BENT PERSSON is a true hero of mine, and I know I have company around the world. I think of his friendly kind enthusiasm in person — he is ready to laugh at the world’s absurdities — and the soaring trumpet player, at once exact and passionate, who makes Louis and his world come alive in the brightest ways.
I first met Bent in the way that we used to find our heroes in the pre-internet era, sonically. In the middle Seventies, I was passionately collecting records. That meant that I would spend the day in New York City visiting record stores, coming home when I had used up my money. I prowled through Happy Tunes One and Two, Dayton’s, and J&R Records near City Hall, where I spotted a record on a label I hadn’t heard of before (“Kenneth Records”) featuring Bent Persson (someone new) playing his orchestral versions of the Louis Armstrong 50 Hot Choruses book published in Chicago, 1927. Perhaps it was $6.99, the price of two DJ copies or cutouts, but I took the risk. It was electrifying, joyous, and hot beyond my wildest expectations. Here’s what it sounded like.
HIGH SOCIETY, in duet with pianist Ulf Johansson Werre (1977):
I kept on buying every record (then CD) on which he appeared, and he visited the US now and again — although I wasn’t at liberty to meet him — to make sublime hot music, some of it captured in videos from the Manassas Jazz Festival.
CHINATOWN, with Kenny Davern, Jim Dapogny, Tomas Ornberg, and Steve Jordan (1988):
and duets with Jim Dapogny, CHICAGO BREAKDOWN and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (1985):
At some point, I had acquired a computer and an email account, and was writing for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, so I remember starting a correspondence with Bent — admiring and curious on my part, friendly and gracious on his. In the intervening years of record collecting, I understood that Bent was a Renaissance man of hot trumpet (and cornet): yes, Louis, but also Bix, Red, Cootie, and others, and no mere copyist, but a great understander and emulator, always himself while letting the light of his heroes shine through him. A great scholar as well, although that might be too obvious to write.
Finally the circumstances of my life changed so that I could fly — literally and figuratively — and in 2009 I made my way to the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, which I attended every year until 2016, video camera at the ready, approaching my heroes, shyly beaming love and gratitude at them. Bent knew me slightly from our correspondence, but I recall coming up to him, introducing myself, hugging him, and saying that he had been a hero of mine for decades. He took it all with good grace.
I created more than a hundred videos of Bent in that series of delightful parties, and I will share only four: you can find the rest on YouTube with a little earnest searching.
CLEMENTINE with Norman Field, Spats Langham, Frans Sjostrom (2009):
DUSK with Frans and Jacob Ullberger (2009):
LOOKIN’ GOOD BUT FEELIN’ BAD with the Red Hot Reedwarmers (2009):
and for an incendiary closer, DING DONG DADDY with Enrico Tomasso, Spats Langham, Kristoffer Kompen, and other luminaries (2015):
Please don’t let the apparent historical nature of these videos fool you into thinking that Bent has hung up his horns and dumped his valve oil into the trash.
He is still performing, and there were gigs with BENTS JAZZ COCKTAIL as recently as mid-August (what a well-dressed crew!) Visit Bent’s Facebook page for the most current news of his schedule.
This is the most fragmentary celebration of Bent, a man devoted to his art but also a first-rate human being who beams when he talks about the family he adores. If he is new to you, I hope you have been as uplifted and electrified by his music presented here as I have been for almost fifty years. If he is a shining light to you, here is another occasion to thank him for being and sustaining the glories of jazz.
It is, although across too many miles, another hug, so well-deserved.
May your happiness increase!