“She is simply amazing. Tell her that I love her.”
May 12, 2015 5:53 AM   Subscribe

In the early sixties, jazz pianist Bill Evans (previously) got his hands on a European EP that featured a cover of his signature piece Waltz for Debby, with Swedish lyrics, and vocals by young jazz vocalist Monica Zetterlund. Evans was floored. “I don't usually throw superlatives around, but let me tell you I am really exited about Monica's Waltz for Debby” he wrote in a letter to her record company. “I used to think that my waltz wasn't suited for vocal but look how wrong I was! Suddenly I feel like going to Sweden.” So he did: Monica Zetterlund with Bill Evans Trio: Waltz for Debby/Monicas vals (live rehearsal from 1966).

The collaboration with Evans (which resulted in an album in 1964) wasn’t Zetterlund’s first work with US musicians; starting her career at an early age in her father's band, she had worked with big bands in Sweden, Denmark, and England, and was invited to the US by impresario John Levy in 1960, where she did a few club gigs and recording sessions, and appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show (in compatible color!) (with Frankenstein!) (and Tony Bennett!). She didn't really make it over there, though, and soon returned to Europe.

Back home, she went to London in 1963 to represent her home country in the eighth annual Eurovision Song Contest (most recently), an adventure that ended with her scoring the dreaded nul points. Not that she cared much; working with poet and lyricist Beppe Wolgers and the Swedish jazz elite, she was busy making popular Swedish versions of selected jazz standards and other songs, including turning Walkin' My Baby Back Home into a subtle tribute to Stockholm that has become something of a theme song for the city. And on her album with Evans, they covered standards, traditional folk songs (below), as well as popular songs like Once upon a Summertime (here in a live performance from Danish television in 1966).

Towards the end of the sixties, somewhat fed up with the music business, she started doing more acting, ranging from silly variety stuff (spoiler: the fish dies) via dark comedies (spoiler: everyone dies) to The Emigrants and the sequel The New Land (spoiler: many die, but mostly from old age), epic films about the Swedish mass emigration to the US that would go on to receive multiple Oscar nominations and a prestigious Swedish best actress award for Zetterlund.

In later years, her childhood scoliosis got worse, and made it difficult to perform live on stage. Her last recording was a tribute to Bill Evans, recorded in her favourite chair in her apartment in Stockholm. She died in an apartment fire on May 12, 2005, ten years ago today. She was 67 years old.

Monica Zetterlund with Bill Evans Trio: Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa (I Know of a Lovely Rose)
posted by effbot (17 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I can't wait to dive into all this later. Much thanks, effbot!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:58 AM on May 12, 2015

She has a real Astrud Gilberto vibe about her. Great stuff!
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:39 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this. I'm a huge jazz fan, yet somehow never heard of her.
posted by freakazoid at 7:14 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wonderful, cheers.
posted by dng at 7:47 AM on May 12, 2015

Danish director Per Fly recently made a movie about Monica Zetterlund's life. (I haven't seen it myself, though.)
posted by WalkingAround at 9:12 AM on May 12, 2015

Yeah, I haven't seen it either, and it's gotten somewhat mixed reviews (people who knew her well claim much of the drama is artificial, especially the main conflict with her dad, and people who don't know anything about her found it full of cliches). The lead Edda Magnason totally nails the look and voice, though.
posted by effbot at 9:25 AM on May 12, 2015

What a terrible way for her to die. I hope it was brief.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:47 AM on May 12, 2015

Wow, did Evans crack a smile there?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks for a great post. Man, "Waltz for Debby" always chokes me up... I usually prefer my jazz non-vocal, but once she got into it, the way she dealt with the tune and the rhythm was so hip I could see why Evans fell in love with her performance and wanted to record with her.

> Wow, did Evans crack a smile there?

Yeah, that was amazing! He usually has the air of an accountant going over a set of particularly dubious tax returns. (My own Evans post is one of my favorites among my posts, and the Vanguard recordings are some of my favorite jazz of all time.)
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wonderful find. Thanks for posting this!
posted by binturong at 11:35 AM on May 12, 2015

"Monica Zetterlund, hon kommer från Östdanmark."

Ha :)

Yes, Monica is absolutely fantastic and I'm very grateful for this post.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:59 PM on May 12, 2015

Just love this. Makes me want to put on some Blossom Dearie records.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2015

posted by benito.strauss at 5:05 PM on May 12, 2015

My dad (not a big jazz fan) for some odd reason (a gift?) had this fascinating obscure old jazz/big-band album The European All Stars 1961 in his record collection. Monica Zetterlund sang 'Am I Blue' on this project (sorry no yt). Also, many years later I learned that Ronnie Ross, the baritone sax player in this group, had later went on to record some interesting stuff with David Bowie.
posted by ovvl at 5:21 PM on May 12, 2015

I tried to favorite this twice! Thanks
posted by mumimor at 6:30 PM on May 12, 2015

A name barely known to me until this excellent post, effbot; many thanks.
Such a charmingly light, swinging voice, ideal for Evans.
posted by On the Corner at 12:13 AM on May 13, 2015

The European All Stars 1961

After reading languagehat's comment how the waltz chokes him up, I went searching for a bit more information about the "dejlig rosa" song because that one always make me choke up, and one of the first things I found was an instrumental version from Swedish All Star member and jazz veteran Arne Domnérus' 1974 Antiphone Blues record (not entirely sure what it has to do with Garbo, though, but couldn't find a better clip). Small world. At least the jazz one.

As for the song, the word "dejlig" (delightful, lovely) isn't used in Swedish these days -- the SAOB entry from 1908 describes it as "archaic" -- so contemporary Swedes probably assume this is a Danish song, but it was first published by prolific composer Alice Tegnér who used old lyrics and probably based the melody on a traditional tune. And it's the 16th century lyrics that do me in; while originally intended for children, they work across the range from a simple lullaby to a love song to a funeral hymn, and the song has been used in all these contexts.

For yet another take on this song, here's Robyn's minimalist version (live clip from 2010, it's also on her one of her body talk albums).
posted by effbot at 8:46 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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