At a jam session a couple of nights ago, someone called “Dear Old Stockholm.” I suggested that we play it in the unaltered form of the Swedish folk song that Stan Getz recorded in Stockholm 60 years ago.
The bass player said, “Huh?”
“It was a folk song?” said the pianist.
Many musicians and listeners are under the impression that Miles Davis wrote the song. There is also a general belief that it came equipped with the four bars that Davis inserted. The critic Bob Blumenthal has called that section “static chordal motion.” The modification may have been at Gil Evans’ suggestion when Davis recorded the piece for Blue Note in 1954. Think of the shimmering hanging chords in so many Evans orchestrations. Davis’ 1956 Columbia quintet version with John Coltrane also uses the annexed section.
I argued at the session that although the static motion (I love the self-contradiction in that term) makes for greater sophistication, it sullies the simplicity and purity that attracted Getz to the tune in the first place. So, we mentally erased the four static-motion bars in the fake book lead sheet and returned the song to its original state. I’m not sure that all of the jammers went away convinced they’ll play it that way from now on, but we had a good time with it.
Whoever put together the fake book gives writing credit to “Varmeland.” I suppose it is possible that there is a Swedish composer named Varmeland, but if there is he didn’t write “Dear Old Stockholm.” The AABA melody, with its distinctive four-bar bridge, is a beloved traditional song that goes back at least as far as the early 1800s. Its name is “Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna.” Värmeland, sometimes spelled Värmland, is a province in southwest Sweden on the border with Norway. It is noted for its beauty (see the picture). Here are three versions of the song, first in its unadulterated form by the imposing singer and actress Zarah Leander (1907-1981) in a 1965 television program.
Stan Getz recorded the song for the Swedish label Metronome during his 1951 tour of Scandinavia. His rhythm section was pianist Bengt Hallberg, who created an exquisite solo; bassist Gunnar Johnson; and drummer Jack Noren. When Roost issued the record in the US, Getz renamed it “Dear Old Stockholm.” That recording is hard to find, but the track is available as an MP3 download. Getz’s treatment of the melody helped earn him the nickname “The Sound.” Getz is followed by Monica Zetterlund (1937-2005), with the brilliant accompanist Jimmy Jones on piano.
For one more interpretation among the many on record, here is the great Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling (1911-1960) in a video illustrated with scenes of Värmeland.
On the off chance that you don’t understand Swedish, here is a translation into English.
You crown jewel among Sweden’s provinces
And If ever I should reach the Promised Land
I would still return to my beloved Värmeland.
I know it’s something I shall never regret.
For there I want to live, there I want to die
If one day I take me a bride from Värmeland
I know it’s something I shall never regret
Glad att lyssna på dig (Happy listening to you)