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Sarah Riedel: Living Up To Expectations

James Pearse By

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My father never pushed me to take up music but was very supportive when I decided that’s what I wanted to do. He was just a normal parent who wanted his children to follow their own paths.
The world of jazz is no stranger to the sound of the Swedish language. Alice Babs and Monica Zetterlund—and more recently, Rigmor Gustafsson—are just a few of the names of jazz vocalists hailing from this cold northern country that have reached the ears of US and UK audiences.

Some people believe that spoken Swedish sounds "song-like," melodic even, with high and low tones. Unlike English, Swedish has more than one two types of emphasis for different words, which gives it a "singing" effect. It's no wonder then that jazz singers like those mentioned above are able to move audiences regardless of the language they choose to sing in.

Whilst many Swedish singers opt to sing in English for both commercial and artistic reasons, albums like Waltz for Debby (Verve, 1964) by Monica Zetterlund with the Bill Evans Trio arguably opened the door for the sound of Swedish for many foreign audiences.

This is certainly case for vocalist Sarah Riedel, who has not only won over audiences in her native Sweden but has also gained followers in Germany, Japan and the United States singing not only in English but also in her native tongue.

Sarah Riedel was born on the Stockholm's southern island of Södermalm. She grew up listening, like teenagers all over the world, to artists like Roxette and other pop bands of the eighties and nineties. She was, however, also equally exposed from an early age to the vast world of jazz via her father, bassist and composer Georg Riedel.

"I'm the only one of my brothers and sisters that followed our father into music," she explains. "I went to music school when I was small and I learned to play the piano. Then I sang in a choir at the local church and went to theatre school. My father never pushed me to take up music but was very supportive when I decided that's what I wanted to do. He was just a normal parent who wanted his children to follow their own paths."

In addition to playing bass with saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Jan Johansson, Georg Riedel's career has seen him composing music for some of the most famous and memorable children's television series and films in Sweden, among them Pippi Longstocking, Alfie Aktins and Emil of Maple Hills. Sarah was even invited to sing on these recordings in her early years (including a performance of "Lille Katt" at the tender age of just five years old) and has since gone on to perform them for audiences far and wide.

"I did a concert in Germany recently with (Swedish trombonist, bandleader, composer) Nils Landgren," Sarah says. "It was a big band performance for children and parents. I call these songs we perform, 'Swedish standards,' as they are by Astrid Lindgren (the creator of the popular Pippi Longstocking character, among many others) and my father. Nils invited me to perform with him in Germany and I sang everything in Swedish. Nils then spoke between songs with the audience to explain the meaning of the songs."

Sarah has not only performed and recorded Astrid Lindgren songs, but also a piece with lyrics written by Tomas Tranströmer (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 and passed away in March 2015). She has also made a Swedish Grammy-awarded album called Cornelis vs. Riedel (Playground Music, 2011) with (Swedish pop/folk singer) Nicolai Dunger and her father. This latter recording was based on texts written by Cornelis Vreeswijk, one of the most influential and successful troubadours in Sweden.

In October 2014, Sarah released the Swedish Grammy-nominated album Genom Natten (English: "Through The Night") (Playground Music), which is her first recording made up entirely of her own compositions with lyrics sung in Swedish. "This was a huge thing for me," she says. "I was really feeling like I was going up against some real heavyweights when it came to the lyrics I was singing. I felt a lot of pressure to write really good lyrics that I would be proud of."

"Thankfully, the response has been really positive. I have had a lot of great reactions to the album from people all over—not just Sweden," she says. Not only is the album made up of all originals, but she has also modernised her sound. "This album is a lot less "jazzy" than my previous recordings. There are, of course, a lot of influences from jazz on the record, but also Swedish traditional songs and a little bit of pop. I listen to everything at home. I listen a lot to old music, like jazz and classical. I am not that into modern music...what I mean is that I like it but there's so much to listen to nowadays. I collaborated on one song with Lonely Dear, a Swedish singer-songwriter who is firmly within the pop field but actually started out as a jazz pianist. We have some of the same references. So you can see that the jazz influence is strong even though it's my least jazzy recording to date."

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