Happy Jazz Please…
Text Judi Lembke
The sign hanging over the stage says it all: when you come to Stockholm’s legendary jazz and blues club Stampen, either to play or just sip a drink and listen, the vibe is decidedly upbeat, fun, and the focus is on the music.
Sweden has long had a strong connection with jazz, stretching back to the 1920’s, when the uniquely American music was first introduced. Swedes took to this new form of music immediately, with its popularity spreading through dancehalls and concerts across the country. Some of the finest jazz players around came from Sweden and this Nordic country also became home to many expatriate American jazz musicians, with the influence from both sides still in evidence today.
Stampen’s roots in Stockholm’s Old Town stretch back more than 30 years, when the club was founded in an old pawnshop. Upon opening in 1968 it immediately became the go-to spot for music lovers across the city and took pride of place on visitors’ must-see lists. A number of items from its former incarnation as a pawnshop are still hanging dustily from the walls and ceiling of the club, including an old-fashioned pram, model boats, stuffed animals, and of course acres of musical instruments. There are also a couple of bits that are nearly as famous as the musicians who play here, with a stuffed wolf regularly rented out to film sets and a golden eagle shot by King Oscar II.
There might be famous items amongst the memorabilia cramming the club but they don’t compare with the famous faces that have graced the Stampen stage. Some of the big names include pianist Teddy Wilson, tenor saxophonists Ben Webster, Lucky Thompson and Dexter Gordon, and one of the world’s greatest harmonica players, Toots Thielman. Other big names such as Eartha Kitt, Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Norman have played at Stampen over the years, along with perhaps the finest vocalist Sweden has ever produced, the much-missed Monica Zetterlund. Even Woody Allen and his clarinet thrilled the crowds one legendary evening, and the Saturday afternoon Blues Jam crowd was once treated to Blues legend Tino Gonzalez clambering up stage and giving them a rare treat.
Josef Haddad, with the help of his good friend Ulf Sandström, took over the club in 1998 and while Haddad remains true to the club’s roots he also knows that musical tastes are constantly evolving. Stampen’s history belies its present and its future: currently the club offers music 6 nights a week, with several stages going full swing on the weekends and often traditional jazz on Sundays. The mix is grounded in jazz and blues but Haddad has added and updated what’s on offer because, as he says, there’s no point in becoming a relic like the things hanging on the walls.
Stampen has after work happy hours during the week, each offering different styles. There’s also the aforementioned Saturday afternoon blues jam, led by New Yorker Brian Kramer and house band Couch Lizards, where players of any skill are welcomed to join Brian and the Lizards and show off their chops. Saturday afternoons are particularly popular, with barely standing room only once the doors open at 2pm. At the afternoon jam one can expect anything from a grizzled old trombone player who plays with practiced ease to a 12-year old saxophonist whose skill leaves the crowd speechless.
When you walk through the doors of Stampen you’ll be met by anything from Swing to Trad to Soulful Blues to Rhythm & Blues to Be-bop – the variety of music on offer is endless and often unexpected. One thing you’ll never find at Stampen is boredom, as the mix of players from both home and abroad take to the stage and make it sing, no matter what the style.
Stampen Info Box
Stora Nygatan 5
Old Town/Gamla Stan
Phone: 08 205 793
Open Monday – Thursday 17.00 – 01.00
Friday & Saturday 17.00 – 02.00
Saturday afternoon Blues Jam 14.00
Free afterwork shows weeknights 17.00 – 20.00
Occasional Sunday openings
stampen.se for weekly schedule and further information.