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He never studied jazz piano, only "cheat-played" fat chords at the Methodist Church organ of his hometown Sarpsborg, where he had gigs from age 13. (- I still hear the vicar’s disapproving comments to those sinful sounds: So you’re practising, Kjell?) Today, the same church is packed when Kjell Karlsen performs there – with even more satanic chords.

Composing and arranging he learnt "from bitter experience", starting his own band at age 16 in 1947, then advancing to Kampen Youth Big Band in Oslo 1952, and ending the decade as a professional big band leader for the NRK radio show "Swingtime" with direct transmissions to listeners all over Scandinavia.

He doesn’t claim to be a conductor, either. – But I know how to turn the guys on. I insist on getting "open" and "closed" sounds, I trust my feeling and know what I want from the band! Trumpeter Atle Hammer, a veteran of Kjell Karlsen’s big band, once exclaimed with his boyish smile: - We don’t dare to enter anywhere else but at your beat, because you look so tough. Whereas trombonist and professional conductor Frode Thingnæs, also a member of the Karlsen big band 40 years ago, claims that he misses Kjell’s "clubs" (not a reference to the Penguin Club or the Metropole Jazz House where Kjell Karlsen hosted house bands throughout Oslo’s blooming jazz period 1955-65).

Kjell Karlsen’s ambition has always been to promote new generations of jazz talent. During the 1950’s og 60’s saxophonists Mikkel Flagstad, Bjørn Johansen, Harald Bergersen, Erik Andresen, Totti Bergh, Alf Kjellman and Hans Hammer all found a platform for further development in Karlsen’s various groups. The same thing goes for bassist Erik Amundsen and the recently deceased drummer Ole Jacob Hansen, as well as vocalists Karin Krog and Laila Dalseth.

Consequently, the presentation of young vocal talent Hege Saugstad is part of a long tradition. At the entrance of a new millennium, Kjell Karlsen continues his life-long activity as a talent scout and jazz pedagogue. His concert and lecture series "The Jazz Academy" is a stroke of genius, opening up Oslo Concert House and the world of jazz to new appreciative audiences. Here Big Kjell’s special mix is served: Well-known, popular jazz classics in new dressings provided by today’s leading Norwegian arrangers, contemporary original compositions played with a warm feeling that is rare today – and spicy, brilliant soloists of all generations.

The concert ticks off with creative arranger Lars Erik Gudim’s version of "Blues March", Tom Olstad acting as Art Blakey and Per Halvorsen delivering a gutsy alto solo in the old Jazz Messengers’ favorite.

Øyvind Westby’s cunning arrangement of "Down By The Riverside" starts with Bill Holman-like three-part counterpoint. Kjell Karlsens contributes one of his rare piano solos (- I never was a great technician, and it didn’t get better after my finger operation…), followed by hot bebop statements from lead saxophonist Johan Bergli and trombonist Harald Halvorsen.

"Li’l Darlin’ " is Neal Hefti’s untouchable original arrangement from the Basie book, and trumpeter Finn Eriksen proves why he has been Kjell Karlsen’s first call through the years – showing his perfect balance of strength and feeling.

Atle Hammer’s trumpet and flugelhorn cuts deeply through the chord progressions, first in Kjell Karlsen’s funky swinger "Caro" (dedicated to his granddaughter Caroline), and later in Grieg’s "Solveig’s Song", recreated by Øyvind Westby as a Gil Evans-like ballad and jazz waltz.

Lars Erik Gudim’s "Don’t Panic" is a funky strolling tune, featuring trombonist Helge Sunde’s brilliant ease in all registers. Sunde then documents his arranging skills in the classic "Route 66", providing effective backing for Hege Saugstad’s laid-back vocals and tenor man Vidar Johansen’s three groovy blues choruses.

In the Frank Foster original "Shiny Stockings" we meet the young trumpeter Kim Eriksen, currently a student at the renowned Trondheim Conservatory’s jazz department (an education that was not available to father Finn Eriksen’s generation). Further, studio musician Steinar Larsen shows himself as an underrated jazz guitarist.

The concert’s senior guest soloist, Swedish clarinetist Putte Wickman, is in a class by himself. "I Want To Be Happy" and "Days Of Wine And Roses" sound like personal musical slogans to the virtuoso who, at age 75, documents that in jazz the oldest are the youngest.

Erling Wicklund