THE NORWAY OPTION
No, not another mind-numbingly boring argument for a way out of the Brexit disaster.
Rather, a brief and fond reflection on how visits to Norway in the 70s and 80s formed a significant and very enjoyable part of my musical experience.
It all started with my marriage in 1969 to Wivi-Ann, the daughter of Norwegian jazz writer Randi Hultin. Randi was much more than a critic – she was an enthusiastic supporter of all musicians and a tireless host to visiting American soloists. Her smallish house was always open. It provided rest, relaxation, food, drink and fun to the likes of Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Hampton Hawes, Stan Getz, Jaki Byard, Elvin Jones, Johnny Griffin, Art Taylor and countless others. Her diaries and photographs are now part of the Norwegian jazz archive and I recommend her fascinating autobiography “Born under the sign of jazz”.
My first trip to Oslo was in 1969 and I remember being roped in to play a concert with trumpeter Charles Tolliver. I’ve got a tape of it somewhere.
In 1970, Oslo was of course part of the Scandinavian tour which Mick Pyne, Ron Mathewson and I did with Stan Getz and in 1976 I came to the Kongsberg jazz festival with the John Taylor sextet but most of my trips were on my own account to play with local musicians.
Ron and I jammed with a young Jan Garbarek on the Getz visit and I got to know bassist Arild Andersen very well. We played a lot together with his own band of the time with Jon Balke on piano, Jon Eberson on guitar and sometimes Knut Risnaes or the Finnish Juanni Aaltonen on tenor.
Arild and I also appeared with Dexter Gordon at the Voss jazz festival in 1977.
In the 1980s, I explored remoter Norway on a shoestring budget with a band put together by trumpeter Torgrim Sollid. On one of these tours, Warne Marsh from the States joined us.
Back in Oslo, there were radio broadcasts and one particular live club date I fondly remember was with the incredible American blues singer and organist Charles Brown – a huge, genial figure in his resplendent smoking jacket.
In 1987, I was invited to record an album (“More than you know”) with a Scandinavian legend and icon, tenorist Bjarne Nerem.
Bjarne was a real veteran – the other day I came across a Roy Haynes 10”lp made in Paris in 1954 and Bjarne was on that!
He had spent a lot of his career in Sweden but eventually came home. Playing with him was an honour and a pleasure. And timely. He died four years later.
The Norwegian jazz community is very specal. Of course their musicians today are cutting edge and have been given welcome exposure on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label.
But I retain a fondness for the old guard, the ravers – Teddy (Tiedeman’s) untipped cigarettes (the Norwegian Woodbines), home distilled spirits and a feverish dedication to mainstream and early modern jazz. They had their own Lester Young society, of which I was an honorary member, and their own master discographer Jan Evensmo who was the first person ever to chronicle and describe every solo Lester played.
One Saturday afternoon, everybody trekked out to an open-air party thrown by a jazz-mad heir to an oil fortune. This gladlaks (Norwegian for “happy go lucky fellow”, literally “happy salmon”) provided enough booze to sink a battleship and happily cavorted around digging the music wearing a self-designed T-shirt with the Norwegian for Strong drink slowly kills you on the front and So who’s in a hurry? on the back.