Mischa van Kan: Constructing Modern Swedish jazz in the United States

From 1949 onwards, jazz from Sweden was noted in the United States. Records by a variety of Swedish jazz musicians, such as Arne Domnérus, Reinhold Svensson, Lars Gullin, Bengt Hallberg and several others, were issued on American labels. Articles on Swedish jazz appeared in the American jazz press and different radio stations paid attention to jazz music from Sweden. In this context a strong notion of this jazz as “Swedish” arose.

In my presentation I argue that this group formation (following Latour) of Swedish jazz was negotiated in a network with several prominent actors. I trace the discursive formation of a group narrative as created by important actors such as the representative for the Swedish record company Metronome, Claes Dahlgren and the American jazz critic Leonard Feather. This narrative of Swedish jazz was mediated through articles in American jazz magazines Down Beat and Metronome as well as in liner notes and artwork of the records of Swedish jazz musicians issued in the US.

In the story of Swedish jazz its ‘modern’ characteristics were emphasized. I argue that over time, in the 1950s, Swedish jazz became associated with a modernity that was in line with a ‘hip’ lifestyle of an American white male middleclass public that had money to spend on buying records.

Mischa van Kan is a PhD student in Musicology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In his research he analyzes the dissemination and reception of Swedish jazz in the US in the period 1947-1963. He is particularly interested in how recordings from Sweden reached the American record market and what meanings came to be connected to Swedish jazz in the American jazz press.