The 2017 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival launched with a tribute to Monica Zetterlund (1937-2005). The singer’s legacy in her homeland seems to steadily expand, and the attendance reflected her continued presence in Sweden’s cultural life. The concert, “Monica Z—Forever and Ever,” attracted 1,500 listeners to the Ystad Arena. Recently opened, the imposing athletic and cultural center was funded by the taxpayers of this town of 29,000, which has a medieval history and a modern community spirit. We see the arena here in one of its more customary functions.
The concert brought together the veteran Swedish popular singers Svante Thuresson and Tommy Körberg, along with Hannah Svensson, one of a new generation of jazz artists influenced by Zetterlund. They were accompanied by a big band led by Carl Bagge, whose late father Lasse worked frequently with Zetterlund as her pianist. Jan Lundgren (pictured), the Ystad festival’s artistic director who helped found this festival, also appeared on piano.
Thuresson, now in his 80s, opened with “Skylark.” He projected phrasing, tonality, personality and musicianship rare in singers of any age. His performance of the song surrounded an alto saxophone solo by Hâkan Broström, who reinforced my impression from previous visits to Sweden that his lyricism, passion and inventiveness make him one of the most interesting alto players alive.
Tommy Körberg, another singer of a certain age who is enormously popular in Sweden, brought to the stage expansiveness and enthusiasm that in some songs had an esthetic more appropriate to a Las Vegas lounge than a jazz concert. Nonetheless, in Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” he created intimacy that was matched by Carl Bagge’s piano solo. Körberg’s final numbers of the evening were Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock,” presented with rock-era vigor, and “Here’s To Life,” the Artie Butler-Phyllis Mornay song given prominence by Shirley Horn. Carl Bagge’s arrangement incorporated the five members of the woodwind section playing flutes en masse. It was a resplendent effect.
Hannah Svensson sang “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” at a fast tempo that she mastered with no apparent effort. Her singing had swing, confidence and control of intonation that showed significant artistic growth in the years since I first heard her in Ystad. The Swedish harmonicist Filip Jers joined Ms. Svensson for a romp through Toots Thielemans’ “Bluesette.” With his customary sensitivity of keyboard touch and stimulating uses of chords Jan Lundgren gave solo piano versions of “Walking My Baby Back Home,” from the Nat Cole songbook, and a respectful treatment Bobby Timmons’s modern jazz classic “Dat Dere.” Ms. Svensson.
The popular actor, comedian and drummer Janne “Loffe” Carlsson came onstage as a surprise guest. He spoke amusingly and at length about his relationship with Monica Zetterlund. Carlsson was introduced as having been her husband, although there seems to be no documentary evidence to support that. Promising to be brief, he amused the audience by producing from his jacket a roll of paper. He made it seem that he intended to use it as notes for a speech. The notes turned out to be a scroll that was all but endless. It “accidentally” unrolled down to his shoe tops. He was not brief. He frequently reduced the audience to uproarious laughter with anecdotes and nonsense delivered with skilled timing that kept the crowd laughing.
Following intermission, Theresson returned in a slow version of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a 1925 popular song usually taken fast—often too fast. The lyric is so familiar that most of the older members of the audience could no doubt have sung along. Theresson made of “Sweet Georgia” a ballad laden with meaning.
As the four-hour concert neared its end, Hannah Svensson and Jan Lundgren collaborated on a traditional Swedish song, “Jag vet en dejlig rosa.” Filip Jers joined Lundgren on”Slängpolska (after Jacob Bruun).” Piano and harmonica blended in a collaboration that had the sadness of much traditional Swedish music while emphasizing the satisfactions of creative teamwork when a jazz performance goes well.
(All photos but the arena, Zetterlund and Carlsson by Markus Fägersten of the Ystad festival). Thanks to Markus for his usual fine work.