Over a decade ago, following a chance meeting on a train in Europe between jazz pianist Jan Lundgren and Thomas Lantz, mayor of Ystad, the Ystad jazz festival was conceived. To some the early years will seem like yesterday and regular followers will no doubt be surprised to realise that the 2019 festival, 31 July – 4 August, marks the 10th anniversary of the event.
Ystad is located on the south coast of Sweden, sometimes called the Swedish Riviera. Nearest airport is Malmo but a better bet can be Copenhagen, with frequent and economical EasyJet flights from the UK. It’s famed, of course, as the location for the Wallander detective series which kicked off the still-persistent UK fascination with Scandi-noir.
For jazz fans it’s worth the trip, as the festival, of which Jan Lundgren is artistic director, presents a rather unique face among European jazz gatherings. It bypasses the regular fare seen at many established European festivals further south, presenting an individual mixture of big global and local names and a wide variety of styles, from traditional to contemporary.
For example, this year – the 50th birthday of the ECM label – the programme ranges from a tribute to Danish swing violinist Svend Asmussen to a talk on the ECM label by Jazz Journal’s Michael Tucker, complementing appearances by ECM artists including Tord Gustavsen, Jakob Bro and Maciej Obara.
Like many festivals, Ystad boasts a picturesque location, to wit the half-timbered houses and cobbled streets of a small Swedish seaside market town and port which has grown to be a considerable tourist attraction, helped by its historic architecture, long stretches of sandy beach backed by pine forest and its development into a significant hub for the Swedish film industry.
One of the traditional Ystad attractions is the Church of the Virgin Mary, whence, since 1748, the tower watchman has sounded his horn every quarter hour in the late evening to indicate all’s well. The jazz festival adopts the idea with a fanfare each year from a jazz player to open the festival – this year the guest hornman is trombonist Nils Landgren, who will officially open the festival with a (no-doubt) funky blast from his red trombone at 10pm on 31 July. Later in the festival he appears in the new group 4 Wheel Drive, with Michael Wollny (p), Lars Danielsson (b) and Wolfgang Haffner (d).
Another Ystad jazz tradition is the nomination of a festival guest of honour. There’s been Monty Alexander, Quincy Jones and Hugh Masekela; this year it’s Benny Golson, who has chosen Ystad for one of just two European appearances this summer. The 90-year-old saxophonist and composer, best known perhaps for the tunes Whisper Not and Killer Joe, will play with the Norrbotten Big Band.
Altogether, over five days, Ystad Jazz presents 43 concerts featuring over 250 artists. The full lineup and ticketing information is here, but a few highlights in addition to those above include Charles Lloyd, Julian Lage, Eric Harland, Reuben Rogers, Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband, Joey DeFrancesco, Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren, Nicole Johänntgen, Jacob Fischer, Peter Asplund, Isabella Lundgren, and Ronnie Gardiner.
The festival also features family events such as JazzKidz, jazz breakfasts with interesting interviews, jam sessions, an art exhibition by this year’s jazz artist Ardy Strüwer and an exhibition at Ystads konstmuseum chronicling the festival’s 10-year history.
Concerts take place at venues around the town in easy walking distance of each other, with one special event, a garden party with Italian marching band Funk Off, at Bergsjöholm castle, a few kilometres from Ystad.