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Bengt Nordstr: 1936-2000
Bengt Nordstr
Saxophones, clarinet, composer

Born: July 13, 1936 in Stockholm, Sweden
Died: October 23, 2000 in Stockholm, Sweden

Swedish Maverick Loyal to Free Jazz

by Stefan Wijkstr
Copyright © 2002 Stefan Wijkstr


Bengt Nordström discovered jazz by chance, when he was 14 years old: "it took care of me, in a way that nothing else and nobody else had done before" he told Carl Etzler in an interview in 1985. Bengt listened to a huge amount of records for some years, then bought a clarinet in 1955, he told me in an interview at jazz club Fasching in Stockholm, in the 1980's. Gradually, he became more and more interested in newer musical currents.

In the late 1950's he was, like so many of us, hit by Ornette Coleman's music. I remember a meeting with Bengt in 1959 at a school dance in my old school in Stockholm. He enjoyed the old jazz music played by school bands, but this time he was also enormously enthusiastic about a different crowd of musicians: Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and others.

The kind of music those musicians were playing, had become a revolutionary experience for Bengt Nordström, and he had got himself a white plastic saxophone, just like Ornette Coleman's. When Coleman played at the Golden Circle in Stockholm in November 1965, Nordström was there at his feet every evening.

Now, knowing very little about the technique of reed instruments, and certainly little of the way of playing them, Nordström set out to find places where he could play his very special and personal variant of jazz music. He pushed his way forward onto the bandstands, without being invited, and started to play his music, which was opposite to every rule and every existing musical language.

He became sort of a menace to the established circle of jazz orchestras and jazz musicians of Stockholm. Many are the times that I myself have been sitting together with Bengt at the Golden Circle, Fasching or at Stampen (The Pawn Shop), he drumming his fingers on the saxophone case, waiting for an opportunity to invade the bandstand. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Most often though, Nordström was welcome on the bandstand as a kind of interval musician.

But, not everybody opposed him. Many American jazz musicians, coming to Stockholm and Gyllene Cirkeln (the Golden Circle) really liked what Nordström was doing, among them Don Cherry and Albert Ayler, the latter being as unestablished and opposed as Bengt Nordström himself those times. And once Bengt played a fine duet on plastic saxophone at the Golden Circle, with Keith Jarrett on soprano, something that the audience, including Dexter Gordon, appreciated very much.

Bengt, who had started to make private recordings, issued a live session in Stockholm with Albert Ayler in 1962. The two other musicians on that album, which was Ayler's first, were Torbjörn Hultcrantz on double bass and Sune Spångberg on drums, and it was issued on Bengt Nordström's label "Bird Notes", with the suitable, not to say appropriate name "Something different!!!!!!". Today this album is a rarity, which is very difficult to come by, but some of the tracks are available on two CD's, Sonet SNT CD 604 and DIW 349: I Remember April, Rollin's Tune, Tune Up, Free, Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Moanin', and Good Bait.

Sune Spångberg told me in an interview in January 2002, that this recording session was not planned that all. There was an anarchic dance party going on at the Art School at Skeppsholmen in the center of Stockholm, where Ayler, Spångberg and Hultcrantz were playing. Nordström had brought his simple recording equipment, and so Albert Ayler's first LP was recorded.

Playing together with such a radical musician as Ayler was a completely new experience for the two bop accompanists, and according to Spångberg, this recording session became a great inspiration to him, that influenced his future playing. Nordström also recorded Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins live in Stockholm for Bird Notes and issued a few of his own albums.

Bengt Nordström became more and more involved in "free" jazz in the 1970's, both American and European. Now his white plastic sax from the Sixties was not enough for him, so he started to perform on a variety of saxophones and clarinets, and in 1975 he started the group "Miljövårdsverket" (Environment Agency), where both well established jazz musicians and amateurs took part. About five recordings of Miljövårdsverket's music were released, and the album titles were typical of Bengt Nordström: The Shape of Music To Come, Spontaneous Oreenie, Sounds of Life, Spaces and Places, O-Bop-Oreenie among others.

This free-jazz/free-music project was a success in Nordström's life. All his life he had this nickname "Frippe", which he hated and refused to accept, but now he could put up with it, from time to time. An album for Dragon Records, made in 1984, together with Jan Adefelt and Peter Axelsson, even got the title "Now's the Frippe Time".

In spring 2000, Arthur Ayler's drummer from 1965-67, Sunny Murray, toured Sweden together with the saxophonist Arthur Doyle. On March 28th, they played at the Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm, and the day before Murray had decided that Nordström should be invited to play with him. The music was recorded, and can be heard on Ayler Records aylCD 002/FLC.

The album starts with three pieces by Nordström, Spontaneous Creation part 1-3, where he plays alto sax. The rest of this album is dedicated to Murray, together with Doyle. This became Nordström's last recording, he died seven months later in a home for homeless people, where he had spent his last years in life.

Although Nordström never was to find a steady audience for his radical music, many of his recordings were critically acclaimed. A memorial concert, with participation of a great deal of people of the Stockholm jazz world, was held at the Golden Circle.

The anniversary book of the Golden Circle, issued on April 7th, 2002, in memory of the opening night and everything that took place at the Circle during five hectic years 1962-1967, is dedicated to Bengt "Frippe" Nordström.

Stefan Wijkstr
Stefan Wijkstr


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With 2 reader comments, latest March 22, 2012