Professional friends

Keeping track of what Jan’s doing inevitably – and pleasingly – involves talking to lots of professional musicians. These conversations not only cover their work with Jan; FoJL also gets to find out what the artists are doing with their own projects. We think it’s a shame not to share the news and insights that often come out of FoJL’s discussions with others in the industry. And we make no apologies if this information sometimes sounds a little like promotion. After all, if you enjoy the music of Jan Lundgren, it’s very possible you’ll be interested in the broader work of his professional friends.

Marc Myers: Simply essential

How do you start your day? FoJL’s routine is always the same: a quick flick through the Financial Times, an equally rapid check of the BBC’s world news app, and then it’s straight to Marc Myers’ New York-based daily blog, JazzWax. Because – and there’s no way to sugar-coat this – you can’t really call yourself a jazz fan if you don’t keep up with Marc’s quotidian reports, insights and musings on jazz, soul, rock and the arts in general. He’s an unashamed admirer of Jan Lundgren too, and has written about him several times over the last three years (click on Jan’s name under the ‘Interviews’ heading at the right of JazzWax, or type it into the site’s search function).

For those of you whose morning procedures don’t – inexplicably – revolve around JazzWax, journalist Marc is a long-standing Wall Street Journal contributor and occasional liner-notes writer (but only for albums he genuinely rates), who’s been researching, writing and publishing JazzWax every day except Sunday without a break for the last decade. Two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Blog of the Year award, Marc is also the author of Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press, 2012) and, most recently, Anatomy of a Song (Grove Press, 2016).

Anatomy of a Song has been getting rave reviews in the US and the rest of the world since its publication last November. Based on Marc’s popular Wall Street Journal column of the same name, the book captures and expands on the stories behind 45 seminal rock, R&B and pop hits through interviews with the artists who wrote and recorded them. The book starts with Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy (1952) and ends with REM’s Losing my religion (1991). In between, a roll-call of other popular music icons are interviewed about the songs that helped define their careers, from Mick Jagger (about Moonlight mile) and Joni Mitchell (Carey), to Ray Manzarek (Light my fire) and Merle Haggard (Big city).

Marc deftly extracts in each case a mine of fascinating backstories. Did you know, for example, that The Doors’ Jim Morrison spent large parts of 1966 listening to Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night album, that Janis Joplin co-wrote the lyrics to Mercedes Benz while listening to The Beatles’ Hey Jude blasting out of a jukebox, or that Keith Richards’ Street fighting man was inspired by the sound of French police-car sirens? There’s a ton of detail like this that makes you immediately want to revisit each song, which you can quickly do through the clever device of a Spotify playlist that contains all of the book’s 45 tracks.

It’s a hoary old publishing cliché to say that Anatomy of a Song is unputdownable – although it really is. But that’s not the only reason for buying a copy. As Marc wrote last September: “For the past nine years, I’ve posted six days a week at JazzWax. These posts have included exclusive jazz-legend interviews, essays on music history, links to articles, music clips from my library, and tips on forgotten albums and new releases. Now I’m asking you to order one or more copies of Anatomy of a Song as a way to show your support.”

Let’s give the last word to Marc in full and glorious colour. Here he is discussing Anatomy of a Song in a recent interview with a New Jersey TV station, and pretty much every sentence shouts his passion for popular music.

Anatomy of a Song: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Kindle

Date posted: 29 March 2017

Peter Danemo: Carefree and humble

frontcover_digitaluppladdning_300dpiPeter Danemo is a Stockholm-based drummer and composer whose CV looks like a ‘Who’s who’ of Swedish and international jazz. One of his earliest collaborators, for example, was the late Esbjörn Svensson, and he’s worked with Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Clark Terry, Bobo Stenson and a host of other big names. Peter’s other claim to fame – although he’s far too modest to broadcast it – is that he gave FoJL an album tip earlier this year (13 April).

In 2015, Peter was Composer in Residence with Norrbotten Big Band (NBB), undoubtedly one of Sweden’s musical national treasures, and the fruit of that labour was released today. It’s an album called Hedvigsnäs (2016, Prophone), and all but one of the nine tracks were composed and arranged by Peter.

As he explains in the album’s liner notes: “When I was five years old, my family moved from my birthplace of Umeå, a town in the northern part of Sweden, to a farm called ‘Hedvigsnäs’ near Tibro, which is close to Lake Vättern in the southern half of the country. Compared to Umeå, Tibro was a very small town and Hedvigsnäs was just a little farm. It was quite a big change for a child.”

01-peter-danemo-foto-marie-lundgren“My sister and I spent a couple of carefree years there before starting school, when a more structured life started. It’s a time I remember fondly. The sun seemed to shine every day, whether it was summer or the ground was covered with a glistening blanket of snow. We played in our little world, which for us was infinitely mysterious and full of unknown things crying out to be explored.

“More than once, my year with Norrbotten Big Band has taken my thoughts back to Hedvigsnäs and what that time represents for me. I’ve had some similar feelings about the Norrbotten Big Band; it’s like a place that’s filled with endless possibilities, limited only by my imagination and the ability to communicate my musical ideas.”

What was it like to be given free rein with a band like NBB? “Norrbofaltrapporttten Big Band is an orchestra like no other, whose members endured shifting tempos and odd metres without ever losing their focus on the music. Each one of them added his unmistakable style and sound to the compositions, filling the music with creativity and mature playing. As a band, Norrbotten has a unique ability to make every musical situation they’re part of sound bettemaster-johansgatan-12r.”

Hedvigsnäs is therefore a very personal work. It’s also rather different from many of Peter’s other projects. These include playing drums in the four-piece Örjan Hultén Orion band, which released its third album, Fältrapport (2016, Artogrush), in March this year.

One final question about Hedvigsnäs, an album which is infinitely intriguing: why does Peter appear on the cover holding an umbrella? “It’s a humble little greeting to the great Swedish pianist and composer Jan Johansson, who’s always been a very important influence on my work. Mäster Johansgatan 12 is a four-track EP that Johansson released in 1960 [on Megafon], and adopting a similar pose is just my way of acknowledging and thanking him.”

Peter Danemo: official website, Facebook

Date posted: 14 October 2016

Mattias Nilsson: Avoiding Johansson’s ghost

Photo: Anja Emzén

Photo: Anja Emzén

Sweden’s professional jazz community is small and close-knit. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that pianist Mattias Nilsson knows, and has at some time played with, pretty much every contemporary Swedish jazz artist you can think of. Except – because how often do you need two pianists at the same gig? – Jan Lundgren.

“Of course, I bump into Jan now and then at other people’s concerts, and I’m reasonably sure that my father taught him a classical piano class when Jan was studying at the Malmö Academy of Music” Mattias says. “I’ve also played with [JLT’s] Mattias Svensson quite a bit, and with Zoltan Csörsz. Like me, they’re both based in Malmö.”

Having got these bona fides out of the way, Mattias is itching to move the discussion on to his new solo album, Dreams of Belonging, which is being released later this month. FoJL is curious to know more, however, about how he arrived at this position. After all, despite appearances to the contrary, there are actually very few genuinely professional jazz pianists in Sweden – that is, people who compose, perform and record on a full-time basis without having at least some kind of second occupation. Usually, this is teaching music.

Dreams of Belonging“Well, I was offered a place at Malmö Academy of Music in 2004” explains Mattias, who started playing the piano when he was just four. “But I’d been freelancing since I left high school, experimenting with everything from jazz, blues and Latin to gospel, pop and rock. So I turned the Academy’s offer down.”

“My parents weren’t very happy about that, since they thought it would be sensible to get a teaching or similar qualification as a safeguard. My argument was that things were already looking as though they might work out, and I didn’t want to halt my progress by taking four years off to study. I think it was Branford Marsalis who said ‘If you’ve got something to fall back on, you probably will’. It’s a quote I still use when someone asks whether I made the right decision.”

In 2007, Mattias bought a plane ticket to Chile, found a local bass player and drummer, and performed 15 concerts in 17 days right across the country. “Rene Sandoval, the bassist, organised everything incredibly well – it was such a great experience” he remembers. “I was playing the Swedish music I grew up with, but with Chilean guys who added their own unique flavour to the catalogue. I’ve been back two or three times since then, and I love it. On the most recent tour we A Tribute To Milt Jacksonplayed at the Swedish embassy in Santiago to Sweden’s then-prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt. It was a lot of fun.”

Back in Malmö after that first Chilean tour, Mattias opened a jazz club called ‘The Way WE Play’. With weekly concerts and jam sessions, the club became increasingly popular among local musicians and other creative people. “But, boy, was it hard work!” he laughs. “Trying to run a Printjazz venue while pursuing your personal musical career is like begging for a nervous breakdown.”

More touring followed – in Scandinavia, western Europe and the United States – with artists like Butch Miles, Jesper Thilo, Bo Stief, Sharon Clark and Kristin Korb, as well as regular recording sessions. The latter have included albums with Swedish vibraphonist Roger Svedberg, and fellow Malmö resident and close friend, the singer Anna Pauline Andersson. Mattias also teamed up last year with Austrian saxophonist Ray Aichinger for a six-track EP, Silent Nights (European Jazz Records, 2015).

Silent NightsAll of which, to Mattias’ visible relief, brings us to Dreams of Belonging. It’s his first release as leader, and it’s a solo album to boot. Isn’t that combination rather brave? “Yes and no” he replies. “I’ve been a professional musician for 11 years now, and I’ve been playing solo more and more. The album centres around the kind of traditional Swedish music I’ve always been drawn to and, although I use plenty of jazz techniques, I hope I’ve been able to find my own ‘voice’ in the material.”

Jan Johansson 2Mattias prepared for the recording by, among other things, putting together a solo piano playlist from Spotify. “The mood was definitely Scandinavian and, naturally, I listened to some Jan Johansson as well – Jazz på Svenska still emits a sort of ghostly aura that influences practically all Swedish jazz pianists. I was determined, though, not to copy anyone else’s style. You can’t escape the melancholy, but there’s a lot of light in this new record too.”

Dreams of Belonging brings together three original compositions by Mattias with both traditional songs – including one that’s best known as Sweden’s national anthem – and tunes by more contemporary Swedish composers. There’s also a cover of the John Hartford song, Gentle on my mind, which was made famous by Glen Campbell in 1967. What prompted Mattias to include it?

Glen_Campbell_Gentle_on_My_Mind_album_cover“The choice also surprised me at first” he concedes. “I’m not sure why, but the tune had been knocking around in my head for ages. Once I started to experiment with it, I realised the piece has a lot of scope. Gentle on my mind is inevitably associated with country/pop, but I play it slower here than most people are used to. That’s the thing about jazz; you can throw in anything, and I’m always on the look-out for good songs from any genre. The jazz might surface when I improvise, or it might not. But if I’ve got my ‘voice’ right, what you’ll hear is Mattias Nilsson, not Glen Campbell – or, for that matter, Jan Johansson paying homage to Glen Campbell!”

Dreams of Belonging will be released on 22 May. Mattias has no plans as yet to stream the album or to offer it as a download. “I’d like the record to remain a little ‘exclusive’ for now, so it’ll only be available as a CD through my website and at concerts” he says.

What’s next for Mattias? “I’ll be performing in Barcelona when Dreams of Belonging comes out, and then I’ve got three concerts in Paris. There’ll be another tour taking in Scandinavia and the UK soon afterwards. So I’m not exactly sure what will happen next. Let’s just see where the album takes me.”

Mattias Nilsson: official website, YouTube channel, Facebook

Date posted: 14 May 2016

Martin Berggren: Better at writing than reading

Martin Berggren 3“Learning classical piano as a child, I was absolutely terrible at reading sheet music” confesses Martin Berggren. “In fact, I’d often play an entire piece for my teacher in the wrong key without even realising…”

That’s quite an admission, coming from the man who arranged most of the music for this year’s string quartet-centred Frank Sinatra and Jan Johansson tribute concerts featuring Jan and several other great Swedish musicians. But, as anyone who caught one or more of these performances will know, 34 year-old Martin now seems to have thoroughly mastered the skill. Spending five years at Malmö Academy of Music studying Instrumental and Ensemble Teaching probably helped, as did having Jan Lundgren as his piano tutor for two of those years.

Sinatra tourTo remind you, the Musik i Syd-backed project, Come Fly With Us, involved around 10 concerts across Sweden in the first half of 2015 to mark the centenary of Sinatra’s birth. In addition to Jan, the line-up consisted of Nils Landgren on trombone and vocals, guitarist Göran Söllscher, singer Miriam Aïda and – here’s the unusual bit – the string ensemble Kroger Quartet.

Nils Landgren“Christoffer Nobin, a composing and conducting friend of mine, had already arranged a number of pieces” Martin explains. “And then Musik i Syd asked me to score the strings for two instrumental songs that they wanted to do in a different way – Night and day and Anything goes. They subsequently asked me to arrange another five.”

“That was just two weeks before the first rehearsal, so I had to work quickly. The band had about four or five rehearsals, and I joined them for the last two. It was amazing: these are really big artists in Swedish terms, and I felt distinctly awestruck writing material that was going to be performed by such great talents.

Miriam_Aida“As I arrived on my first day, Miriam was singing The shadow of your smile, which I’d also arranged. She finished the song and I couldn’t stop myself bursting into applause. Then they all started laughing…” adds Martin, cringing slightly at the recollection. “But it was a wonderful experience for me. I remember thinking: why can’t every day at work be like this? Jan, Nisse, Göran and Miriam basically just improvised their solos over the top of my string arrangements. It was an incredible thing to watch.”

9 (2)Did the songs change much as the rehearsals progressed? “Well, we altered some minor parts in the scoring – a few bars here or there. And we’d build bits up rather than taking them down. Plus a few of the arrangements hadn’t even been started, so we worked on them together.”

Kroger Quartet 1“I particularly remember doing that with Göran. He’s a hugely gifted guitarist – one of the best classical musicians Sweden’s got. He really takes his work seriously and practises a lot. I find writing for guitar very difficult because, if you’re not a guitarist yourself – which I’m not – you Göran Söllscherwon’t necessarily know whether something is physically possible to play.

“So I nervously emailed him very late one night with a suggested opening for The shadow of your smile. He mailed me back an hour later and said he thought it would be ‘OK’, but he wanted to continue trying it out for a little longer. Then he emailed me again before eight in the morning to announce that ‘Yes, it’ll probably work…’! It gives you a sense of how dedicated Göran is.”

There was no double bass for the project. “That unsettled me a bit” admits Martin. “They said I could add one if I felt it was really needed, but I understood why they hadn’t planned it. The artists’ goal was to avoid turning the ensemble into a mini-big band, hence no drums or horns. So, trying to stay true to that feeling of intimacy, I let the cello take some of those bass parts.”

Swedish StandardsThree of the 15 or so songs performed at the concerts stand out for Martin. “Night and day and Anything goes were the two quartet-only pieces. As everyone knows, the second of these is very much a typical, swing-style standard, but I was determined to do it in a less predictable way. So I wrote it in 5/4 with a distinctive bass line. It was a conscious tribute to Jan, actually, because his recording of the traditional Swedish song Visa vid vindens ängar [on the JLT album Swedish Standards (1997)] takes a similar approach. That version by Jan is one of my favourite tunes, and it’s one of the reasons I started to play jazz in the first place. He told me with mock seriousness after he’d heard the arrangement: ‘I’m glad to see you’ve actually listened to some of my stuff…’.”

Frank Sinatra 1959 "Come Dance With Me" Capitol Records © 1978 Sid AveryMartin also has some flattering things to say about Miriam Aïda’s treatment of Strangers in the night. “She had a particular idea of how it could work as an almost James Brown-style version. So Miriam turned the whole song upside down from the way people are used to hearing it, while I used the strings to add some rhythmic, pizzicato parts to the soft, funky sound.” The result of this song and all the others was Come Fly With Us playing to packed-out houses and receiving standing ovations night after night. And then…

Jan Johansson 2“Just when I thought it was over, Jan called out of the blue and told me about his idea for a Jan Johansson tribute. Would I write the arrangements for it? Not just the strings, but also the piano parts? Wow, what a question!”

Jan wanted something new for one of his two performances at the 2015 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival. But the idea had actually been brewing for years. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do” he told the audience that Thursday evening in Ystads Teater. And, as well as a string quartet, Martin finally got his bass – played by JLT’s inimitable Mattias Svensson.

Claudia B at YSJF“Jan initially asked me for 10 arrangements of four or five minutes each, and sent me a list of suggested songs” Martin recalls. “And then I realised something; the originals on Johansson’s classic Jazz På Svenska, for example, were often only 2:30 in length and sometimes less than 2:00. Would Jan accept a larger number of shorter arrangements?” he wondered. Jan agreed, and Martin ended up arranging 15 shorter songs rather than 10 longer ones. “Frankly, that was easier for me than trying to ‘pad out’ the numbers. We also, of course, joined one or two songs together in mini-medleys.”

Martin was asked by Jan to keep things reasonably close to Johansson’s original treatments, but with the added ‘fljazz_pa_svenskaavour’ of a string quartet. “That was the scary part” Martin explains. “Jazz På Svenska is pretty much a perfect record which most Scandinavian jazz fans, and much of the general public, know backwards. So you mess about with it at your peril…”

“And I wanted to give the project some kind of overall structure. Many of the songs, like Leksands skänåt and Visa från Järna, have place names in them. So we grouped these tunes together into a sort of geographical ‘suite’ – hence the concert’s travel theme and its title, Lyklig Resa. It means ‘Happy Journey’ in English, and the words are woven into the bag on the cover of Jazz På Svenska.

Landscapes“I also asked Jan to compose a new song for the project in the style of Jan Johansson – it was funny to give my old teacher some homework of his own! That song is called Lyklig resa too. And we did a tune that Johansson never recorded, the traditional Slängpolska efter Byss-Kalle, which appears on JLT’s 2003 album, Landscapes, because Jan’s arrangement there almost feels like a Johansson tribute anyway.”

Pippi 2Following some further adaptations from the later Johansson albums, Jazz På Ryska and Jazz På Ungerska, the concert ended with the famous children’s song, Här kommer Pippi Långstrump. “Not everyone realises that Johansson wrote this tune – shortly before he died, in fact – and it struck me that it would make a fun final number, especially with a bold arrangement.” Predictably, it brought the house down at Ystad.

jan allan 2What’s Martin doing now? He’s teaching piano and music theory at a couple of schools in Lund, where he lives, as well as doing some arranging and concert work. The latter has included two recent gigs with the Swedish singer Elisabeth Melander, at which they were joined by Jan Allan (pictured), one of Sweden’s very best trumpet players. Martin is also writing arrangements for a gospel choir, with a big concert on 14 November featuring Samuel Ljungblahd, an extremely popular gospel singer who sang at the Swedish royal wedding last June of Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist.

“I haven’t got a band at the moment, since there isn’t really enough time” says Martin. You can see in the YouTube clip below, however, that he’s performed in his own trio, for which he composed a wide range of pieces. As Martin explains, though: “When it comes to music, I think I’ll always be more comfortable writing than reading!”

Date posted: 21 October 2015

Dado Moroni: Never really happy?

DadoMoroni“I’ve said before that Italy’s probably got the strongest jazz scene anywhere in the world right now” Jan reminds us. “If, for instance, you want an example of a very fine Italian pianist, look no further than Dado Moroni. The strength of his playing and of his international reputation is testament to just how good the best Italian musicians really are.”

Dado & MaxJan’s opinion is shared by many others, including Christian Brorsen, musical director of Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen. Regular readers of FoJL’s Friends’ tips page might remember that Christian called MTWO FOR STEVIE FRONT COVER OKoroni “one of the most swinging piano players today”, as well as describing his new duo album of Stevie Wonder covers with fellow Italian Max Ionata on tenor sax as “a masterpiece” (12 May 2015).

It may be, however, that the one person who disagrees with these assessments is Dado Moroni himself. “Normally, I’m never really happy with my recordings” he recently told FoJL. “I feel, as with nearly all studio recordings, that there’s something lacking – perhaps the Shapesexcitement of a live performance, or the will to take risks that often happens during a concert.”

So what does Dado think now about one of FoJL’s current favourites, the 2010 album Shapes (TCB Music)? It’s a trio line-up with Enzo Zirilli on drums and American bassist Peter Washington – who, you’ll recall, plays on Jan’s albums In New York (2005), A Touch Of You (1998) and New York Calling (1996).

Solodado“I’m actually pretty happy with the outcome of Shapes for a number of reasons” says Dado. “We recorded it at the end of a long tour, so the communication between us was natural. Also, the producer – drummer Peter Schmidlin, who sadly passed away last week – was a good friend who trusted us totally with our choice of repertoire and how to play it. In fact, Peter stayed at home and only wanted to hear the finished product – he loved it! Last but not least, the studio was very comfortable, and the sound engineer was a relaxed and loose cat, so there was absolutely no pressure.”

“There are only a couple of other recordings of mine that I’m really happy about, both on the Italian The CubeAbeat label. They’re The Cube [2007] with Tom Harrell, and Solodado [2009], which were both recorded with total freedom. You know, the good vibes were palpable.”

What made Dado do a solo album? “It was purely by chance. I was asked to play at a friend’s memorial, but I couldn’t make it because I already had a concert commitment that day. I felt bad about not being there, so I suggested recording a song that could be played at the memorial.

Dado moroni 2So I went into the studio and did it. It was only when I’d finished that I realised what a wonderful piano I had and how easy-going the sound engineer was. I felt like playing more… so I just kept going. When I looked at the clock it was 2.00am and I had about 90 minutes of music.

“I sat on it for a week and then called Mario Caccia at Abeat and asked if he’d be interested in putting it out. He said yes before he’d even heard it, and that was that. Solodado has gone on to become one of Abeat’s best sellers and won me Musica Jazz’s 2009 Best Italian Jazz Pianist award – ha ha!

“And the rest of my recordings? I always feel I could have done something different with them…”

Dado Moroni: official website, Wikipedia, Abeat Records

Date posted: 3 June 2015