I don't pretend to sound like an American trumpeter. I'm Swedish and that has to come across.
Peter Asplund, one of Sweden's most talented jazz trumpeters, gets his inspiration from giants like Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis but funnels it through his own, very Nordic filter. "I don't pretend to sound like an American trumpeter," he says. "I'm Swedish and that has to come across. As I see it, you have to be uncompromisingly yourself, pursue your own musical vision." He pauses and smiles ruefully. "Then of course you have to get people to like what you dothat's the hard part!"
A part that got a whole lot easier with the 2004 Prophone release of Lochiel's Warning, featuring a quartet fronted by Asplund. It contains a stunning mix of originals and standards, including a hauntingly beautiful ten-minute version of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." The disk won the prestigious Golden Record award presented annually by OJ (Orkester Journalen), the world's longest-running jazz magazine (first published in November, 1933) and was hailed as "an instant classic" by Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's leading daily newspaper.
Previous Golden Record winners have included Rolf Ericson, the legendary Swedish jazz trumpeter, who played with Duke Ellington, Benny Carter and Woody Herman, among others, and front lined with Bird on his 1950 tour of Sweden. "Once Rolf came to one of my gigs," says Asplund. "I felt very honored. We also played together in the Swedish Radio jazz group and there is actually also a recording with the Jan Lundgren trio of Rolf, me and another fantastic trumpet player, Bosse Broberg. I don't know what happened to that recording. I've never heard it, but I know it's out there somewhere."
Like two of Sweden's best known exports, the Scania truck and tennis champ Bjorn Borg, Asplund hails from Sodertalje (population 60,000), about thirty kilometers south of the capital, Stockholm, where he was born in 1969. Sodertalje calls itself "Sweden's most creative municipality," possessing one of the country's foremost music schools. There was never any doubt about the fact that a young Asplund would study there. Mother Carina plays piano, father; Bernt, flute.
"They don't play jazz, but that was the music that was always on the record player at home," Asplund recalls. "When I was only two or three years old, I was listening to people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ben Webster, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. Jazz is in my blood. In school I learned to play the classical wayArban, Clarke, traditional trumpet techniquebut I listened and played along with all those records at home. I developed a good ear and learned a lot of standards by heart. We also formed a little jazz group outside the school and rehearsed once a week."
Long ago Asplund left Sodertalje for Stockholm, where he now lives in an apartment on Soder, the increasingly trendy south island.
His MySpace page features a photograph of him at age four, staring in awe at a bugle. "I always wanted to play trumpet," he says. "When I heard Louis Armstrong it was like he was saying to me, 'This is what you should do!' The way he played, the way he sang, the way he laughedit went straight to my heart. Louis is the one that did it all for me."
Asplund went on to listen to Sweets Edison, Joe Newman, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers and Clark Terry. "Then I found a record by Clifford Brown. That was a major turning point in my life. He and Louis are my two house gods. They play from the heart. They are the two trumpet players capable of making me cry."
After this Asplund (as he puts it himself) "ate" his way through jazz trumpet history. "I listened to everybody: Miles, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Woody Shaw... then, later on, Tom Harrell and Kenny Wheeler. Kenny is actually one of the most personal players and composers of all time. I played with him once and we still have contact. He has been a great inspiration."
Relatively early on in his recording career, Asplund paid tribute to Louis Armstrong, with an album cleverly titled Satch as Such (Sittle, 2000), in which he rearranged some of Armstrong's best known numbers in modern style and got together his own big band to play them.
On his 2008 Prophone release, As Knights Concur, Asplund tipped his hat to Miles with impressive new versions of "My Funny Valentine" and "On Green Dolphin Street." "Miles had a big influence on me. The quintet he had with Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams was, in my opinion, the greatest jazz group ever. I loved the way they played so intuitively, totally creatively, all the time open for a new angle."
The beauty of Asplund's playing with his quartet, something he has taken from Miles, is that it varies from being very controlled to seeming to hover on the brink of chaos. This attention-grabbing process creates considerable tension.
But to survive as a jazz musician in a small country like Sweden, you have to wear a good many musical hats. Asplund features in the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, playing his own composition "The Prowlers" on their excellent album Stockholm Jazz Orchestra Plays Stockholm Jazz Orchestra (Dragon, 2007). He's also part of the Malmo-based Tolvan Big Band and the more lightweight Swedish rock band, Bo Kasper's Orkester, which has had considerable success both in the Nordic Area and elsewhere in Europe. He says he has no problem with switching roles, "but my musical center is my quartet," he says. "I make artistic statements with that."
He's played with both Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. "I have a good friend, Peter Johannesson, a drummer, who knows Herbie pretty well. He's brought him over to Sweden several times. We've cut a record with him and played some gigs. McCoy came over with his trio a few years back to play his music for big band with the Swedish Radio Jazz Band."
In the summer of 2007, Asplund's quartet was invited to play the jazz festival in Rochester, NY. "They had a Nordic theme and all the different groups from Scandinavia played in the local Lutheran church. It was a fantastic gig, with hundreds of people there." There's a video of him on YouTube playing "Bye Bye Blackbird" in the church.
When he's not playing trumpet or writing music, Peter reads "crime, philosophy, humor, New Age, biography." His favorite book on jazz is Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz (North Point, 1997), which he feels "really captures the essence of the music and its players."
Asplund also describes himself as a "movie freak." He's a big fan of Al Pacino. "I'm always first in line for a ticket when one of his films is released. But my choice in movies depends on my mood. Sometimes I just want a good laugh. I love British humor: Monty Python, Peter Sellers. And of course, I watch jazz movies. There's one from the 1960s that I really like, A Man Called Adam (1966), with Sammy Davis Junior playing a trumpeter. And I enjoyed Spike Lee's Mo Better Blues (1990)."