Randi Hultin: Bilder Fra Et Liv Med Jazz

Handsomely produced book collects 45 images by the Norwegian photographer and writer noted for her close connection to leading jazz players

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Norway’s National Library is in the capital Oslo. Published in a series with the intriguing title Sideblikk (Side-glance) Bilder Fra Et Liv Med Jazz – Pictures From A Jazz Life – is a handsomely produced Norwegian-language project. It has been issued in tandem with a substantial exhibition, running from 10 November 2022 to 25 February 2023, devoted to the life and work of Norway’s most famous jazz journalist and photographer, Randi Hultin (1926-2000).

The National Library houses a large archive donated by Hultin. This includes memorabilia, film with and without sound, interviews and many of Hultin’s photographs, which have now been digitalised. You can also access a helpful, short, colour film profile of the present project, with English subtitles and featuring music journalist Sandeep Singh. Born in 1986, Singh is the author of the now impressionistic, now informative foreword here.

Singh makes the major point that Hultin broke many of the rules that obtain in today’s journalism: don’t get too close to your subject, be “a social cactus”, etc. But the warmth and the openness of Hultin’s generous personality, the ease with which she could socialise, allowed her to bring a special intimate perspective to both the performing and the social sides of jazz. And it helped that she was significantly cultured in other aspects of the arts.

Randi Hultin trained as a painter under Per Krogh (1889-1965), son of the famous Christian Krogh of Edvard Munch’s generation. She developed a successful career as a jazz critic, writing regularly for, e.g., Norway’s leading newspaper Aftenposten and the specialist jazz review Jazznytt as well as for many publications abroad, including Jazz Journal. But she never lost her passion for drawing and painting. In the aforementioned film profile fronted by Singh, vocalist Karin Krog shows us one of her favourite pieces by Hultin: a substantial, strong and beautiful black and white graphic profile-face portrait of Billie Holiday.

Such an art training and resultant creative capacity might have led Hultin to develop a theoretically driven approach to the photographic jazz image. Fortunately, it did not. The 45 images shown in Bilder Fra Et Liv Med Jazz are remarkable, both for their disarming range of subject matter and the seemingly natural or unforced manner with which Hultin was able to sense and capture her subject. There are images here of, e.g., Sonny Rollins mowing the lawn around Hultin’s house, in Gartnerveien at Høyenhall in the eastern suburbs of Oslo; of Swedish tenorist Bernt Rosengren fast asleep in a chair, and of Karin Krog and Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe enjoying a convivial moment with Randi in her Gartnerveien kitchen.

It was at Gartnerveien, from the 1950s to the 1990s, that Hultin created what Sandeep Singh calls a special “vibe”. She would invite all sorts of musicians to her place to relax after a gig, offer them hospitality and generally create an atmosphere as magical as it was relaxed. An upright piano featured in many a jam session. As Singh points out, this way, many so-called “local” musicians got to mix with top Americans, contributing to the fast developing strengths of Norwegian jazz (which would go on to free itself from any undue reliance on American precedent).

The roll call of visitors to Gartnerveien included Eubie Blake and Phil Woods (both of whom wrote pieces for Randi), Bjarne Nerem, Count Basie, Benny Waters, Ben Webster, Ray Brown, Stan Getz, Clifford Jordan, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Hampton Hawes, Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett. And that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Not all of the above-named feature here and the (well-printed) photographs are not all from Gartnerveien: far from it. There are images from the jazz clubs and concert halls of Oslo (including John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Annette Peacock and Radka Toneff together at the legendary Club 7) as well as The Molde Jazz Festival (Dexter Gordon laughing as only he could); from New York (ragtime master Eubie Blake at his home) to Paris (Chet Baker with Norwegian poet Jan Erik Vold and Coltrane again, in one of the most atypical, formally cast images here).

Over the years, I was lucky enough to get to know Randi Hultin a little. I was astonished by her kindness and generosity when she charged nothing for the images she gave me to use in my book Jan Garbarek: Deep Song – images which included her penetrating graphic portrait of Garbarek. So I’m delighted that this book and exhibition have materialised. But I have one serious quibble.

Given that Randi Hultin: Bilder Fra Et Liv Med Jazz was produced by Norway’s national library, I find it hard to believe that there is no bibliography. You wouldn’t know, from Sandeep Singh’s foreword, that the Aschehoug publishing house brought out Hultin’s richly illustrated autobiography Jazzens Tegn in 1991; nor that this came out in 1998 in a revised English edition, from Sanctuary and with a CD containing a fabulous range of the music from the glory days (and nights!) at Gartnerveien.

I reviewed the Sanctuary package in JJ 08/98 – a review which, I’m pleased to say, precipitated an appreciative response in a piece by Aftenposten‘s Stein Kagge. “Dette var til stor hjelp i Norge [This helped a lot in Norway]” wrote Randi to me. It’s good to know that Jazz Journal played its part in helping cement the national and international reputation of one of jazz’s most loved and respected jazz critics and photographers. Whether or not you have Norwegian at your fingertips, there’s a wealth of pure jazz joy to relish here.

Randi Hultin: Bilder Fra Et Liv Med Jazz with a foreword by Sandeep Singh. Sideblikk, Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo. 62pp with 45 b&w photographs, hb, 169 Norwegian kroner (c. GBP15). ISBN: 978-82-7965-525-1