© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
West Coast Jazz or Jazz on the West Coast, the style of Jazz that existed primarily in California from about 1945 - 1965, and the majority of whose recordings were purported to be little more than “... bloodless museum pieces” by one Jazz critic, had an influence well beyond the confines of the Golden State during this same time period.
Most of the Jazz musicians in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway were influenced by it as were the Italians led by Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet and Gianni Basso on tenor saxophone and the French led by the tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen.
The cool wave of the bossa nova broke under the West Coast Jazz spell, too, with Jobim and Gilberto riding the crest of this music’s worldwide popularity in the 1950s and 1960s.
In Sweden, the cool school banner was initially carried by baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, which was somewhat appropriate in that one of the characteristic sounds of West Coast Jazz owed so much to the piano-less quartet led by baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker featured on trumpet.
Another distinguishing feature of Jazz West Coast was the dominant influence of Lester Young on the tenor saxophone sound of many of players such as Zoot Sims, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Richie Kamuca and, of course, Stan Getz.
When beginning research on some extended future blog postings about the Swedish “cool school of Jazz” in general and the music of Lars Gullin in particular, I came across the tenor saxophone playing of Harry Bäcklund [1936 - 1978] on some of Lars’ recordings and it completely knocked me out. So I decided to find out more about Harry Bäcklund.
Well, to use a current phrase - “Good luck with that.” There was almost nothing to research about Harry Bäcklund, at least, not that I could find in English.
I was able to locate this background information on www.orkesterjournalen.com:
"Harry Bäcklund was a brilliant musician who played in the style of Sonny Stitt and Stan Get and who is unjustly overlooked today" writes Gunnar Lindqvist in his book about the Golden Circle Gyllene Cirkeln. [Besides managing the Golden Circle Jazz Club in Stockholm for a number of years Lindqvist was also a tenor saxophone and flute player was responsible for the launch of the then EMI-owned hi-fi firm Bang & Olufsen and also produced many Jazz recordings featuring Swedish Jazz musicians including baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, trombonist Eje Thelin and vocalist Monica Zetterlund].
Harry Bäcklund was born in Mora where he began his musical career by playing with pianist Nils Lindberg, before serving in the military as a musician stationed Östersund and Falun. He began his professional career in 1950.
He settled shortly afterwards in Stockholm and played with several orchestras, including a longer time with Putte Wickman and again with Nils Lindberg. In the late 1950s, he also worked as a role of rock n' roll-saxophonist with various bands and artists.
After some time in Copenhagen, he returned to Stockholm and worked a lot with Lars Gullin, including in the quintet format on tours and at several gigs at the Golden Circle. In 1965 he received Swedish Jazz Clubs scholarship. During his last years he was not active as a musician as a consequence of a disease [which is unstated].”
The only other reference I could locate was in these insert notes that accompanied Lars Gullin: Alma Mater Featuring Harry Bäcklund [Anagram Records ANACD 10] by David Reid:
“When the Long Playing record Columbia SSX 1010 Portrait of my Pals was released in 1964 the accompanying press release written by -- described Lars Gullin's music as "a climate, an atmosphere that bids you to step inside to experience and absorb it. What you feel is the sound", it is hard to imagine any better description.
1964 was a vintage year for Lars Guilin, which he spent mainly in Stockholm, although he performed in concert all over Sweden. Recordings were limited to the classic Portrait of my Pals and the session from the Modern Museum partly released by Sonet and with two further tracks on Anagram CD 7, Rolf Billberg Altosupremo.
On the present CD all the tracks are from live concerts. One played at the Golden Circle in Stockholm but otherwise at gigs played at student gatherings, which explains the wonky piano, or the occasional bottle clink, if you listen hard enough, but then you might miss the genius of the music.
The range of Gullin's consummate skillful playing is demonstrated superbly, from his free and easy style, to the dark sensitive tones where you can almost feel the pain.
"I've seen" is pure drama and "What's New" contains a magic, rarely on display in the studio or for that matter from few musicians.
The presence of his alter ego Harry Bäcklund brings the perfect partnership together, interacting and coaxing before he takes off on his own flights of fancy. [Emphasis mine.]
The present CD was made very much as part of a set of three the Rolf Billberg already mentioned and Anagram CD 8 Harry Bäcklund "Rembering Harry". These soulmates where a phenomena of Swedish jazz which was under recorded but should never be forgotten. [Emphasis mine.]
- David Reid
Now if I could only find a copy of the obscure Anagram CD 8 "Harry Bäcklund Rembering Harry".
In the meantime, please enjoy a sampling of Harry Bäcklund’s marvelous tenor playing on the I Remember You cut from Lars Gullin: Alma Mater Featuring Harry Bäcklund which forms the soundtrack to the following video tribute to Swedish Jazz in the 1950s.