Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Swedish Trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin Dies at 89

I just heard from my Stockholm-based friend, Guy Jones, founder and president of Friends of Jan Lundgren, the fan club of pianist Jan Lundgren, that legendary Swedish trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin passed away on November 23. He was 89 years old, and even though he's far from a household name in the United States, he devoted his whole life to music and was extremely well respected in Scandinavian jazz circles. Born in Linköping, Wallin showed an interest in music at an early age and concentrated on the trumpet and the flugelhorn. He spent much of the 1950s and '60s playing and recording alongside such European jazz luminaries as Arne Domnérus and Lars Gullin, and when American tenor saxophonist Benny Golson made some recordings with Scandinavian jazzmen, Wallin was one of the musicians who were called in for the sessions.

Like pianist Jan Johansson, Wallin became interested in exploring the relationship between Swedish folk music and jazz, and his recordings in this vein garnered him much acclaim in his homeland. Besides his work as a trumpeter, Wallin was also valued as an arranger and composer (he wrote music for films and TV productions), and he also spent two decades as a music teacher at Stockholm's Musikhögskolan. Throughout his long and successful career, Wallin acted as mentor to younger musicians such as trombonist Nils Landgren, who, upon hearing of Wallin's passing, called him "my greatest mentor, both as a musician and as a human being." Pianist Jan Lundgren also remembered Wallin on his Facebook page, reflecting on how thankful he was to have had the chance to work with the great trumpeter, whom he considers "one of the finest arrangers we have had." I must admit that the only recordings I've ever heard by Wallin are the ones he made in 1959 and 1960 as part of an octet led by saxophonist Lars Gullin, which can be found in the Gullin 4-CD set, Portrait of the Legendary Baritone Saxophonist: The Complete Recordings 1956-1960 (Fresh Sound Records). On these, of course, Gullin is the star and the spotlight is mostly on him, but Wallin comes across as a very dependable accompanist in ensemble passages, and on "Blue Mail" and "Baritonome," for example, he even gets to contribute some highly original, exciting solos that make you wish he'd been featured a little more prominently. On the strength of these sides alone, there's little doubt that Wallin is a musician whose recorded legacy is worth exploring further.

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