For the past two years Karin Krog has led 24 or so jazz buffs from her homeland of Norway on a walking/listening tour through New York City. The group visits some key historical sites and attends shows at Blue Note and Village Vanguard, but what has been missing from the tour, perhaps, is a performance by Krog herself, who for more than 50 years has been one of Scandinavia's most beloved jazz singers.
Krog's professional career started early. As a teenager in Oslo during the '50s she had a keen interest in jazz and listened carefully to imported recordings of some of the best singers. "I liked Doris Day, Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney, Billie Holiday - and all the greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Krog remembers. This interest led her to the bandstand herself, "and I started singing at school dances, she explained at an interview conducted during her last visit to New York.
By 1955, the year she turned 18, Krog was performing around Oslo and sitting in at jam sessions at the city's jazz hot spot, The Penguin Club. With these appearances word of her ability spread among the local musicians and in that year pianist Kjell Karlsen, bandleader at The Penguin Club, hired her to front his sextet. By the end of the decade the young singer was performing on radio broadcasts and in concerts with Norway's leading jazz musicians.
In the '60s Norway's music scene - like that of most of the Western world - began to move away from jazz and toward rock. "In the '60s, when the Beatles came, interest in jazz went down, Krog says. This shift in popular taste in music coincided with two developments in Krog's career: a broader international audience and a curiosity about other forms of jazz expression.
Krog's growing reputation in Norway and throughout Europe brought her into contact with several jazz innovators, among them trumpeter and big band leader Don Ellis, who arranged for Krog's first visit to the US to record with his big band in 1967. "Today Don is almost forgotten, says Krog, "but at the time he was quite adventurous.
At the time Ellis was making news with his experimental approach to jazz - he had been recording with Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and George Russell (himself a champion of Norwegian jazz) - and Krog expanded as a singer under his influence. " We were geared toward new things and were trying to develop them, not just repeat the standards, says Krog. "All these new ideas - it was a very exciting time.
Among the new things that captured Krog's imagination were the special electronic effects that musicians like Ellis were employing in their compositions. Like Ellis, Krog began using the Echoplex, an analog delay processor, to add reverb to her vocals and later, in the '70s, she bought an Oberheim modulator to further alter her sound. Still, Krog did not stray from her musical roots. "I was doing experimental things, but I always stayed with the song, she explains. For Krog, staying with the song means "a straight, simple line. The more I can strip off the better and just get to the message.
Krog's many collaborations over the years have featured some of the jazz world's most prominent musicians - Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp, Warne Marsh, Toots Thielemans, Bengt Hallberg, Red Mitchell, Kenny Drew, Nils Lindberg and John Surmanand several of these collaborations continue to this day. Among them is Krog's ongoing work with Steve Kuhn, whom she first met in the '70s. "He's my favorite pianist, she reports. In recent years they have released two CDs - Where You At?
in 2003 and Together Again
in 2006 - and last year they toured Japan, where both enjoy wide recognition.
"I love Karin dearly. When I see her I feel like I'm home, says Kuhn. "She is extremely talented and she's slowly getting the recognition she should. Indeed, while Krog is no stranger to awards, just this year she marked her place in Norwegian cultural history, receiving the Anders Jahre Culture Prize, one of Norway's most prestigious awards.
The award caps a lifetime of dedication to vocal jazz as an art form. From her early releases in 1963 Krog has sung on more than 65 recordings, either as a leader or a sidewoman, and she has toured tirelessly for decades, with no hint of a let-up. To wit, this October 22 through 27 Krog was back in New York with her tour group, meeting up with jazz historian Paul Blair, who accompanied them around the city. This time, however, the tour included the missing attraction: Krog performed at the Cachaça Jazz 'n Samba Club on October 26a rare chance for New Yorkers to hear the singer Kuhn dubs "the national treasure of Norway. Recommended Listening:
· Karin Krog By Myself
(Norwegian Philips, 1964)
· Karin Krog Joy
· Karin Krog/Dexter Gordon Some Other Spring
· John Surman Such Winters Of Memory
· Karin Krog/Steve Kuhn Together Again