If you’re fortunate, you’ll be born with some talent. If you’re lucky, you’ll discover what that talent is. And if the gods really decide to smile on you, you’ll have been able to use your talent to leave a positive mark on the world when your time comes to depart it. Jan knows this, which is why, when he can, he shares his memories and reflections with FoJL on the passing of artists he’s admired.
7 February 2018: Marlene VerPlanck and Hugh Masekela
The New Jersey-born and based singer Marlene VerPlanck died aged 84 on 14 January at a hospital in Manhattan. “She was one of the last of her generation’s best interpreters of the great American songbook – a truly gifted woman” Jan says. “Marlene and I first met in the early ’90s, when she performed with the Monday Night Big Band in Malmö, for which I was the junior pianist. That and other gigs made her popular in the south of Sweden in particular, where she was heavily promoted by Alfie Nilsson who ran the now-defunct Malmö Jazz Radio Station and was one of Marlene’s biggest fans.”
“Marlene was also well known in the UK, where she toured a lot in her later years. She worked with a British band which included the wonderful pianist John Pearce, and we were fortunate to have them all appear at the 2016 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival [where Marlene is pictured above with Jan and the saxophonist Joe Lovano]. Marlene cut many fine records, among which her final album, The Mood I’m In [Audiophile, 2015], is one of my favourites. I was due to play on a couple of tracks for her next recording, and it saddens me that it won’t happen.”
Just a week after Marlene’s death, the South African trumpeter, composer and singer Hugh Masekela died in Johannesburg at the age of 78. “My memories of him revolve around YSJF, where he appeared twice” remembers Jan. “The first time was in 2013, when he signalled the start of the festival by playing solo from the watchtower of St Maria’s church. The song Hugh chose was Easy living, which he split masterfully into quarters in order to honour our ‘tradition’ of having a trumpet blown into all four points of the compass.”
“In 2013 and at his second YSJF appearance in 2016, Hugh so electrified a packed-out Ystads Teater with his South African band that people were actually dancing on the seats. Everyone – including, I suspect, Hugh himself – was deeply moved to experience these two performances, given Masekela’s active and vocal opposition to apartheid, and the support that Sweden provided both overtly and covertly to help end the system. Hugh came to Ystad with a lot of love, and he got it back in spades.”
23 May 2017: Gösta Ekman
The Swedish actor, comedian and director, Gösta Ekman, died on 1 April aged 77. He was a much-loved and highly respected figure in the Swedish arts scene, and both his father and grandfather were famous actors too. He also had a lot of friends in Swedish jazz circles, including Jan, who played at a memorial concert for Ekman at Stockholm’s Dramaten theatre on 15 May.
“It’s now almost six years since Gösta was an ambassador for the 2011 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival” recalls Jan, snapped in the photo here with Ekman (centre) and the great Toots Thielemans. “One of the finest moments was a few months before the festival began. Gösta met up with his old friend and idol, Bengt Hallberg, for a big interview with Lars Yngve from Nya Upplagan magazine. The issue came out just in time for the festival and made for some splendid reading: two master artists – one an actor and the other a pianist – coming together to talk without boundaries.”
“Of course, it was wonderful to have Gösta in Ystad for the festival. His spirit and enthusiasm floored everybody. Not everyone was aware of it, but Gösta could also play some fine jazz piano. And I’ll never forget his response to a question about YSJF a few weeks after it had ended: ‘The festival was unforgettable. I can already remember it’. It was the best kind of humour from the best kind of guy.”
18 April 2017: Ascione, Asmussen, O’Brien, Parlan, Sylvén, Thielemans and Werup
The American drummer, Joe Ascione, died in March last year. “Joe was only a few years older than me, but he had a very long career, having begun to play professionally at the age of 12” Jan says. “Joe wasn’t as well known as many of his contemporaries, yet he was one of the finest drummers ever. I have fond memories of recording with him and the late Swedish vibes player Lars Erstrand.”
In February this year, Svend Asmussen, the Danish violinist, passed away just two weeks short of his 101st birthday. Jan recalls: “I had two great experiences with Svend, one of which involved playing with him at what turned out to be his last-ever public performance in Copenhagen. Then, at the 2016 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, I was up on stage at Per Helsas Gård to introduce an Asmussen tribute led by Svend’s fellow Dane, the guitarist Jacob Fischer. As I was announcing the musicians, I suddenly noticed Svend slowly coming forward through the audience. He’d been delayed because he didn’t have a ticket, and someone at the door tried to insist that he bought one. It was a lovely surprise for everyone in the venue to see him there in person.”
November 2016 saw the death of the American pianist Hod O’Brien, aged 80. “Hod was one of the last of the bop players still alive” explains Jan. “We had a connection through Dick Bank, the US producer who I made All By Myself and many other albums with. I also met Hod when he played at The Standard in Copenhagen and I was lucky enough to spend the evening chatting about his experiences of the old days. Despite having worked with greats like Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard and Zoot Sims, Hod was a rather neglected player who deserved more recognition.”
Another American piano great, Horace Parlan, died this year in February. “Having relocated to Copenhagen in the ‘70s, Horace was one of my teachers at Malmö Academy of Music: how they managed to get someone of that calibre always amazes me! But Horace was an extremely humble and kind man, and he overcame enormous physical challenges to create a unique sound – like having to switch from using his right hand to his left when was a teenager because of crippling polio. Horace played a central role in the kind of pianist I am today, and was massively important in helping me find my own sound.”
In January, the Swedish guitarist and composer Bo Sylvén died at the age of 80. “Like Horace, Bo was one of my teachers at the Academy, and another very important figure in my musical education” Jan says. “I was also part of the Sylvén quartet which the late great clarinettist Putte Wickman – another key figure for me – used as back-up for the gigs Putte played in southern Sweden and Denmark. Bo’s arranging work in particular had a big influence on Swedish jazz, and his charts for Wickman’s Time After Time album [1993, RCA] are classics of the genre.”
There was another big loss for international and Swedish jazz last August when the Belgian harmonica player Toots Thielemans died. “Toots did a lot in Sweden, where his playing on the theme song for a famous children’s TV series, Dunderklumpen!, made him practically a household name. I was asked to gig with Toots at the age of 26 or 27, but I got a terrible fever and had to bow out. Much later, Putte Wickman had an 80-year celebration tour of Sweden, and Toots performed at one of the concerts where I was guesting. I remember going up on stage and contributing to perhaps the final number with everyone else, so I did get to play with this great man in the end.”
Perhaps the biggest personal loss for Jan has been the Swedish poet Jacques Werup, who died in November 2016. “Jacques was not only one of my closest friends; we also had a unique collaboration. Sweden has lost a great writer, and a very clever and funny improviser. Jacques was an ever-youthful man, and brimmed over with ideas and creativity. He was decidedly cross-cultural, always curious and permanently on the look-out for new things. In fact, he never dwelt on the past, but constantly looked to the future.”
“In common with other seminal influences like Arne Domnérus and Putte Wickman, Jacques’ death leaves an unfillable hole for me. He was an unbelievable poet and a fine musician, and it will be impossible to find that combination again. But I’ll always be grateful for the time we had together and for the inspiration Jacques gave me.” [For more about Jan’s work with Jacques Werup, go to page 7 of our JLN newsletter from October 2013.]
23 June 2016: Knut Grane
Knut Grane, the Swedish painter, died aged 89 in March, a week short of his 90th birthday. “Being on the road can sometimes make it hard to follow all the news, so I’ve only just heard of Knut’s sad passing” says Jan. “He was a great artist, and one of my favourite people. I have several of Knut’s works in my home, and the highest praise for his art.”
“Knut must surely be in the top list of painters deserving wider recognition. With his distinct and instantly recognisable style, he should have been much better known than he was. I hope that will happen now. Knut was also a great jazz connoisseur. He was a big fan of Lester, Count, Benny and Teddy, as well as bebop musicians like Monk, Dizzy, and Bird. In fact, it was through Knut that I discovered Bengt Hallberg’s wonderful version of Sweet Sue.
“Although he came from Gothenburg, Knut spent a large lart of his life in Malmö. He will be deeply missed by me and, I am certain, by many others.” The southern Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan published an obituary on 16 March which you can read here.
1 February 2016: Frank Collett
The Los Angeles-based pianist, Frank Collett, died on 25 January at the age of 74. “He was a great piano player and a musician I have nothing but the deepest respect for” Jan tells FoJL. “Frank was a man full of warmth and joy – something you can definitely hear in his playing. The first time I met him was in the late ’90s at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where he’d had a steady gig for many years. And even though he spent lots of hours as a bar pianist, he never lost his jazz chops. Listen to any of his Fresh Sound recordings and you’ll hear it! While you’re at it, check out his playing for Sarah Vaughan too: In The City Of Lights, on Justin Time Records.”
25 November 2015: Bengt-Arne Wallin
Bengt-Arne Wallin, Swedish arranger and bandleader, died on 23 November in Stockholm. He was 89. “It’s sad news; he was a dear friend” says Jan. “I knew Bengt-Arne for two decades or more – he actually wrote the liner notes for JLT’s Swedish Standards (1997). He was a very likeable man: always enthusiastic about music and keen to follow newcomers. For jazz musicians and listeners, Bengt-Arne’s arranging skills belong at the top of the list, while his work on Swedish folk music is legendary. He was also a great trumpet player – one of the best ever in Sweden – and his many years of collaboration with Arne Domnérus produced music of the highest standard.”
“A couple of years ago, Bengt-Arne and I discussed doing a new project together, combining Jan Lundgren Trio and the Bohuslän Big Band, with Bengt-Arne as the arranger. We called the project Swedish Folklore NOW!, and it was a fantastic thing for me to be part of. He was also widely involved with Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, becoming our first ambassador in 2010 and then taking on the role of ‘lifetime honorary ambassador’. Bengt-Arne helped us in bringing Quincy Jones to Ystad in 2012 for what became a magnificent grand finale concert that year. Bengt-Arne’s positivism, combined with his artistic vision, made him a very strong force in music. His music and his memory will live forever, and my thoughts go to his wife, Eva, and the rest of his family.
“Here’s a list of some classic Wallin recordings:
Somethin’ Blue (Sonet)
Isn’t it Romantic (RCA-Camden)
Old Folklore In Swedish Modern (Dux)
Visa Från Barnrike (SR Records)
Dear John – film music (Dunhill)
Barnkammarmusik – with Jan Johansson (Megafon)
The Magic Box (SR Records)
Röde Orm från Kullen – musical theatre (EMI)
Miles From Duke – with Nils Landgren (Phono Suecia)
The Unexpected Symphony – with the Danish Radio Big Band (Sonet).
“Bengt-Arne’s arrangements were heard on many other recordings as well. These include the legendary Adventures In Jazz And Folklore (Dux), where four arrangers did their versions of Swedish folksongs. The other arrangers were Bengt Hallberg, Georg Riedel and Jan Johansson. Another fine recording that should be mentioned is Bengt-Arne’s Seismisk Komposition with the Swedish Radio Jazz Group (SR Records).”
7 November 2015: Kjell Öhman
The Swedish keyboard player Kjell Öhman died yesterday aged 72. As Jan tells FoJL: “Kjell was an extraordinary musician who could swing like few others. He was a very fine pianist and a totally fantastic organ player. Kjell performed with practically everybody in Sweden and, as a studio musician, he played on literally thousands of records. He was a master of most styles but, at the same time, a genuine jazz musician. The first Kjell Öhman album I bought, Öhman Organ Grinders: Live At The Pawnshop, is still a favourite of mine and will always be.”
1 November 2015: Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy, the American singer, died on 22 October in New Jersey at the age of 83. “It goes without saying that he was one of the great jazz singers of all time” Jan reflects. “I was fortunate to record with him twice.” (On The Baker Boys’ Facin’ Our Time [1995, Sittel] and Jan Lundgren Plays The Music Of Jule Styne [2002, Sittel].)
“Mark certainly had a big voice, but what made him so special was his unique way of improvising. He was a singer who took no prisoners, and he was very adventurous in his style. Mark’s Rah from 1961 on Riverside Records is one of my favourite vocal albums. It’s a terrific recording, with all the music arranged by no less a person than Ernie Wilkins.”
22 July 2015: Van Alexander
His real name was Alexander Van Vliet Feldman, but he became famous as Van Alexander – the American bandleader and composer who died in Los Angeles on 19 July, aged 100. What are Jan’s thoughts? “It’s a big loss, especially for fans of the Swing Era, of which Van was one of the very last musicians still alive. He’ll forever be remembered, of course, for the many great arrangements he wrote for Chick Webb in the ’30s. And, inevitably, his fame for many people rests on being the man who co-composed, together with Ella Fitzgerald, the hit song A-tisket, a-tasket.”
“I have a very special personal memory of Van. Coming back home after a gig about a year ago, I found a message on my answering machine in a voice I didn’t first recognise. Then I realised the voice belonged to none other than Van himself, expressing his enthusiasm for my then brand-new solo album, All By Myself. Pretty unbelievable! So I immediately called him back and we had a very nice conversation – I was immensely grateful to have been given the opportunity to talk with him.
“Van’s career in the music industry was extremely long and distinguished. Don Heckman has written a particuarly good obituary, which was published in the Los Angeles Times on 20 July.”
21 July 2015: John Taylor
British pianist John Taylor died on 18 July. “His passing is extremely unfortunate” says Jan. “He was a brilliant piano player and composer whose talents were enormously respected by musicians all over the world.”
“My first encounter with John’s music came through the Peter Erskine trio recordings on the ECM label. As a young pianist, I was immediately and intensely fascinated by his delicate touch and his beautiful compositions. One of my favourite albums with John is from this period: Time Being [1994, ECM] with Peter and Palle Danielsson. Another one is In Two Minds [2014, Camjazz], where he plays solo and also does overdubs, sometimes making it a double piano recording. Since I have kept buying most of his records, I was very happy when I succeeded in getting John to perform at last year’s Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival with Marylin Mazur. They gave a fantastic concert.
“John Taylor will be remembered the world over as one of the great ones.”
24 February 2015: Clark Terry
As most people will now know, the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry died on Saturday at the age of 94. FoJL had a talk last night with Jan about Terry’s influence and legacy. “With a career that went right back to the 1930s, Clark was one of the big stylists in jazz” says Jan. “His way of playing was instantly recognisable, and to many, many listeners – including me – he was a special favourite. I had the good fortune to play three concerts with Clark in late 2005. These gigs would become his last appearances in Sweden.”
“Happily, jazz fans can choose from a very large number of great recordings that feature Clark. Among them are, of course, his wonderful works as sideman with Duke Ellington, and his many fine collaborations with Oscar Peterson as well as Bob Brookmeyer. Then there are Clark’s own albums, like Serenade To A Bus Seat [Riverside], The Happy Horns Of Clark Terry [Impulse!], Color Changes [Candid], Clark Terry [Emarcy] and, not least, his Big Bad Band recordings. Clark will be remembered by a huge jazz community.”
21 February 2015: Gustaf Sjökvist
Gustaf Sjökvist, the Swedish choir director, died last Sunday, aged 71. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you’ll probably recognise the name because it was the Gustaf Sjökvist Chamber Choir that sang on Jan’s 2007 album, Magnum Mysterium. “It was very sad news to hear of my dear friend’s passing” Jan told FoJL earlier this week. “Magnum Mysterium would have been impossible without Gustaf, and I’ll never forget making the record. He was one of the finest choir directors anywhere. Trained as a classical musician/director, Gustaf could also play good jazz – take a listen to his collaboration with Arne Domnérus, Heartfelt [1994, Proprius]. A great personality with an enormous musical knowledge is no longer with us.”