Born: May 4, 1928 | Died: May 17, 1976 Primary Instrument: Sax, baritone
Lars Gullin was born May 4, 1928, on the island of Gotland, off the Swedish east coast. Legend say he could read music before he learned to read Swedish. His first instrument was an accordion of the simplest kind. A few years later it was exchanged for a larger one with piano keys, and at the age of five he composed simple polkas. He actually won an accordion contest, still a juvenile.
At the age of nine or ten he led his own little band, playing in local vaudevilles. The book consisted of tunes like After You've Gone and Tiger Rag, no doubt learned from Sonora 78s with accordionist Nisse Lind.
At 13 Lars joined the military band in Visby, the main city on the island, as a clarinet player. This became his main instrument and he participated in two small jazz groups, one Dixieland band and one Benny Goodman-styled group. He transcribed arrangements from records and wrote scores for both bands, getting his first experience in writing for a small band. The military band also formed the nucleus in the local symphony orchestra, where he was exposed to the classical music.
The war broke out and Gotland was out there in the Baltic sea, close to the war as the first Swedish coast to receive fugitives and survivors from torpedoed boats. He endured the military life, getting some relief from studying the piano for local teachers. In 1947 he moved to Stockholm in order to get a better education, and applied for the Musical Academy.
There he composed a sinfonietta, a piano concert and several smaller pieces. He performed the piano concerto with his old friends in the Visby orchestra in 1947 and played parts of it in a broadcast from Stockholm.
In Stockholm he also encountered live jazz in the clubs: The small groups of Putte Wickman, Hasse Kahn and Simon Brehm as well as the big band led by Lulle Elboj. Rolf Ericson and Stan (Åke) Hasselgard had recently left Sweden for the United States, but Lars recalls buying every Hasselgard record available. He also heard Chubby Jackson's band on records as well as Charlie Parker on Warmin' up a Riff:
I couldn't get enough of it, I played it over and over again, it was such a kick!
To support his studies, Lars took a job playing the in a dance band 1946 and joined the more famous Charles Redland big band the next year, playing in the legendary Winter Palace dance hall. Eventually Lars took a seat in the sax section, playing clarinet and alto. The piano and composing studies faded away.
In 1949, Lars was engaged by the band leader Arthur �-sterwall and in that band he met musicians like tenor player Rolf Blomqvist and drummer Jack Norén. Their habits included not only vodka but interesting plants that they found in the Botanical Gardens ... After some months Lars moved to the more jazz oriented band of Arthur's brother Seymour, finding himself among musicians who played bebop in a small group within the band.
By chance Lars was asked to take the baritone chair, and after that he continued on the baritone.
I immediately understood that this was my instrument. It's got richness and depth, warmth, light and shadow, like a cello. I wanted a different tone than the usual harsh one. I tried a metal mouthpiece but changed to ebonite to get a tuba-like sound.
The Birth of the Cool album really opened his ears. He transcribed some the charts for the small bop group and he was amazed by the solos by Lee Konitz but also by the things Lee he played within the charts.
But Gerry Mulligan impressed me and I knew what I wanted to do. He was my first model. I had heard Serge Chaloff before, but he was something else. I realized the enormous possibilities in the baritone.
The Seymour �-sterwall band played charts from the Dizzy Gillespie big band (which had played a concert in the Winter Palace in 1948) as One Bass Hit as well as modern tunes like Four Brothers, Godchild and Budo.
Scott Yanow on Lars Gullin: One of the top baritone saxophonists of all times and a giant of European jazz, Lars Gullin would be better known if he had visited the US often and if excessive drug use had not cut short his career... All bop and cool jazz collectors should be aware of Lars Gullin and own several of his sets. All Music Guide to Jazz; Miller Freeman Books 1998
Brian Priestly on Lars Gullin: The first musician after Django Reinhardt to have an impact in the USA without relocating there, Gullin has never been duplicated or surpassed. His facility and relaxation, especially in the 1950s, were able to make the baritone feel like a delicately handled tenor. But his tone (thanks to the Tristano influence detectable in many Swedish and German musicians of this period) was so light and pure that it recalled not so much a tenor as altoist Lee Konitz ... Local commentators detect the inspiration not only of folk-music but the 19th-century Swedish composers in Gullin's distinctive writing. Jazz, the Essential Companion; Paladin, London 1987
Jack Kerouac on Lars Gullin: ... a whole case of longplayed bop albums ... and first Wig plays Stan Getz and the Swedish group with Bengt Hallberg on piano, the marvelous Lars Gullin on baritone, great rhythm section first music I'd heard in months ... from Selected Letters 19401956, Penguin Books.
Chet Baker on Lars Gullin: The only baritone player that I was aware of was Gerry Mulligan. When I heard Lars, I thought, Jesus, there is another way of playing the baritone! Lars played with a lot more fire and a lot more authority in some ways than Gerry did. Private interview by Pär Rittsel.Read the whole interview
Leonard Feather on Lars Gullin: If he ever decides to emigrate to this country, I might add, he is going to scare a lot of people, make a lot of records and gain a lot of admirers. Liner notes: Lars Gullin Baritone Sax; Atlantic 1246, now reissued on CD