Lars Gullin was born May 4, 1928, on the island of Gotland, off the Swedish east coast. Legend say he could read music before he learned to read Swedish. His first instrument was an accordion of the simplest kind. A few years later it was exchanged for a larger one with piano keys, and at the age of five he composed simple polkas. He actually won an accordion contest, still a juvenile.
At the age of nine or ten he led his own little band, playing in local vaudevilles. The "book" consisted of tunes like After You've Gone and Tiger Rag, no doubt learned from Sonora 78s with accordionist Nisse Lind.
At 13 Lars joined the military band in Visby, the main city on the island, as a clarinet player. This became his main instrument and he participated in two small jazz groups, one Dixieland band and one Benny Goodman-styled group. He transcribed arrangements from records and wrote scores for both bands, getting his first experience in writing for a small band. The military band also formed the nucleus in the local symphony orchestra, where he was exposed to the classical music.
The war broke out and Gotland was out there in the Baltic sea, close to the war as the first Swedish coast to receive fugitives and survivors from torpedoed boats. He endured the military life, getting some relief from studying the piano for local teachers. In 1947 he moved to Stockholm in order to get a better education, and applied for the Musical Academy.
There he composed a sinfonietta, a piano concert and several smaller pieces. He performed the piano concerto with his old friends in the Visby orchestra in 1947 and played parts of it in a broadcast from Stockholm.
In Stockholm he also encountered live jazz in the clubs: The small groups of Putte Wickman, Hasse Kahn and Simon Brehm as well as the big band led by Lulle Elboj. Rolf Ericson and Stan (Åke) Hasselgard had recently left Sweden for the United States, but Lars recalls buying every Hasselgard record available. He also heard Chubby Jackson's band on records as well as Charlie Parker on Warmin' up a Riff:
I couldn't get enough of it, I played it over and over again, it was such a kick!
To support his studies, Lars took a job playing the in a dance band 1946 and joined the more famous Charles Redland big band the next year, playing in the legendary Winter Palace dance hall. Eventually Lars took a seat in the sax section, playing clarinet and alto. The piano and composing studies faded away.