Jan Johansson

Although not widely known in the U.S. Jan Johansson was a top-ranking Swedish jazz pianist of the 1950s and 1960s. He is highly respected in Scandinavian jazz circles. Johansson, who also played accordion, guitar, and organ, was born in Soderhamn, Sweden’s Halsingland region. He studied classical piano when he was a child and then became interested in swing and bebop when he was a teenager. He was a high school student during the late 1940s and played in various Soderhamn dance and swing bands such as Gerhard’s Orchestra and the Five Swingers. After his military service, he settled in Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, in the early 1950s. He was employed as a sideman by Kenneth Fagerlund (1954-1955) and Gunnar Johnson (mid- to late 50s). Johansson was a leader for the first time in 1956. However, he remained a member of Johnson’s quintet until 1959. Stan Getz was also a frequent visitor to Scandinavia in the 1950s and brought Johansson to his attention. He went on a six week tour with Johnson’s quintet in the 1958. Getz was a fan of Johansson’s melodic playing and they had strong relationships when recording or playing together in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Johansson was also a friend of Oscar Pettiford, a bassist, and Helen Merrill. Merrill was his support during a two week engagement at Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1960. Johansson continued playing bop in the 1960s and explored the possibilities for modal post-bop. He also experimented with third-stream, avant-garde, and third-stream jazz. Jazz pa Svenska, his most well-known album, was recorded by the pianist in 1962. The title means “Jazz in Swedish”, and it reflects Johansson’s love for traditional Swedish folk music. Erik Kjellberg, a writer on the album, says that the album has been sold over 200,000 times. Johansson’s ability to jazz-up Swedish folk songs was one of his most distinctive qualities. Tragically, Johansson lost his career in November 1968 when he was involved in a crash on a Swedish expressway. A memorial concert was held in Stockholm’s Concert Hall on December 16, 1968. Johansson’s work was still popular long after his passing. Heptagon, a label his sons Anders, Jens, and Jens established in 1994, has reissued much the pianist’s music on CD. In 1998, Kjellberg’s Johansson biography Jan Johansson, A Visionary Swedish Musikian was published in English and Swedish. Allmusic

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