Ystad: idyllic coastal town in Sweden, home to the “Wallander” TV series and enclave of superb jazz. Since 2010, the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival has been presenting top international stars and outstanding music projects, in a program compiled with unerring good taste by the Artistic Director, pianist Jan Lundgren.
On 30 July 2015, he himself took to the festival stage together with bassist Mattias Svensson and the Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet to pay tribute to one of the founding fathers of Swedish jazz music: pianist Jan Johansson (1931 - 1968). Alongside the recently deceased Bengt-Arne Wallin, Johansson set the direction for Swedish - yes even Scandinavian - jazz and how it is perceived in the rest of the world, with his recourse to the indigenous folk music. His duet recording from 1963 (with bassist Georg Riedel) “Jazz på svenska” was to become a timeless guiding light for this kind of Nordic improvisatory music.
Jan Lundgren is also rooted in the Johansson tradition: Nordic Vemod and impressionist spirit embedded in the American jazz piano tradition combine to make his personal style. He too has already worked through the Swedish folk music genre. With “Swedish Standards” Lundgren landed a surprise hit in 1997.
At “The Ystad Concert”, Lundgren once again shows himself to be a worthy successor of Jan Johansson, who breathes new and unfamiliar life into folk music classics. This music had never before been heard played this way by a string quartet.
Georg Riedel about the album:
I have played together with many fine jazz musicians during my long music career. One of those who has meant most for me is Jan Johansson. When we were recording “Jazz på svenska” in the 60’s I didn’t understand that this was a stroke of genius on Jan’s part. Was it even jazz music? There were no drums and no traditional “swing”. But Jan Johansson was far ahead of his time. He created a Scandinavian sound in his jazz music.
In the 60’s many “experts” were critical to this project. Was there even any point to releasing a record? The audience thought differently. It became Sweden’s bestselling jazz record of all time.
Today the distinction between different music genres isn’t as clear as it was when I began to play in the 50’s and 60’s. The awe and respect for Jan Johansson is also no longer an obstacle for today’s musicians to preserve his legacy and approach Jan’s interpretations of Swedish folklore.
A very worthy representative of Swedish piano jazz is Jan Lundgren. He even dares to play the same notes as Jan Johansson, and still it sounds different. You immediately hear that it is Jan Lundgren and not Jan Johansson. That is how it was with Johansson as well. A few notes and you could hear who was playing.
The use of a string quartet is also entirely in the spirit of Jan Johansson. Crossing boundaries was natural to him. The Russian (“Jazz på ryska”) and Hungarian (“Jazz på Ungerska”) recordings aren’t as iconic as “Jazz på svenska”. This is why Jan Lundgren’s rendition becomes more independent of the original. A natural progressing in Jan Johansson’s spirit. It’s wonderful that this music has gained new life!
In his youth, Jan Lundgren was often seen as one of the greatest talents in tennis since Björn Borg. Thankfully, he has since changed allegiances.
Lundgren, born in Kristianstad in southern Sweden on March 22nd 1966, and raised in Ronneby, Blekinge, had his first piano lessons at age five. He was soon discovered to have an exceptional musical talent. After a long period of classical training, he discovered jazz more or less by chance in the late 1980’s. He was instantly hooked, rapidly absorbed the jazz piano tradition from Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner to Bud Powell and Bill Evans, and acquired a depth of knowledge of the Great American Songbook like possibly no other European jazz pianist.
While sailing through his studies at the renowned Royal College of Music in Malmö (where he was purportedly accepted on the condition that he occupies the piano chair in the legendary « Monday Night Big Band ») he also took up a busy schedule as a professional musician that quickly helped to build his reputation in Sweden. Discovered by Swedish bebop legend Arne Domnérus, he frequently played with other Swedish stars like Putte Wickman and Bernt Rosengren.
Lundgren’s debut album “Conclusion” was released in 1994, and propelled his career firmly forward. The following year saw the formation of the Jan Lundgren Trio with long time student associates Mattias Svensson (bass) and Rasmus Kihlberg (drums), who was replaced in the beginning of the year 2000 by the Dane Morten Lund. This steady band recorded seven well-received and commercially very successful albums for the Swedish label “Sittel” in the period up to 2003. The album “Swedish Standards”, released in 1997 even became a bestseller and reached a place in the Swedish pop charts. But the album “Landscapes” (2003) sold comparably and both releases soon became classics due to their linking Swedish folk music and jazz. The band’s intense tour schedule founds a temporary peak in a concert at Carnegie Hall as part of “Swedish Jazz salutes the USA”.
As a sideman, Lundgren has accompanied such greats as Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Herb Geller, James Moody, Pete Jolly or singer Stacey Kent. He has also shared the stage with ACT-artist Ulf Wakenius a number of times.
Jan Lundgren has been awarded a number of prizes since the early 90’s: In 1997 “Swedish Standards” became “best jazz album of the year”. He was nominated for the “Swedish Grammy” in 1995, 1997 and 2008 and the “Swedish Django d’Or Prize” in 1998, 2001 and 2002.
Having visited a long list of European territories and venues, Lundgren has also been on extended tours of Australia and Japan. He has visited the USA about 15 times and recorded some well-received albums for the label “Fresh Sound” (with, among others, pianist Lou Levy and trombonist Andy Martin).
In 2006 Lundgren becomes part of the ACT family: Initially he was featured as a sideman on the Ida Sand album Meet Me Around Midnight (ACT 9716-2). In July 2007 he released his first ACT album Fresu – Galliano – Lundgren: Mare Nostrum (ACT 9466-2), followed by Magnum Mysterium (ACT 9457-2), which will be released in November of 2007.
In 2008 Lundgren could reap the fruits of his labour, and his Mare Nostrum was performed in front of sold out houses on prestigious stages throughout Europe (Salle Gaveau – Paris, Tonhalle – Zurich, Victoria Hall – Geneva, Teatro Dante Aligheri – Ravenna, S. Caecilia – Rome …) as well as at Jazz Baltica, the North Sea Jazz Festival, and the Istanbul Jazz Festival. There are many good reasons why the band has been called “the first European super group”.
In the same year Lundgren was honoured with the Swedish Django d’Or, and began a collaboration with the classical trumpet player Hǻkan Hardenberger and the Swedish writer Jacques Werup – an exiting melange of modern classical and free music, of jazz and compositions of Jan Lundgren.
Lundgren also brought the Jan Lundgrun trio back to life in 2008, albeit with a new drummer, Zoltan Csörsz Jr. who proved to be a truly lucky catch for the trio. A new repertoire has resulted in the new ACT album European Standards (ACT 9482-2) which will be released in Mai 2009 together with the re-release of Swedish Standards (ACT 9022-2) from the ACT Jazz Classics series.
Jan Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson who passed away early, and in more recent times Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. Lundgren has never made life easy for himself, and has always tried to utilize his phenomenal technique to enhance his musicality. His ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole is unique in itself. Whether its contemporary classical music, the inexhaustible northern folk tradition or the pulsating groove of jazz, deeply rooted in Afro-American music: Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes utterly invigorating - through his highly individual soundscapes.