Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Jazz World of Stefan Karlsson

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I  feel fortunate to hare been introduced to jazz for the first time at the early  age of six. The Glenn Miller story was showing on the television. and after that night, I was sold on jazz. Also, my father was a musician. He played the piano, vibraphone and accordion. To me, there was nothing greater than sitting on the basement stairs listening to him and his friends play jazz. He introduced me to the music of players like Karl Mines, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner. Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon and many other jazz greats. I fell asleep to records every night.

I would like to dedicate this album to my father who passed away last year. He was my first influence, and I owe everything to him. I also wanted to pay tribute to my home country. Sweden. The first track is a well-known traditional Swedish folk song. Miles Davis recorded his version of the same tune and called it 'Dear Old Stockholm." The second track, "All You Were To Vs." was written in memory of my father. The 3/4 feel is typical of many Swedish folk songs, which were close to my father's heart.

I have always felt the need to show my respect for the many great players who make up the history of jazz. I believe that to become a good player, one needs to be familiar with all styles in order to discover and develop your own voice.

I would like to thank Rufus Reid, Marvin "Smitty" Smith and Richie Perry for taking prtn in the making of this album and providing great inspiration. I would also like to thank David Thompson and Andy Bradley for all their time and efforts in helping to put this album together Finally. I want to recognize my family and all my friends for their support.”

-STEFAN KARLSSON, April 7, 1993

I didn’t know you were a Jazz guy. Someone in my family is related to the piano player on this CD. Give it a listen and see what you think of it.”

The speaker was a visiting underwriter who represented a risk-transfer facility based in London that our reinsurance brokerage did business with from time-to-time.

On this occasion, we were  sitting in my office in San Francisco when he spied an autographed picture of the “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet on the wall, which led to the assumption about my interest in Jazz and the handing over of the said relative’s disc.

The CD he gave me is entitled Stefan Karlsson: Below Zero and it was released in 1993 on Justice Records [JR 0703-2].

Later in the day, I popped it into my car CD player to check it out on the drive home.  Somehow, I had inadvertently advanced the disc to the sixth track, an original composition of Stefan’s entitled You’ll Never Believe It.

And I didn’t - believe it; I was blown away by it.

What maturity. What a sense of touch. What great time. And boy did he swing his backside off.

Enraptured by Stefan’s playing, I arrived home from downtown San Francisco [about a 20 minute drive] without remembering how I got there.

Suddenly, there I was, sitting in the driveway with the car running just grooving to Stefan along with the always dependable Rufus Reid on base and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums [Richard Perry also joins in on tenor for a few tunes].

It was one of those magic moments when a new Jazz musician’s work comes into your life and your ears instantly accept their music: “It speaks to you.”

Stefan’s playing evoked the piano styles of Kenny Barron, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, but he put these influences into an approach to piano that was as hard-driving as it was melodic. When he wants to, Stefan can really step on the accelerator and drive the time. His lines engage you without overwhelming you with technique. He knows how to “play pretty” which you can hear in his lovely way with ballads.

I think I must have listened to Stefan Karlsson: Below Zero on and off for the better part of two weeks.

But I’m sorry to say that there the matter ended as I put the disc away in my collection and somehow I just forgot about it.

Over the years, my CD collection has grown, and somewhere along the way, I had misfiled Stefan’s recording.

Upon rediscovering it – 20 years later! – I thought I’d use the miracle of an internet search to see what Stefan had been up to.

Was I in for a pleasant surprise as the Jazz World of Stefan Karlsson has been an active and productive one.

One always holds one's breath when checking on the career of a Jazz musician because there is usually more hassling and hustling than employment involved, especially over a 20-year period of time.

But I had forgotten that Jazz lives on in the Academy and that’s where I found Stefan who is a Professor in the Jazz Studies Division at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. He teaches Applied jazz piano, Jazz Piano Performance Fundamentals II, Rhythm Section Master Class, and supervises the jazz small groups and the Zebras while maintaining an active performance schedule.

The following comes from the University of North Texas [which I still think of fondly as “North Texas State”] and it is a glowing testimonial not only to Stephan’s academic achievements but also to his ability to continue to perform as a Jazz musician in a variety of settings including stints and recordings with such Jazz notables as bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Jimmy Cobb and trumpeter Marvin Stamm.

What was equally as enjoyable was discovering that Stefan had added a number of recordings with his own trio to his discography over the past 20 years, many of which I’m looking forward to adding to my collection.

Let’s see if I can keep from misfiling them this time.

At the end of this piece, you’ll find a video with Stefan, Rufus and “Smitty” playing “You’ll Never Believe It.

It sounds just as good today as it did when I first heard it in 1993.


“Stefan Karlsson was born and raised in Vastervik, Sweden. His father played the piano professionally and became the source of inspiration for Stefan's interest in piano and jazz. Stefan also started with church organ lessons at the age of 13 and studied organ into his college years.

After completing high school, he came to the United States on a scholarship to study at the University of North Texas. Stefan spent six years at UNT and became, for three years, a member of the "One O'clock Lab Band." While in the band, he toured nationally and internationally. Stefan graduated in 1991 with a Master's Degree in jazz studies.

After having resided in Denver, Colorado (1991-1994) and in Las Vegas, Nevada (1994-2002), fulfilling his duties as Coordinator of Jazz Studies at UNLV, Stefan is currently a faculty member in the University of North Texas’ jazz studies division. In addition, he has also been part of the Stanford Jazz Workshop since 1992 working as a clinician and performer.

Stefan has been a member of the Eddie Gomez Trio and Quartets since 1996. The trio has included drummers Jimmy Cobb, Billy Hart, Duduka Da Fonseca, Billy Drummond, Nasheet Waits, Ed Soph and flautist Jeremy Steig). He has extensively toured the globe with Gomez’s groups, and been part of six CD projects.
Stefan also stays very active leading his own projects. His discography includes sixty-eight recordings with eight as a leader. Stefan has had four record contracts- Justice Records, TNC/Cambria, Vartan Jazz, and currently with Bebyne Records in Barcelona, Spain. His solo piano recording, Smilin’ Eyes (Bebyne Records), has received much praise by critics both in Europe and the US.

Stefan’s extensive travel has taken him both as a performer and clinician to Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, Venezuela, and throughout the United States. He has also had the opportunity to share the stage and record with such jazz greats as: John Brown, Jesse Davis, Herb Ellis, Carl Fontana, Steve Gadd, Tim Hagans, Steve Houghton, Clay Jenkins, Marc Johnson, Red Mitchell, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, Chris Potter, Rufus Reid, Adonis Rose, Bob Sheppard, Marvin ‘Smitty” Smith, Ed Soph, Marvin Stamm, Harvie Swartz, Mark Walker, Tom Warrington, Jim White, Jiggs Wigham, Eliot Zigmund, and many others.

A sample of international performance venues are: Blue Note Jazz Clubs (Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukyoka-Japan), Cotton Club (Tokyo, Japan), New Morning Jazz Club (Paris, France), Fasching Jazz Club (Stockholm, Sweden), Club Jamboree (Barcelona, Spain), Vierzen Jazz Festival (Vierzen, Germany), Terzo Festival Internazionale Isola (Elba, Italy), Dizzy’s Jazz Club (Rotterdam, Holland), Festival des Rencontres (Capbreton, France), Body and Soul Jazz Club (Tokyo, Japan), Star Eyes Jazz Club (Nagoya, Japan), Muroran Jazz Festival (Muroran, Japan), Edinburg Festival (Edinburg, Scotland), Royal College of Music (Stockholm, Sweden), Conservatori-Liceu (Barcelona, Spain), University of Adelaide (Adelaide, Australia), and others.
Sample of additional clinic/concert appearances include: a ten-year association with Stanford University as performer and clinician (Palo Alto, California); Belmont University (Nashville, Tennessee); featured performer at the University of Northern Florida (Jacksonville, Florida); Washburn University (Washburn, Kansas); featured artist at Mesa State College (Mesa, Colorado); featured concerts at the International Association for Jazz Educators Conferences (Toronto, New Orleans, and Long Beach); featured with Eddie Gomez at the International Bass Society Conference (Indianapolis, Indiana); featured with Eddie Gomez Trio at The Bill Evans Festival (Hammond, Louisiana); International Midwest Conference (Chicago, Illinois); Telluride Jazz Festival (Colorado); Aspen Jazz Festival (Colorado); Houston Jazz Festival (Texas); Lake Tahoe Jazz Festival (Nevada); Nordik Museum (Seattle, Washington), to mention a few.

In addition, Stefan has also performed as an accompanist for vocalists Patti Austin with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Morton Myerson Symphony Hall,) and with Monica Mancini with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (Bass Symphony Hall.)

CD reviews/remarks can be found in recognized jazz sources such as: Jazz Times, Downbeat, Jazz Journal International, Jazz Improv, Swing Journal (Japan), CD Journal (Japan), Gavin Jazz, Cadence, International Association for Jazz Education Journal,International Bass Society’s Journal, Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star, Los Angeles Reader,,,, and others.

(As Leader)

• "Smilin' Eyes" (Bebyne Records, 2011)
• “Music is Forever” (TNC Jazz, 2005)
• “No Place To Go But Up” (TNC Jazz, 2000)
• “Music Box” (TNC Jazz, 1998)
• “Live at Vartan Jazz” (Vartan Jazz Records, 1997)
• “Below Zero” (Justice Records, 1994)
• “The Road Not Taken” (Justice Records, 1992) (#1 on two national jazz radio charts in 1992- GAVIN & R&R)
• “Room 292” (Justice Records, 1991)

(With the Eddie Gomez Trio & Quartet- Featuring Jimmy Cobb, Nasheet Waits, and Jeremy Steig)
• “
Palermo” (JazzEyes, 2006)
• “Eddie Gomez Trio-Live in
Japan” (Mezgo Music, 2001)
• “What’s New at Studio F” (Mezgo Music, 2001)
• “Uptown Music” (King Records, 1998)
• “Dedication” (King Records, 1997)

(With the One O’clock Lab Band- University of North Texas)
• “Lab '90”
• “Lab '89”
• “Lab '86”
• “Live in
Australia” (1986)
• “With Respect to Stan Kenton” (1986)

(As sideman)
• “ Bi-Coastal Collective- chapter one “- OA2 Records, Paul Tynan and Aaron Lington, San Jose, CA, February 2009
• “Passing Thoughts”-
PIC Records, Pete Brewer, Dallas, TX, September 2009
• “ Out Of The New “- Steve Wiest, Arabesque Records, Dallas TX, January 2008
• “Tuesday’s Blues”-Idit Schneer, OA2 Records, Denton, TX, May 2008
• “Think Tank”-Will Campbell, Charlotte, NC, August 2008
• “Moving On and Upward”- Sebastian Whittaker, Upfront Music Records, Houston, TX, fall 2008
• “The Jazz Trombone” - Carl Fontana/Al Hermann, Sea Breeze Records, 2004
• Recorded with the Norrbotten Big Band (for the Swedish Radio archives), Lulea, Sweden February 2004
DVD recording (for a newly written instructional text by, Ed Soph, at the University of North Texas, August 2003
• “The Manne We Love” -
UNT alumni quintet with the Two O’clock Lab Band, TNC Jazz, 2001
• “Elegance” (Marvin Stamm, TNC Jazz, 2001)
• “First Morning” (Wayne de Silva, TNC Jazz, 2001)
• “Blue Moods” (Antoine Silverman, Hillsboro Jazz, 2000)
• “ Keepin’ Up With The Boneses” (Carl Fontana/Jiggs Whigham, TNC Jazz, 2000)
• “Deep Summer Music” featuring Chris Potter (Jim Ferguson,“A” Records, 2000)
• “True Colors” (Evgeny Shapiro, TNC Jazz, 2000)
• “ Cosmic Soul” (Phil Wigfall, Phi54, 2000)
• “Jazz at Six” (UNLV Jazz Studies Faculty, TNC Jazz, 2000)
• “You Are Not Alone” (Ce Ce Gable, Brava Productions, 2000)
• “ Monkey” (UNLV Wind Ensemble, Mark Records, 1999)
• “Simple Complications” (Rocky Winslow, TNC Jazz, 1999)
• “A Tree In Your Ear” (Stephen Caplan, Musicians Records1999)
• “Meu Jazz Brasiliero tem um Poquinho de Blues” (Pablo Dourge, 1999)
• “ Nice and Easy” (Carl Fontana & Jiggs Whigham, TNC Jazz 1998)
• “ Voyage From the Past” (Walter Blanton, TNC Jazz, 1998)
• “ It Takes A Village” (UNLV Wind Ensemble, Mark Custom Records, 1998)
• “ Coloring Outside the Lines” (UNLV Jazz Ensemble I, TNC Jazz, 1998)
• “North Texas Fifty Years” (University of North Texas Press, 1997)
• “The Body of a House” (Walt Blanton, TNC Jazz, 1997)
• “A Cosmic Odyssey” (Tony Smith, T.S Production Group, 1997)
• “Tranquility” (Bob Badgely, Seaside/Cats Paw Records, 1996)
• “Justice Music Samplers” (Justice Records, 1996 and 1997)
• “Down-Home” (Herb Ellis, Justice Records, 1996)
• “Fred Wayne Orchestra” (Fred Wayne, 1996)
• “The Valley of the Kings” (Sebastian Whittaker, Justice Records, 1995)
• “Released” (David Rice, Justice Records, 1994)
• “Because I love You” (Rich Chiaraluce, 1994)
• “Searching for the Truth” (Sebastian Whittaker, Justice Records, 1991)
• “First Outing” (Sebastian Whittaker, Justice Records, 1990)
• “Straight Ahead” (Pete Peterson, Chase Music Group, 1988)
• “Life is A Take” (Red Mitchell/Rich Matteson, Four Leaf Clover Records, 1987)
• “Serendipity” (Scott Whitfield, 1986)”

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