The only way a town of 18,000 can bring off a four-day music festival is to involve the community. In Ystad, a summer beach haven in the south of Sweden, a staff or nearly one hundred volunteers and a corps of financial supporters work together for months to create Sweden’s only major jazz festival. From the women who prepare food and the retired executives who chauffeur visiting musicians to festival president Thomas Lantz and artistic director Jan Lundgren, the people of the region contribute their skills and money to make the three-year-old festival a success. Like the others, Lantz and Lundgren operate a thoroughly professional event without receiving a single krona in return. Lundgren appears in his more customary role later in the week with Bengt Hallberg in a two-piano concert by the Swedish piano giants.
Last night on the eve of the festival’s opening the volunteers and supporters gathered at Ystad’s magnificent 19th century theatre to mingle over hors d’oeuvres and wine and hear a mini-concert by a unique Swedish singer who lives in neaby Malmö. The theatre, rebuilt in 1894 to replace one that burned, has stage machinery especially designed to allow authentic production of plays from the 1700s. That equpiment was not needed to present Miriam Aida and her trio, who serenaded the Ystad volunteers and guests with adaptations of traditional Swedish folk songs in the samba style of the Brazilian music of which Aida is a master. She, guitarist Mats Andersson and percussionist Ola Bothzén launched the festival with a half-dozen songs that captivated their audience, including people like me who don’t understand more than ten words of the language. Familiar melodies and sensuous rhythms sufficed.
Following the concert, everyone trooped a couple blocks to St. Mary’s church to hear Swedish trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz sit in for the watchman who usually assures the people of Ystad that all is well, as his predecessors have done since 1748. Sounding his horn from all four sides of the church’s tower, Bergcrantz maintained the ancient instituion while embellishing with blue notes and hints of syncopation that acknowledged the festival and its new tradition. Tonight, Bergcrantz follows up with a concert in which his sidemen will include tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and drummer Victor Lewis. Whether they will incorporate the watchman’s customary licks remains to be heard.