Dagens Nyheter, the daily I write for, has an annual cultural prize that is given to a prominent Swedish person in art, literature, music, film, or performing arts such as dance and theater. Five candidates — one from each field — are nominated. The winner is a joint decision between the jury and the readers who vote, but if you ask me, it’s not so much about who wins.
More important is the public attention this “contest” brings all of the nominees, and this year I got my guy Fredrik Ljungkvist nominated in the music category. A brilliant saxophone and clarinet player, Ljungkvist was the first jazz musician ever to be up for the prize.
Now, it’s not entirely uncomplicated for a critic to push for a candidate for a prize or a scholarship. Normally you’re supposed to be loyal only to the art form itself and not lend yourself to promotion of a single artist. Of course this highly held journalistic principle had to go out the window, and I was okay with that.
Ljungkvist really is a great musician — I’d say maybe one of the top five or six jazz saxophonists in the world today. The fame he has achieved has not come by playing easy listening to the masses, like Kenny G, nor has he tried to please jazz fans by sounding like one of the all-time saxophone heroes like John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins.
Nope, Ljungkvist never fakes it like that. He is a stunning virtuoso, fully capable of imitating Coltrane or anyone else for that matter. But instead of playing it safe by surfing on what’s already been done, this guy constantly pushes himself to go further and deeper. He blends straight-ahead post-bop with free jazz and European improvisational music. Ljungkvist lets his composing take him wherever he feels like going, without ever being dogmatic or protective of any given style.
Many people doing the same would come across as eclectic and indistinct. Not Ljungkvist. Instead he becomes one with his instruments, creating out of his ideas and skills some of the most compelling and personal jazz that has ever come out of Sweden — or even Europe.
So, here I go promoting again — still feeling okay about it. In my opinion Ljungkvist needs to be heard, for the sake of pure artistry.
But also for economic reasons. Sure, the guy makes a living, but there are very small margins playing this kind of music. We’ve got government founding of the arts in Sweden, but it’s not enough by a long shot, and besides there are very few artists over here that wouldn’t rather earn enough by themselves and be independent of the state.