Putte Wickman

Impeccable jazz clarinettist


Hans-Olof "Putte" Wickman, clarinettist and bandleader: born Borlänge, Sweden 10 September 1924; twice married (two sons, two daughters); died Grycksbo, Sweden 14 February 2006.

Whilst his jazz might not have been something that Louis Armstrong would have relished, Putte Wickman was certainly one of the most articulate of clarinet players, and bestrode the Swedish jazz scene for more than half a century.

His impeccable talent was such that, unusually for a jazz musician, he could move happily from jazz into the realms of orchestral and chamber music. This was not something that Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw could do without sounding ill at ease. When listening to those two essaying the classics, one was never able to suspend the feeling that they shouldn't really have been there.

Wickman spanned their generation but also revelled in the company of the later clarinettists Buddy De Franco and Eddie Daniels, virtuosi all, who turned the angular innovations of Charlie Parker on the alto sax into liquid gold for the clarinet. Wickman recorded duets with De Franco in 1999 and with Daniels in 2001.

Only a chauvinist would deny that Swedish jazz is as good as any that you can find outside the United States. For every Tubby Hayes or Stan Tracey we could offer, the Swedes have had a Lars Gullin, an Arne Domnerus, a Jan Lundgren or a Bengt Hallberg. Wickman worked amongst them and was by a mile the best jazz clarinet player that Europe has produced.

His followers complain that he is unfairly tagged as being a man whose playing is low on emotion. But the truth is that, although he never seemed to play a solo that wasn't beautifully constructed and brimming with good ideas, he was sometimes to the glacial side of cool.

Always loyal to the now out-of-fashion clarinet, Wickman was first inspired by the Swing Era work of Goodman and Shaw. He began his career in 1944 with a summer tour in the band led by the violinist Hasse Kahn and then worked with a myriad Swedish bands until returning to Kahn's sextet in 1947. A year later, Kahn was called for military service and Wickman took over the leadership. The distinguished musician Reinhold Svensson stayed in the band as pianist and arranger with Wickman until 1960.

In 1949, Wickman was a member of the Swedish All Stars that played at that year's Paris Jazz Festival and the clarinettist subsequently toured Europe with that group. The sextet, oriented to the music of Parker and Gillespie, became nationally popular and in 1959 Wickman was invited to the United States as a soloist. He played with several bands in New York and appeared at Carnegie Hall in an all-star line-up.

Wickman switched to more popular music when, in the middle Sixties, he formed a big band for dancing and he also ran Putte's, his own dance hall, in Stockholm for a couple of years.

In his later years, Wickman worked with the trio of the pianist Claes Crona as his accompanists. He toured in the United States again in 1981.

Ill for some time before his death, he toured Sweden in September last and continued to play until November. In January he abandoned a proposed trip to record an album for the producer Dick Bank in Los Angeles, but was determined to press ahead with a national tour of Sweden that was due to start in mid-February. It was only two weeks before his death that he finally cancelled the bookings.

Steve Voce

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