lars Danielsson. Also featured are guitarist Max Shultz and pianist Jonas Östholm.
All About Jazz: How did you become interested in jazz? Was it at a young age?
Rigmor Gustafsson: I had the opportunity to start taking guitar lessons when I was eight, and the guitar teacher I had was into all kind of music where you have the freedom to improvise. So it was really the improvising that caught me, he didn't really talk about what kind of music we were playing. I understood that people called it jazz first when I was around thirteen.
AAJ: Growing up in the countryside in Varmland, Sweden, were there many people that listened to jazz or went to see jazz musicians perform?
RG: None, whatsoever!
AAJ: Who were your largest musical influences before beginning your career? Were your parents or anyone in your family musicians?
RG: My guitar teacher, Jan Johansson, was definitely my biggest influence, he helped me with everything that had anything to do with music. I grew up on a small little farm so my parents were farmers and were completely busy with that, but I can definitely tell that my dad has a very good ear and he says that my mother also was very musical. My mother died of cancer when I was seven, and my dad says that he had already seen, at that time, that I got completely absorbed whenever I heard music, so he was happy that I had a way to distract myself.
In Sweden at that time, and for quite a long time, there was something called Kommunala Musikskolan (government subsidized music school), where every kid that was interested had the chance to get music lessons for free, and I feel very, very lucky that I got a fantastic teacher.
AAJ: Apart from your great teacher, did anyone else inspire you, either personally or professionally?
RG: I discovered Stevie Wonder when I was twelve and basically became a fanatic... I still adore Stevie Wonder, but I've also listened a lot to Sarah Vaughan and Elis Regina, just to name a few if were talking about vocal artists. But since my major instrument was guitar up until I was seventen, I listened to a lot of instrumental music; Mahavishnu, Al Di Meola, Miles, Coltrane, and a lot of the other classics.
AAJ: How did studying at the Royal Music College in Stockholm and the New School jazz program in New York help to shape the artist that you are today?
RG: Wow, hard to say... I've just been trying to learn as much as I possibly can. And of course, being a Swedish country girl living in NYC was a new experience.
AAJ: You have been known for your vocal interpretations of such greats as Dionne Warwick, Michel Legrand and Burt Bacharach. When deciding which songs to interpret is it important for you to already have a connection with the lyrics or is it more about creating a connection with lyrics?
RG: Yes, I certainly feel that I need to have a connection with the lyrics, but sometimes I really love just the melody and the lyrics don't mean too much. I still feel totally okay with singing a song like that as long as the lyrics don't feel clearly wrong to me. An example is Burt Bacharach's "Wives and Lovers." I love the tune as an instrumental and really wanted to record it on my Close to You (ACT, 2004) CD, but simply couldn't find an honest approach to the lyrics.
AAJ: You have said that you believe that music has its own existence. Can you elaborate on that?
RG: It's hard to put into words exactly what I believe. It's a feeling inside. A feeling that everything is beyond our knowledge and imagination... Maybe we live in different dimensions... who knows? Anyway, it's a feeling that music is existing always and that I (and everyone) have a chance to be a part of it in one or another way.
AAJ: One of the best things about music is the way that it affects listeners, making them feel like they're a part of the music. Alone With You is the first album in which you have written all the songs yourself. Did you decide that the time was right to show this other unknown creative side of yourself to your audience?
RG: I released three CDs that included some of my own material before I got signed to ACT, so composing has always been a part of me. When I signed with ACT I got really busy with touring and it took a whileand three more CDsbefore I felt that I had to say no to gigs and focus on my composing. There wasn't really any plan time-wise, though it's just that the need for writing got too strong after awhile.