Category: Sweden

Lasse, In The Flesh

och hans vonner

Lasse Werner, in the flesh.

Been meaning to get this post out for a minute… it’s about more than Scandinavian sauna culture…

After an early evening nap to postpone the jet lag, I zigzagged through Östermalm in the dwindling summer twilight to the Glenn Miller Caféa small, unsuspecting jazz club on a quiet backstreet. It was July 2011, my  first week in Stockholm, Sweden, and the first week of a travel stint that would last nearly a year and a half. The evening featured a Septet headed by Kasper Agnas, a very young, talented guitarist and composer who I’d come to know quite well in the months to come.

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The house was packed, hot as a sauna. I wedged into a corner. While waiting for the forthcoming set, I struck up a conversation with the fellow beside me, Mats Werner, an avid jazz enthusiast, a writer and, as I learned later, the brother of Lars (Lasse) Werner, a great Swedish pianist/composer extremely active in the 60s and 70s avant garde movement in Europe. A local hero to many, Lasse’s wildly whimsical writing shines on a 1967 session, Lars Werner och hans vönner (Lars Werner and his friends), which featured an intriguing cast of the Sweden’s avant vets, as well as one young American:

Alto Saxophone – Christer Boustedt

Bass – Sven Hessle

Drums – Jan Carlsson

Piano – Lars Werner

Tenor Saxophone –Göran Östling, Dave Liebman

Trumpet – Otto Donner

Turns out, Lars Werner och hans vönner would be Dave Liebman’s first record. (Oddly enough, Liebman also arrived in Stockholm in July. Funny I would meet Mats). Liebman actually recounted his episode with Lasse Werner in an installment of Oral History with Bill Kirchner for the Smithsonian Institute, as part of the 2011 NEA Masters of Jazz Project. Liebman tells it:

Got to Stockholm. Had a name from Cameron Brown, who had lived in Sweden. This was Lars Werner. Called him up. He says, “Come over to my house. This is the bus you take.” He said, “Do you know John Coltrane died today?” This is July 17th, 1967. I immediately – I started crying. He said, “Come over. We all know about this. We know what’s going on. You’ll be fine.” I went in, became part of the family. These guys took LSD every day, every day, and played eight hours, ten hours a day. I don’t know what the hell we played. Then you’d go out in the garden, and you’d have lunch. It was beautiful, because Sweden in summer, it’s great. Then you come in and play. I became part of the family. That’s that record. It came out of that experience. He wrote a tune for me called Ballad for Tenor Sax, my first real solo. It was my first recording, outside of high school, doing little 78s with Impromptu Quartet. My first record. Re-released – the guy just released it on CD. The daughter’s in touch with me. He died. He became something crazy. I don’t know what happened to him. He became a nut. I don’t know. Something happened to this guy. He was a Bud Powell kind of – he was a bebopper who went free, as a lot of those Scandinavian – that thing up there. It’s different, as I learned.

Mats Werner has worked hard to preserve the legacy of his brother Lasse, who passed in 1992. After meeting Mats at the Glenn Miller, I scribbled my email address on a napkin. A week later, Mats mailed me a copy of Och Hans Vönner—I’ve been a fan of Lasse ever since. Last February, Mats shared with me another recording of Lassea live, bootleg recording with the great trumpeter Don Ellis, forgotten for over 20 years while buried in Sweden’s national jazz archive. Someone apparently filed it incorrectly.


Poster for the film Lyckliga Skitar, featuring…

Lasse also appeared on the big screen. The sauna photo above is in fact a still from the 1970 indie film Lyckliga Skitar (in English, called Blushing Charlie), directed by Vilgot Sjöman, starring Bernt Lundqvist & Solveig Ternström. Lasse Werner: in the flesh—an event I hope Mats includes in his forthcoming biography about Lasse Werner (perhaps a testament to a relationship… not everyone with a brother would be so kind to write his biography).

Lasse Werner

Lasse Werner’s record Därför dricker jagThat’s why I drink!

And the dots keep connecting. Notice the record label of Lasse Werner’s That’s Why I Drink (on the record itself). While in Stockholm, I met  the founder of Dragon Records, Lars Westin, a music journalist and editor of Orkester Journalen, a music encyclopedia, and a true authority on Swedish jazz. With Dragon Records, Westin produced several hundred  jazz recordsa few with Dave Liebman, countless by Swedish greats like Lasse Werner, an eight CD series of the great Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, and a four CD set of Miles Davis touring Europe from 1960-1961 (alternating John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt). Dragon Records even gifted the world with the “Thong Song.” That’s right, Sisqo, a Dragon.

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Jazz in the Dungeon…Moving Along

Seattle-Stockholm Connection @ Musik Velvet in Gamla Stan

I write amidst late night packing. I fly to Mumbai, India tomorrow afternoon and of course saved the best part of moving for last. Luckily, my man Gian (guitar, above) filled me full of empanadas in celebration of the Chilean Independence Day. A little caffeine and more than enough fuel to last the night.

Gian and I organized a memorable gig at Musik Velvet in Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) last Wednesday. The gig marked my only formal concert in Sweden. I was delighted to read a review by a recent acquaintance and articulate critic, Steven Cooper, a young American singer who will spend the next three months in Sweden wood-shedding and integrating into the music scene. Read the review at his blog: Stockholm Steve. And check his stuff out too!

While the concert yielded no good recordings, I did create a new bandcamp album entitled Eclectic (Vol. One?). As the title suggests, it is a compilation of my more original work and compositions while soaking up music from diverse sources. To listen click Eclectic or find the “Bandcamp” link above.

Check out the Sibelius set up!

I’m presently working up a thoughtful account of the jazz scene in Stockholm. I’m hoping the South African Association of Jazz Education (SAJE) will include it in their next newsletter. The ball is rolling forward. Mumbai is likely to be a polar opposite of Stockholm. Lately, I’ve been enjoying every last minute of tranquility Sweden offers. Ah, I’m gonna go pack more…

Stockholm archipelago


 – Never find yourself

anchored in the safe harbor

that is what you know –

Something for Everyone (I Hope)

Interfoam, live at Fasching

My time in Stockholm, and Europe, is nearing an end. Soon enough I’ll find myself in Mumbai, India. Until then, I keep doing what I do: listening, recording, performing, and sharing. A second, higher level jazz competition was hosted by Fasching this weekend, featuring one band from each Scandinavian country. The evening was wildly entertaining. Each jazz group presented their own, distinct sound, compositions and orchestrations. And the winner is…Norway! Ironically, I wasn’t able to record them. But to hear Norwegian jazz, click here. Below are recordings representing Sweden, Denmark, Finland and…the Faroe Islands. (I missed Iceland’s set as well).


Johan Christoffersson leads his trio

The Johan Christoffersson Trio (feat. Petter Olofsson on bass and Konrad Agnas on drums) represents Sweden. This tune, entitled “Playground,” is (in the words of a Swedish friend) so very much Swedish jazz today.

The Danish “Young Jazz 2011” winners, Interfoam, thread a multiplicity of genres together…jazz, punk rock, folk, funk and much more. You’ll notice the group is not lacking in energy and volume.

Mopo of Finland

Mopo (“a moped”), a jazz trio of Finish contenders, blends an afro-funk, folky-Finish jazz cocktail. The ship is steered by the big, heavy sound of Linda Fredriksson on baritone sax.

And the smallest country? No, not Iceland. Bendar Spónir carried the banner for the Faroe Islands, a self governing province of Denmark. They channel a Medeski, Martin & Wood type sound, but with their own vibe.

Young jazz groups became another interest of mine. First, as you can hear, the quality of music is still superb. Second, it gauges the development of jazz, or how it’s taught and pushed forward (read more here). For those wanting a big band fix, dig on the Norbotten Big Band featuring Aili Ikonen on vocals. Quite modern! Written and directed by 26-year-old Finish composer Med Outi Tarkiainen. Straight up Nordic big band writing…though this specific track is less than melancholy.

I hope you enjoyed at least one of these sound bites. If not, the concession prize is a photo of the world’s most popular sport.

Djurgården (blue) wins 4-3 at Stadion in Stockholm

Svensk Jazz Final

Fasching Jazz Club hosted the annual Svensk Jazz Final, a competition for aspiring jazz musicians under 20 years of age. Though style ranged from jazz to funk to rock, it was impressive to hear originality, mature improvising and great composing from many of the young groups. And of course awesome to see the camaraderie and support throughout. Awards for best soloist, composer and jazz group are handed out at the end. The energy in the room was nostalgic of the apprehension and excitement at the Essentially Ellington Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Before thee awards, the winning group from the past year performed. Recordings posted below. The bass clarinet has really grown on me since arriving in Sweden…

The Svensk Jazz Final brought clarity to a side of jazz unique to Sweden: education is conceived of differently than it is in the States. In Sweden, young players are pushed to find their own original sound and style more so than to master the jazz tradition and build up chops. The result is heard above: a very young jazz group that has just entered college who play their own music with their own adventurous sound. In comparison, young jazz players in the U.S. have monster chops and can destroy comprehensive bebop changes while using advanced substitutions and theory. Obviously, there are exceptions on both sides, but it presents an interesting question: Which educational approach is better? More emphasis on originality, or tradition? I know what Wynton Marsalis would say (haha). I’ll only say this: coming from jazz programs geared towards tradition and chops in the U.S., I was excited to hear young players doing their own thing rather than play “All The Things You Are” or Blues-in-Whichever-Key.

The illuminated “T” is my North Star in Stockholm.


In Oslo, all I did was eat, sleep and jazz. The story differed in the rest of my brief furlough. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival in early July is renowned…meanwhile I was still in Seattle. My visit to Copenhagen coincided with a late August lull. All the clubs start up in September. The Jazz House, which would have had jazz every night of my visit, was flooded by a recent rainstorm. So it goes. Still, I can say I played jazz in Copenhagen. I jammed twice at the Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium with new friends. Great success as Borat would say. No recordings came from those sessions, but here is an old jam from Stockholm where we played the nice standard “Alone Together” (one that was also played in Copenhagen).

Biking in Copenhagen, visiting Kristiania, throwing disc, and seeing the documentary Steam of Life are also highlights. I then visited Malmö and had my own sauna experience at “Sauna by the Sea” (above): a café and spa jutting out into the Baltic sea. Diving into the North Sea then hopping back into the Sauna was euphoric to say the least. My purpose in Malmö was to hear jazz and experience culture at the huge outdoor (and free) Malmöfestivalen. The jazz wasn’t happening there. Nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing authentic or Nordic. Highlights were a Turkish band with a trumpeter improvising with Eastern scales and technique, a horn funk band from Berlin, and the American rap group Cunning Lynguists (which featured too much of Asher Roth). With little jazz to hear or play, I took my frustration out by playing on a street corner for the first time in my life. Tough gig. The best outcome from that was a Frenchman informing me about hurricane Irene.

I wrapped up my trip with a quick stop in Falköping, where I was graciously hosted by the relatives of a college buddy (Jake Graffe). The Petterssons were keen to keep my plate and glass full at all times…I’m now ready for hibernation. Falköping is in an ideal area for glider flying. Weather did not permit. But the Petterssons were ever so generous and sent me up in a two person plane for a quick flying lesson!

Well, that’s all folks. Three weeks in Sweden then I move on to India. I recently decided I’ll no longer look at the weather forecast. I never liked the weather man. He tries to plan your day for you. It’s my day, I’ll do what I want, and if I get wet, so be it. They say adventure is when the unexpected happens. Perhaps non-adventure is when the expected doesn’t happen, &%$@! weather man.


“There is no bad weather only bad clothing.”

— Swedish adage —


Hoorah for busking!

A Furlough, Part 1: Jazz in Oslo


I took a train to Oslo to catch the final three days of the Oslo Jazz Festival–a highlight for sure! First was Mathias Eick (above), a Norwegian trumpeter pushing a definite Nordic aesthetic: strong, sparse melodic improvising and a free feel. At the same time, the music is quite heavy, weighed with two drummers and a very emotional sound. It was funny to see some Norwegians dancing like it was club music. Check out a live recording of Mathias Eick:

Irony is a funny thing. I recently had to eat my own words. I wrote into my fellowship application that my travel itinerary was tailored to the seasons of each country. Good weather, good vibes, good music. Musicians don’t want to play in the rain. People hate listening to music in the rain. Right? Well…not exactly. Stockholm sleeps in the summertime. People travel away. A big reason for my side trip was the lack of jams in Stockholm in August. The twist was that Saturday, Aug. 20th was a very rainy day in Oslo. No matter! The rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the New Orleans street parade down main street for over an hour:

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And still more, and more great performances. The Brian Blade Fellowship (above left) exceeded high expectations. The group presented new and old music, all of it superb! What I’d give for a composition lesson from Jon Cowherd, the group’s pianist and writer.  I missed the Trygve Seim Ensemble, a definite Nordic jazz group. But I did hear Trygve Seim, cool hat and all, perform with the Norwegian group “The Trio” (above middle). And of course, the jam sessions, which lasted each night until 3 AM (above right). Dig on a live sample from the Brian Blade Fellowship (discretely):

The Oslo Jazz Festival was pricey, just like Norway itself. I happened upon two free tickets, then bought two for myself. Combined with a few free shows, I stayed busy enough. A couple random highlights. Norwegians love to drink on party boats in the harbor. Wait, how does the anthem for partying on boats go again? To hear two different party boats packed full of people blasting “I’m On A Boat” simultaneously from the hillside above the harbor was…well…inspiring? Also crazy was “The Magic Hour.” No, not Wynton Marsalis’ Blue Note album, but the hour between 3 and 4 AM in Oslo, where the streets are overtaken by the people! And by that, I mean all bars close at 3 AM…you can fill in the rest.

I’m not a huge art buff, but the Vigeland Sculpture Park was something else. Beautiful in itself, the works of Gustav Vigeland depicting the stages of human life are inspiring. In the distance we see the ever impressive Monolith, depicting man’s desire to ascend to the sky as life ends by physically stacking them up on each other. Check out my Flickr site for more photos!

Finally, I’ll try to address the recent event in Oslo, though the above picture I think says it best. Presented by a local Norwegian artist in the heart of Oslo, the statement is a dose of wisdom that so many other countries could benefit from. I don’t live in Oslo. I don’t know it like I’ve come to know Stockholm. I won’t try to speak for it. But I experienced Oslo ever briefly through the lens of jazz. The spirit, energy and love I saw and heard at the Oslo Jazz Festival is my only witness to how the town fares.


“A man must bear all that life gives him

with a courageous heart and a smile on his lips,

else he is no man.”

— Selma Lagerlöf —


A quick random post here. I’m leaving in a couple hours for a week long side trip to Oslo, Copenhagen and Malmö–the purpose is to broaden the horizon and log in some serious hours at jam sessions (oh, and hear great music, like the Brian Blade Fellowship). A lot has happened in the last couple of days. I’ve played great music with great musicians here in Stockholm, both at Drop Coffee on Sunday with Kaspar Agnas (guitar) and Björn Lindberg (bass) and countless others at the Lilla Hotelbarren jam sesh on Tuesday. Things are starting to come to fruition…

A piece I wrote last week, “Last Chance,” performed at Drop Coffee. I need to buy USB piano so I can start really writing, harmony is all guess and check (and this recording was the check).

The Stockholm Kulturfestival is going strong. Weird pink aliens, great buskers, crazy talk hosts, girls with way too much make up on, oh yah, and great music! Above is a photo from tonight of listeners entranced by Nils Berg’s experimental group Cinemascope, which features talented Youtube performers on a projected screen with a jazz trio. Great fusion with lots of unique instruments and music from all over the world. The closed with the following track, which actually features a local Stockholm busker. The computer is staying in Stockholm, so the blog will be quiet for the next week or so. Hang tight!



Life comes down to chance encounters.

But as we gain momentum towards one end, the bumps along the road of life don’t bump as hard;

They don’t alter our direction as drastically, our trajectory becomes more and more set, or determined, though not absolute.

This momentum, life’s momentum, causes once chance encounters to become more and more likely…

Almost inevitable.

Thus, two people collide as if by fate.

In reality, the chances are simply good: two trajectories aiming in similar directions, bound to bump into one another.

Of course, no matter the momentum, sudden events occasionally like to change everything!



Gittin’ Folky With It…

The Vasa Warship, a work of art built in 1628, salvaged in 1961 form the depths of the Stockholm harbor. I post it hear simply because this might be the oldest thing I’ve photographed since being in Stockholm.

An easy way to create a new jazz vernacular is to rearrange indigenous folk music with the jazz harmonic language. A clear example is Jan Johansson’s Jazz På Svenska (Jazz in Swedish). I had the pleasure of hearing trumpeter Bengt Ernyds perform a jazz arrangement of a 13th century medieval folk song this past Saturday night at the Glenn Miller Café. Check it out!

I’m still discovering what exactly Swedish jazz is; what Nordic jazz is. I know what it isn’t more than anything. My search is refined now, I’m selective in the groups I record. I’d rather not post omni-bookers, musicians playing only traditional imitations of jazz. Of course, I still love to play and hear standards. Jazz is jazz. Good music is good music. But my search now targets the pleasant subtleties of the jazz here. It’s free nature, spacey vibe, use of new sounds, and fusion with electronic.

I recently wrote a creative short piece, if you haven’t seen it yet, dig on it: Where do you go when you space out?

For kicks… a small glimpse of the 24/7 nightlife in Östermalmstorg, the neighborhood I stroll through on my way to the Glenn Miller Cafe.

“Courage is crucial… I can’t conceive of a great musician who has not explored the highest levels of courageous engagement in their craft… That’s what greatness is; it’s a courage to go to the edge of life’s abyss, to step out on nothing and still think you’re going to land on something.”

— Cornel West —

A creative short about jazz, spacing out, and a source of creativity. Read “Where do you go when you space out?”

Or, simply scroll down to the bottom, find the “Pages” archive and follow the link.

This guy is spacing out! Like Monk? Like Nica? Like a great story? Check out the short documentary my man Gian passed along to me: The Jazz Baroness


Two very original modern jazz groups camped at the Glenn Miller Café in central Stockholm this past week. Above is the piano trio and experimental jazz group Lekverk: Adam Forkelid (keyboard), Putte Johander (bass), Jon Fält (drums). Their music ranges from free jazz, to a capella singing (none of them are singers), to blowing air through glass bottles, to melodic jams. It was all wildly entertaining! The encore is huge in Sweden-applause quickly transforms into synchronized, rhythmic clapping. Funny story: Lekverk persuaded the audience to switch roles with them for an encore. Instead of the musicians leaving the stage momentarily, the entire audience exited the jazz club only to reenter while Lekverk clapped for them. They then rocked the house. Dig on the 6/4 jam Lekverk played in the final set:

The drummer in Lekverk also mans the set in yet another experimental group, The Stoner, playing original music by front man Nils Berg, who plays flute, tenor sax and a very tasty bass clarinet. Not as jam oriented, the music is distinct in character, playful, and wacky. The sound clip below sounds more like a sassy show tune than a jazz cut–but hey, it works.

I somehow got the Royal Conservatory and Royal Institute of Technology mixed up. Whoops! The result was sitting in on a “jazz band” rehearsal that made my ears bleed…at least I got some beer out of it. Tonight I’m jamming on standards with young players at a restaurant/bar in town. Look out for Sunday, I’ll post up original jazz I’ll be playing with a trio I organized. Up next: Kulturfestival in Stockholm, Oslo Jazz Festival in a week, then Copenhagen.

A mural in a subway station art exhibition: