Rigmor Gustafsson -
"Basically I sing guitar lines"
When in recent years Scandinavia came up with a seemingly endless stream of extraordinary and innovative instrumentalists, it at the same time turned out to be home of many excellent female singers as well. One of these new rising stars on the jazz-firmament is Rigmor Gustafsson. During the festival-season in 2002 she was praised for her performances at the Jazz Baltica Festival and at the Berlin Jazzfest, whose musical director, Nils Landgren in the end became the producer of her next album.
While in her first works the primary focus was a compact band sound, for "I will wait for you" the weight has now shifted entirely to featuring Rigmor's cristal-clear voice. And Nils Landgren didn't confine himself to just producing – here he can also be experienced as a vocalist and on his favorite instrument: the trombone.
Carina: Up to now all your albums used to be published on Prophone Records – are you an ACT-artist now with body and soul? Do you have plans for new CDs already?
Rigmor: Well, I am an ACT-artist now, I definitely am! You know, I signed a contract with them (laughs). We'll see what happens in the future. I mean, now I take one step at a time.
After the release of the current CD "I will wait for you" it will take a while before I will record a new one. I actually have no plans about that right now. I did three CDs before this one; these were with my quintet and that's a different, more intense music. And more originals. Maybe I'll get back to something like that in the future, but I donīt know yet. Right now it felt perfectly fine to continue with something different.
Carina: How much importance does the group-feeling in a band have for you? Should, in a vocal-orientated context, the band only be a backing for the singer? Where do you see the role of each musician?
Rigmor: Ah! Very interesting question. Actually this is funny, that you ask it: Because, with everything I did before with my band, I always had the perception that in this quintet I am just one among of five people. We are five equals. And I never had the feeling that their role was to accompany me. We were definitely taking as much space, each of us, as we wanted to. But I felt – after a while, after three CDs –, that actually I wanted some more room...
And also in the end... – lately in the band, it had felt as if everyone was taking more and more of it. And it's hard as a vocalist to get one's own space – I really have to fight for that. I felt like, "Ah, I want more space!" And so this actually came perfect to me that we were doing this record. Because this band is really "backing me up". And it's a great feeling, it really is a great feeling. Maybe in the future I'll feel like I would want the musicians to again take more space. Maybe I'll also look at myself as an instrument that is communicating with the other instruments. But at this time, right now, I am really happy. I have a band that is backing me up – and a lot of vocals. And itīs great. Itīs an extraordinary feeling.
Carina: Prominent among your teachers was Sheila Jordan – is there something special she gave you on the way for your own singing and teaching?
Rigmor: Oh, well, she is a great person. And I think, her main influence on me was just by being the way she is. She is really inspiring, very supportive and a really great person with a lot of experience. So, itīs hard to say just one special thing that she definitely "did". I just said it, the way she is as a person was really inspiring. And I hope that this has influenced me to maybe become something like that, hopefully.
Carina: You often change between lyrics and "word-less" singing, blending in as one instrument among the others. How did this way of singing and improvising become one of your main focuses?
Rigmor: You mean, where is the origin? Hard to say – well, actually, I guess the answer is: I started as an instrumentalist. I was playing the guitar for many years. And that was my main instrument and I really wanted to become a guitarist. Then, while I was studying at the junior college – I was studying music in Sweden – I felt that it was fun to sing, too. I said, oh well, I can actually sing these little lines that I am playing on the guitar!
I was studying jazz, improvising and music in general on the guitar. So then I just thought ... – Ah, itīs much easier to sing this! I think it was through the guitar that I got the idea. For me "singing" did not mean being a vocalist who is backed by a band, singing lyrics. I came to singing via the guitar, so I'd say . Consequently it was pretty natural to me to sing solos like scat-solos, sing without words and together with the horn-section. That just came natural somehow. And I guess thatīs the way how it worked.
Rigmor Gustafsson - "I will wait for you"
Carina: You have been in the United States for three years to work as a teacher at the "Mannes College of Music", where you once studied yourself. What was the reason for you to return to Sweden in 1996?
Rigmor: It was actually very concrete, I had been studying in New York, and then I was working for one and a half year, I was teaching a little bit and trying to freelance. And then I had a problem with my visa. I realized that I had to get a visa to stay. And I really wanted to. I told myself: "O.k., you need to get some money somehow to pay yourself a visa, whatever!" – Exactly then I was called from the 'Royal Academy of Music', Stockholm. They said there was a vacancy on the jazz vocal teaching: "So would you please apply for that?"
At the same time I felt that it would be hard to stay in New York, because I had to get a visa somehow. I didnīt want to study anymore. And I also didnīt want to stay there illegally, like a lot of friends, who had just simply stayed there when their visas went out. I didnīt want to be in that position, because I prefer to be able to travel the world. So, I said, well o.k. – I'll apply for that! And I went home to do all kind of auditions for the job and I got it.
Maybe it was time to go back home. I had been in New York for three and a half year when I got this good job in Sweden – maybe it was the sign that itīs time for me to go back. And it turned out to be a very good idea, I am really happy that I did it actually. Because it was a new start – then I got the record-deals with Prophone. It was good!
Nils Landgren - Rigmor Gustafsson
Carina: Besides teaching, you compose and arrange for several vocal ensemble groups, for jazz-ensembles and big-bands. And there are your own musical projects as well. Which one do you favor most?
Rigmor: Oh, what I favor most is to compose music for myself ... Well, when I compose, I really donīt think, will this be for a big-band or for whatever. I just make a song. It depends on some things, but most of the time you get an idea of a melodie or a harmonie-connection somehow. Or you get a lyric that you start writing to. So then after a while it becomes an idea.
Usually I donīt think about what group I perform it with, I just try to compose the music. I mean, I have been playing a lot with my quintett for years. So I guess that in my head even though I havenīt been thinking about it clearly, I am influenced by that I have the quintett when I write and have an idea.
Carina: And what takes most of the energy – teaching, composing or ... ?
Rigmor: Oh, I am not teaching anymore, definitely not! – Since a couple of years back I have been totally busy with singing. Which is great. Maybe Iīll teach in the future, I donīt know. I do some seminars now and then, but I donīt teach anymore at the college. Itīs great to just sing and compose music: thatīs what I am trying to do. Now – lately on this CD that are not my own compositions. There is only one, but I try to – itīs a feeling of being creative, you know, even if I donīt use it or play certain songs that I do, itīs still the feeling of being creative that is very, very important to me. That takes the most time and that is also the most inspiring.
Current CD: Rigmor Gustafsson - "I will wait for you"
A translation of this interview was published in Jazz Podium 9/2003
Photos: ACT Music