Oscar Pettiford and Jan Johansson ‘In Denmark 1959-1960’ CD/Vinyl (Stunt) 4/5

What we have here is one of the early examples of collaborative work between expat American musicians either passing through or resident in Scandinavia, and local musicians. In this instance, the various sessions contained within focus on a relatively short period between 1959 and 1960 when more generally modern jazz was undergoing a seismic change with seminal albums recorded by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus that came out in 1959. Bassist Oscar Pettiford features strongly and this is in a very real sense a tribute to him (he passed away in December 1960 while still resident in Copenhagen), but it is the pairing of him with the superlative Swedish pianist Jan Johansson that makes this outing such an enjoyable experience. In particular, when tenorist Stan Getz enters into the mix, the music reaches a higher level altogether. They cook up an absolute storm on Benny Golson’s, ‘I remember Clifford’.
It should be emphasized from the outset that the formations and line-ups differ markedly on this CD, comprising no less than six separate sessions, with both a quintet and sextet featuring Getz, a quartet that leaves out Getz but includes vibist Louis Vjolmand, and three brief, but truly excellent solo piano pieces of traditional Swedish folk tunes that are interpreted by Johansson. Originally, the majority of pieces on the CD were released on a very rare Scandinavian only vinyl album, but unreleased items have been added to make for a better value all round package for the listener. The excellent twenty-four page booklet includes fascinating period photos of the musicians at the time taken by Jan Persson.

The true revelation here is the pairing of Getz and Johansson which was a musical marriage made in heaven and little wonder, then, that the pianist became a regular accompanist for Getz whenever the tenorist visited Scandinavia. They are on top form on a Pettiford composition, ‘La Verne Walk’, and on the Coleman Hawkins piece, ‘Stuffy’. Three numbers were taken from a live concert that the duo performed at in Copenhagen at the Tivoli Gardens in 1959 whilst on a European wide tour. Other pieces were recorded at the then new Montmartre jazz club in Copenhagen.

The three Swedish folk tunes performed solo by Johansson are significant from a historical perspective because they are a precursor to what would become arguably one of the greatest jazz albums, if not the greatest of all Swedish jazz recordings, certainly of modern Swedish jazz, ‘Jazz På Svenska’ (‘Jazz in Swedish’), an album where a local Scandinavian folkloric repertoire was interpreted in a jazz idiom. This had a profound influence upon jazz musicians throughout Scandinavia, and quite possibly in a longer-term context upon the likes of Jan Garbarek and fellow ECM label mate and pianist, Bobo Stenson, to name but two. A fine and well recorded document of how American and Scandinavian jazz musicians could co-exist and thrive in each other’s presence.

Tim Stenhouse