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Under the Spell of JazzCopyright © 2000
Randi Hultin, a perceptive jazz critic whose reputation ranged far beyond her native Norway, died in hospital on 18 March in Oslo, aged 74. Her house in Oslo's Gartnerveien became a haven for generations of jazz musicians from all over the world. Her famous series of guest books, often illustrated with her own drawings and photographs, paid eloquent testimony to the regard in which she was held by those musicians, as did the compositions written in her honour, including saxophonist Phil Woods's 'Randi' and the legendary pianist Eubie Blake's 'Randi's Rag', both of which were performed at her funeral.
She was a tireless advocate and proselytiser for Norwegian jazz, and her funeral ceremony on 27 March at Vestre Krematorium in Oslo included a number of musical tributes by Norwegian musicians paying their respects to a woman who had done a great deal for their music, including Egil Kapstad, Bjørn Johansen, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Bodil Niska, Einar Iversen and Bjørn Pedersen. Randi's trademark hat decorated the top of the black coffin.
Her initial artistic interests did not lie in music, but in drawing and painting, which she began as a young child. She studied painting as a teenager, but only acquired a taste for jazz when she married a jazz pianist. As it turned out, the marriage did not last long, but her new-found infatuation with the music grew into an unshakeable life-long passion. and her home in the suburb of Gartnerveien quickly became a focal point for jazz musicians visiting Oslo, a process which began in 1953.
Once that passion had been awakened, Hultin understood that jazz would replace painting in her affections and in her future, and she began to acquire what would eventually grow into a compendious knowledge and understanding of the music. A breakthrough occured when she recognised trombonist Carl Fontana (a visitor to the house with some other members of the Stan Kenton Orchestra) playing trombone on Voice of America, an identification which meant "there was hope even for me!"
As her interest and expertise blossomed, her house offered a place for musicians to relax, and for local musicians to meet and play in jam sessions with their idols, and if the neighbours did not always appreciate either the music or the hours they kept, it quickly became the essential stopping off point for jazz musicians of all kinds. Her visitors could range from a single musician through to an entire big band, but she and her family always seemed able to cope with the vagaries and eccentricities of her guests (and sometimes with their deeper problems and demons as well), and she became legendary in jazz circles for the warmth, kindness and depth of sheer humanity which went into her entirely genuine welcome.
The list of those who came to visit or to stay for a few nights is staggering, led by Louis Armstrong (who took a sleigh ride into the woods, captured in Randi's photographs as well as her prose, and had a go at playing fiddle) and her special favourite, pianist Eubie Blake, and including Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Count Basie, Clark Terry, Bud Powell, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Keith Jarrett, and many more.
Hultin recorded many of her experiences in her book Jazzens Tegn, originally published in Norwegian in 1991, and subsequently translated into English by Tim Challman as Born Under the Sign of Jazz, and published by Sanctuary Publishing in London in 1998, with an appreciative foreword by Sonny Rollins.
As well as providing a fascinating chronicle, profusely illustrated with her own photographs, of the comings and goings at Gartnerveien, the English edition included a CD of music, interviews and conversations which she had informally recorded at the house, featuring Stuff Smith, Jaki Byard, Hampton Hawes, Zoot Sims, Kenny Dorham, Phil Woods, Ernie Wilkins, and Bill Evans, whose brief but fascinating reflections on feelings in music are likely to become standard reference material.
"There are different kinds of feelings," Evans tells his hostess, "feelings that are very emotional. They don't make you cry, they don't make you laugh. They don't make you feel anything but profound, and that's the feeling I got from Bud Powell. You know it's something deep."
She began writing about jazz in 1956, and continued to do so until shortly before her death. Her work appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet for many years, and later in another Norwegian publication, Aftenposten, and she was a broadcaster on the Norwegian station NRK. She contributed to magazines in Norway and Sweden, and to several jazz magazines, including Jazz Forum in Poland, Jazz Journal International in England, and Down Beat in the USA, as well as making many informed contributions to jazz reference books and encyclopaedias, including The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
She also held a full time job for 45 years as a secretary, book-keeper, and ultimately an editor (she occupied the latter position for 22 years) for Norsk Hydro, one of the biggest companies in Norway. She retired from that post in 1993, but continued to write about her beloved music. Throughout her long and active involvement in jazz, she made a huge range of contacts all over the world, and served as an unofficial but highly effective ambassador for Norwegian jazz. Her achievements were recognised when she received the Norwegian Royal Order Of Merit, First Class, and she remains one of the few women to have received that honour.
She is survived by her sister, Eva; her daughters, Christina and Wivi-Ann; and her grandchildren Camilla, Miranda, Samy, Naïma and Jamil.