Theater of Cruelty

Norwegian jazz records for 100 years


In a catalog from 1906 for Pathé's phonograph rolls, there is a well-known traditional jazz melody, "At a Georgia Camp Meeting", recorded by piccolo flutist Chr. Pettersen. The recording must probably have taken place in 1905 – this means that we have not only been able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of the union, but also of Norwegian jazz records.

Jazz and jazz. The music was hardly particularly "hot", but the ragtime syncope was well known in Norway. Nor was it a record, but a phonograph scroll. The recording is included in Johs Bergh's Norwegian jazz discography, with the subtitle 1905-1998, so we can well celebrate this precursor to Norwegian jazz.

Ragtime caught on quickly with Norwegian accordionists, and a number of relevant recordings were made in the years 1908-20, and now it was about 78 records, a total of 35 record pages. The term "jazz" did not come to Norway until 1919, and it should be another six years before the word appeared on a record label, "New bonnjazzen" with Original Oslo Jazzband. But it was very far from what we today call jazz.

The "Jazz" music from 1925 onwards was easily syncopated dance and entertainment music without improvisation, but with pieces of jazzy phrasing. First, purely instrumental, such as Ottar Akres's "Columbia Blues" (1928) and Kristian Hauger's "Norwegian Jazz Fantasy" (potpourri of Norwegian folk tunes, 1929), then as orchestral support for drummer singers.


It wasn't until 1938 that the first "real" jazz records came, that is, records that were meant as honest jazz rather than Schlagermusik. The quartet of Funny Boys (including the pianist Gunnar Sønstevold) went into Odeon's studio and made the 78 album "Tiger Rag / Cocktail". Thus, during a glamorous period for swing music, it loosened with, among others, Freddie Valier's String Swing (1938-39), Gunnar Sønstevolds Swing Four (1939), Oslo Swingklubbs Band (1940), the group String Swing (1940-41), Rowland Greenberg ( 1942), Frank Ottersen (1942-43) and the legendary Seven Monsters (1942-43). 1941 was a preliminary peak year in the production of Norwegian jazz records; 26 record pages are included in Johs Bergh's jazz discography, a record that was not beaten in 13 years.

By 1943, however, the war had turned for Germany, there were tight and painful times, with little room for jazz. In the liberty in 1945, they expected an avalanche of jazz records, but the recovery demanded theirs. There were several years of very laborious production of Norwegian jazz.

style Diversity

In 1949, the knowledge about bebop jazz had come to Norway, at the same time as a "revival" for traditional jazz arose. At the turn of the year 1949/50, Willy Andresen's quintet recorded four record pages with modern bebop, and the popular Big Chief Jazzband became the 50's most frequent guest in a record studio with as many as eight 78 records – a considerable amount according to the conditions of the time.

1954 was to be a new peak year for Norwegian jazz, with 38 record pages recorded, including the first Norwegian EP with fairly advanced jazz arranged by trombonist Arne Hermandsen. But the problem was that several of the 38 record pages did not come out! There was something called rock'n'roll, pop and a new teen market – and jazz lost in that competition. In 1959, a peak year for Norwegian jazz clubs, not a single jazz tone was recorded.

First Norwegian LP

Swedish jazz musicians had been on the LP market since 1956, and Norwegian musicians looked across the border with great envy. Seven years later, in 1963, the Norwegian Grammophone Company took the initiative of the first Norwegian jazz LP, an album with 11 bands under the title Metropolitan Jazz. The following year, the first LP came in the name of a single artist, Karin Krogs By Myself on Philips (1964).

After this cautious effort, 1967 came with the spring break in Norwegian jazz with a full five LPs, and we were again at the levels from 1941 and 1954.

This was not only due to the usual commercial record companies, but also to the fact that the organizations Norwegian Jazz Forum and Norwegian Jazz Association took the matter into their own hands and released Egil Cape Town Syner and Jan Garbareks To Vigdis.

Now it carried upwards both with the club environment and record production. With Jan Garbarek as band leader, ten LPs were made in the years 1967-73, among other things African Pepperbird, which in 1970 initiated the success of Norwegian contemporary musicians on German ECM Records. In 1974, Karin Krog released four full LPs, and that year the number of Norwegian jazz records jumped up to around 20 LPs a year.

Idealistic company

But this level should remain unchanged for 16 years. More idealistic forces would do something about it. In 1981, the Norwegian Jazz Association established its record label, Odin, and the free jazz fighter Frode Gjerstad in Stavanger, a brand of their own, Circulasione Totals. The following year, Jon Larsen started Hot Club Records, in 1984 Bjørn Petersen joined Gemini, in 1987 Karin Krog with Meantime and at the tamp of the 1980s the traditional jazz enthusiast Trygve Hernæs with Herman Records in Trondheim.

Since these idealistic enterprises came in addition to the established and commercial, it should probably have meant an increased production of Norwegian jazz. But the only result was that the big brands left the arena to the spirits, they now had to release jazz records and be able to cultivate their financial interests.

In 1985 came the first CD of Norwegian jazz (Jan Garbareks It's OK to Listen to the Gray Voice). This new medium was inexpensive to produce, and when most people had acquired CD players, production jumped in the weather, from 1990 with about 35 CDs a year, from 1997 over 50, and in 2001 about 100 ( !) CDs with Norwegian jazz.

There was a flora of small music-driven companies, including Karl Seglem's NOR-CD in 1990, Knut Værnes' Curling Legs in 1991, Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland in 1996, Terje Gewelts Resonant Music in 1998, Ivar Grydeland and Ingar Zachs Sofa in 2000, Jon Klettes Jazzaway and Petter Wettres Household Records, both in 2003.

In the last four years, 2001-2004, we have been on an annual production of about 60-100 jazz records a year. Some have asked if this is too many. Does everything recorded really deserve to be released? Those involved have long since found out that jazz is not something you make money from. But jazz is an "art of the moment". It gives grounds for sounding musical moments that can never be recorded. How else do we document a form of music where improvised is more important than written?

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