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Saxophonist was Major Figure in Norwegian Jazzby Stefan Wijkstr
Copyright © 2002 Stefan Wijkstr
Bjørn Johansen was one of the leading saxophonists in Norway. He was of great importance for Norwegian music life, and he was very popular. Johansen grew up in Oslo, and he was self taugh, without any formal musical education. He played clarinet in school bands, and at the age of 16, he was playing baritone sax in Gunnar Brostigen's big band, and the same year became a member of Kjell Karlsen's Big Band (1956-1958), where he had a good deal of attention paid to him.
Johansen later played many times with Kjell Karlsen's Big Band between 1956 and 1965. In the beginning of his career as a professional jazz musician, Bjørn Johansen played all the usual saxophones, and flute, but around 1960 he gradually made the tenor saxophone his main instrument, and took part in the first Molde Jazz Festival (1961) as a tenorist in Kjell Karlsen's Big Band. John Coltrane had become one of Johansen's most important sources of inspiration. He also played at the second Molde festival in 1962, with Benny Bailey, Karin Krog and Bernt Rosengren among others (also appeared at Molde in 1978 and 1982).
In 1962 Bjørn Johansen received the Buddy Prize (as Norwegian jazz musician of the year), and from now on he had his own quartet, and took part in a lot of recording sessions in the early and middle 1960s, for instance with Karin Krog in 1964 and with George Gruntz's orchestra in Zürich 1965. During the 1960's Johansen also played in Frode Thingsnæs's and Egil Kapstad's groups in Oslo, and with Helge Hurums' big band and later with Thorleif Østereng and Per Husby.
For 24 years (1966-1990) Johansen was very much in demand as a soloist in the Norwegian Radio Big Band, and both in 1967 and 1969 he took part in the Montreaux Festival with his own sextet, and was a member of the EBU Big Band during 1973. Johansen also toured Norway with singer Sheila Jordan in 1997.
Bjørn Johansen co-led a quartet with Egil Kapstad on piano, Bjørn Alterhaug on bass, and Ole Jacob Hansen on drums from 1978-1985 , and maybe this famous quartet is the ensemble on which Johansen set his mark most clearly.
The quartet made a lot of fine recordings, but from 1985 Johansen had his own quartet again. He took part in about 40 recording sessions during his career, but he recorded only two LP's under his own name, Dear Henrik (1986) which was dedicated to his son, and Take One (1987) with Cedar Walton's trio with David Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. In 2001 Gemini Records and Oslo Jazz Circle issued a retrospective CD in the record series "Portrait of a Norwegian Jazz Artist", with various Johansen recordings from 1960-1990.