Jan Garbarek – One Of The Finest Jazz Saxophonists Ever

Jan Garbarek (born in 1947 in Mysen, Østfold, southeastern Norway) is one of the finest jazz saxophonists of all times and a great musician who has been collaborating with various other jazz artists throughout the passing of time (such as Keith Jarrett or Miroslav Vitouš, one of the founding members and original bassist of the legendary jazz fusion band Weather Report) and had established himself with a long-lasting and most fruitful musical career, being also active in other genres of music, namely in classical and world music.

Jan Garbarek performing live with Nordic Big Band at the 1971 edition of the Pori Jazz Festival (July 1971). Author: Jarmo Hietaranta / Lehtikuva. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Garbarek had a challenging early childhood in Norway as he was the son of a Polish prisoner of war by the name Czesław Garbarek and of a Norwegian farmer’s daughter. He was a stateless child up until the age of seven (at that particular time, there was no automatic grant for citizenship in Norway) and he grew up in Oslo. At the age of 21, he married Vigdis. He is also the father of Norwegian singer-songwriter Anja-Garbarek. Despite his challenging early childhood, Jan Garbarek managed to build an impressive and very beautiful musical career spanning 6 decades, from the late 1960s to the present day.

Jan Garbarek released many albums, both as a band leader and also as a sideman. His debut studio album was ‘Til Vigdis’ (Norwegian for ‘To Vigdis’) which was released through Norsk Jazzforbund in 1967). He was quite prolific throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The main labels through which he got signed were ECM and Flying Dutchman.

During 1969 and the early 1970s, Jan Garbarek rose to prominence by collaborating with American jazz composer George Russell. Later on during the 1970s, he became more well known thanks to his collaboration with Keith Jarrett in his European Quartet.

Jan Garbarek’s solo music is characterised by a wonderful technique on the saxophone. A significant amount of his musical work was influenced by the Scandinavian folklore, more specifically by Scandinavian folk melodies. Other albums stem from a more dreamy and quite magical or surreal overall influence (e.g. Twelve Moons from 1992 or In Praise of Dreams).

Jan Garbarek is also the recipient of three important awards and honours as follows:

  • He became Knight 1st Class of the Order of Saint Olav in Norway in 1999;
  • He received the Norwegian Arts Council Award in 2004;
  • He received the Willy Brandt Award from Willy Brandt Stiftung (Willy Brandt Foundation) in 2004.

Below you can listen to a series of my personal most favourite songs by amazing Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek (whom I had the privilege to see performing live in 2009 at a concert in Bucharest at Sala Palatului, where he performed along with fantastic drummer and percussionist Trilok Gurtu). I truly hope you will like listening to his very beautiful songs embedded via YouTube below! All the best!

I love ‘In Praise of Dreams’ in particular very much. Hereby the description of the song on YouTube by the uploader of this amazing song:

In Praise of Dreams: from someone who loves

“For it is in dreams we love and from dreams we create our reality” me

This is a love song – a woman and a man. The violin is all Romanian women, expressive, hauntingly beautiful, strong but vulnerable, and longing for love. The sax is Man, strong but hesitant, unsure.

He knows not who he is yet and calls out searching. She answers, and gently leads him. They play, they probe, they dance. He gains strength from her, she expresses more and starts to love him. She gives herself to him and he to her, they intertwine and exhaust each other in co-creation, when he caresses his love with a lullaby, and she basks in his strength and tenderness. They have come to define each other, they are one

Twelve Moons is absolutely fantastic given its esoteric and ethereal sound:

This composition is very sweet:

Documentation sources and external links:

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