Friday, July 13, 2012

Ten Essential Jazz Clarinet Recordings (9)

9. Stan Hasselgård  California Sessions

Åke "Stan" Hasselgård, who on November 23, 1948 died tragically in a car crash at age 26, is one of the most brilliant and neglected of jazz clarinetists. Befriended by his hero, Benny Goodman (perhaps the only clarinetist who was invited by Benny to share the bandstand in his Sextet), Hasselgård's relaxed sound, natural swing, and remarkable bop ear seemed to have marked him for jazz greatness.

Despite his Swedish upbringing and musical education, Hasselgård's sound seems to have emerged straight from the American jazz scene. Later clarinet boppers were often drawn from conservatory trained ranks, and their sounds lack the full, relaxed quality of the swing masters. This is part of what makes Hasselgård so enjoyable to listen to: no conservatory stuffiness, no mere pattern patter. Because of this, his few recordings are truly essential.

The Hasselgård Sextet seems to have grown conceptually out of the Goodman Sextet. It's delightful to hear Goodman veteran Red Norvo, who was directly responsible for bringing together Benny and Teddy Wilson, present on Hasselgård's recordings too. But the Swede was able to take Benny's concept farther into modern jazz territory, and seems a harbinger to Artie Shaw's last Gramercy 5 of 1954. Indeed, these recordings sound as though they might have served as an influence upon Shaw's greatest work.

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