Tuesday, July 14, 2015

John Kongshaug - Jazz Guitar Pioneer

John Kongshaug
The guitar emerged as a distinct solo voice in jazz with the invention of the electric pickup and amplification. The pioneering work of electric amplification evolved in the USA during the 1930s, but it was not until Charlie Christian's entrance at the jazz scene late 1930s that the electric/amplified guitar became a common instrument among jazz guitarists. Charlie Christian paved the way and sat the direction for future jazz guitar playing - also outside the US. - In Scandinavia, pioneer jazz guitarists like Robert Normann, Sven Stiberg, Helge Jacobsen a.o. started to use the electric/amplified guitar already in the early 1940's, but due to WWII when all countries in Scandinavia except Sweden were occupied by the German nazi regime, the evolution of electric jazz guitar playing was delayed compared to the movement in the USA. During WWII, Jazz in general was banned in occupied parts of Scandinavia following official decretes from the nazi regime, but it was practised anyway as a sort of  'underground' movement and only accepted as part of a restricted and limited entertainment business. Moreover, jazz musicians in Scandinavia had very limited access to new records, information and inspiration from the outside world. Only Sweden - due to its neutrality - was able to import new records from USA and GB with great difficulty and delay. These circumstances meant that genuine knowledge of the evolvment of be bop and contemporary jazz in the USA was delayed in Scandinavia, only after WWII had ended in 1945 a general change in the conseption of jazz emerged late 1940s and early 1950s. A pioneer jazz guitarist of this post-WWII Scandinavian generation of musicians that incorporated the new sound of jazz from the USA was John Kongshaug.
John Kongshaug (still photo copied from YouTube)
According to the scarce info I have available, John Kongshaug (1922-1995) was born in Trondheim, Norway and started his professional career in 1942. By the end of the 1940s he was one of the leading guitar solists in Norway. In 1959 he moved to Sweden, where he played with notable reed players Carl-Henrik Norin, Bjarne Nerem, Arne Domnérus and in the orchestras at the Opera and the Stockholm Philharmonic. Later he was a sideman much in demand and played with numerous local as well as international artists. As a consequence,  due to his extensive work as a sideman, he never followed his own jazz career, nevertheless he ranks as a Scandinavian modern jazz guitar pioneer who was at par with some of the best jazz musicians in his time. Earlier this year Hot Club Records of Norway released a CD with a selction  of Kongshaug's recordings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s produced by Jon Larsen in coporation with Kongshaug's son, Jan Erik Kongshaug.
CD front, Hot Club Records, HCR 439
The CD has 26 tracks and is a somewhat mixed bag of regular jazz and popular music, however, the CD takes off with a session from December 1954 featuring a Modern Swing Group, a sextet with NOrwegian musicians. Kongshaug is the lead guitarist and has great solo work in a tune named 'Slappfisken' which shows off that he has adopted modern harmony and be bop influence in his fluent playing

From about the same time the sextet also recorded a bop influenced version of the swing standard 'Honeysuckle Rose', again Kongshaug is showing off inspired solowork

In the late 1950s John Kongshaug began experimenting with multi-track recording of his guitar, probably inspired by similar recordings by Les Paul and George Barnes,  the CD has several examples of this field of Kongshaug's output. One of the earliest attempts was a recording of 'Lullaby Of Birdland' in April 1958

From about the same time Kongshaug recorded his own samba 'Satelitten' using multi-track technique and applying double speed in the overdubbed tracks

The last five tracks of the CD again feature John Kongshaug in a regular jazz context, two tracks have him in interplay with fellow guitarist Barney Kessel and show off his adoption of modern jazz guitar playing, here in the standard 'Tea For Two'

The last three tracks of the CD have John Kongshaug in interplay with his son, Jan Erik Kongshaug, who is also a guitar player and sound engineer; an example of their interplay is the recording of 'Delauney's Dilemma'

The CD featuring John Kongshaug is available for purchase as download from Hot Club Records, here, and you have the opportunity to listen to the full album at YouTube with nice still footage uploaded by Hot Club Records, here. - Still photos of John Kongshaug used in this entry are copied from the uploaded YouTube video by HCR.

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