Bengt Hallberg RIP

Bengt Hallberg, honored as one of the finest pianists in modern jazz, died today in Uppsala, Sweden, ofBengt Hallberg at Microphone congestive heart failure. He was 80 years old. Hallberg’s keyboard touch and harmonic inventiveness came to the attention of musicians and listeners outside his native Sweden on Stan Getz’s 1951 recording of the traditional song “Ack Värmeland du sköna,” released in the US as “Dear Old Stockholm.” He made a further impression internationally with his playing on Quincy Jones arrangements for Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and a group of Swedish all-stars in a 1953 recording. Hearing a tune from that album in a 1955 Leonard Feather Blindfold Test when Hallberg was still little known, Miles Davis said:

The piano player gasses me – I don’t know his name. I’ve been trying to find out his name. He’s from Sweden. . . . I think he made those records with Stan, like “Dear Old Stockholm.” I never heard anybody play in a high register like that. So clean, and he swings and plays his own things…”

Jan Lundgren, inspired by Hallberg and considered by many his successor as Sweden’s leading jazz artist, said today:

“Hearing his Hallberg’s Surprise record when I was a young teenager made such a deep impression on me. He is one of the reasons I play jazz. His playing, at his best, was in a class matched by few others. Bengt Hallberg was the most humble man you’re likely to ever meet with a talent unsurpassed. Teddy Wilson is said to have stated that there were two musicians in Europe on a level with the very best Americans—Django Reinhardt and Bengt Hallberg.”


Hallberg and Lundgren appeared together in a two-piano concert at last year’s Ystad Jazz Festival in southern Sweden. For a Rifftides review of that concert, go here.

Through the 1950s and ‘60s, Hallberg was closely associated with Arne Domnérus, Lars Gullin and other leading Swedish musicians. Formed in the 1980s, Trio Con Tromba‘s recordings with Hallberg, trumpeter Jan Allan and bassist Georg Riedel remain popular. Hallberg composed extensively, writing for jazz groups as well as string quartets and ballet companies. He remained active in music until shortly before his death. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Here is Hallberg with Stan Getz in the recording that established the pianist as a major soloist when he was 19 years old.

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  1. Dave Berk says

    Doug —– one of the first 10″ LPs I purchased was “New Sounds From Sweden” on Prestige/New Jazz at Glen Wallich’s Music City. It featured such masters as Lars Gullin, Gosta Thesolious, Putte Wickman, Arne Domnerus and Bengt Hallberg. From then on I was hooked and wore out the vinyl, along with a 10″ Blue Note titled “New Sounds From The Old World.” The generic name for such groups was “The Swingin’ Swedes.”

  2. mel says

    I have two of Bent Hallberg’s LPs – The Bengt Hallberg Trio and Kiddin’ On The Keys – if I’m not mistaken, both were recorded in 1957.

    A very fine pianist indeed.


  3. Bruce Armstrong says

    A sad day indeed for those of us who had discovered the great Bengt Hallberg through that classic Royal Roost LP. The playing of both Hallberg and Getz on “Dear Old Stockholm” could not be more lyrical–and it is so refreshing to hear the head played without the “vamp” that Miles made almost mandatory for generations of players to come. As great as Hallberg was on all the tracks he appeared on, what stopped me in my tracks on my initial hearing well over 50 years ago was his rubato playing on the first 16 bars of “Prelude To A Kiss” before Getz entered on the bridge. Their version of that great ballad is an album highlight. I replayed it again before writing this email to confirm that it stands the test of time. It does.

  4. Terence Smith says

    It seems to me that Stan Getz collaborations sparked TWO international Jazz/world music fusion phenomena.

    The Getz/Hallberg 1951 moment is just as beautiful as the Getz/Byrd 1961 moment, even if the Swedish jazz phenomenon was not as commercially explosive as the Bossa Nova Samba.

    Bengt Hallberg is such a beautiful original. His music will be forever beloved.