An article with Monica Borrfors

Monica Borrfors

An article with Monica Borrfors

This year I'm turning 60, and I can look back on 35 years as a touring musician! It's almost unbelievable. That I would still be active under the circumstances is something I wouldn't have guessed.

Music has always been part of my life. From my early childhood onwards. My father always kept the radio at a high volume. He bought record players all the time, and collected a vast number of all sorts of records.
A mother who had been given the chance to study the violin and piano, and dabbled at playing the accordion when there was a party on the island where we spent our summers.
There was a sense of security in listening to adults talk, laugh and sing to my mother's accordion during the summer nights.

My father played Ella and Louis Armstrong on the record player and in a child's manner and with the open mind that a child has, I imitated that sound and gained, probably without thinking about it, a sense of syncopated music.
I chose music as extracurricular activity at high school where I had a teacher who opened up our senses to music in a wider perspective.

He was a trained church organist from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, with a higher degree and a diploma at organ playing. He did a few hours as teacher at my school a week while working in church.

He was a controversial teacher in those days. Among all teachers we had, he was the one with shoulder long hair, a big beard, and boot cut, orange-colored pants. Wearing necklaces and rings in his ears he expressed the new era. The scene-changing 60'ies.

The music that he introduced us to had huge range. It was everything from Jimmi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, Miles Davis to Pretorius and Bach.

He took us to Konserthuset in Stockholm to see a young Keith Jarret.

He had his own band that played extremely great pop music, which he toured with.

When he needed new members for his church choir it was a certainty that one said yes to the proposal. He staged major works of church music and we even got to sing pieces to a full symphony orchestra, which he directed. He wrote choral motets for  the morning services many of the Sundays when we were to sing, which we rehearsed the same morning. It was a fun and stimulating time.

I had a quite dark alto voice, which he became interested in, and he started to write some music for me.

It began with pop-based songs but went more and more in the direction of jazz. A style of music that he had devoted all his time to since the 50'ies. It was ''his'' music. To get an education at the Royal College of Music had really been more of a necessary evil, as the time for jazz music was regarded as past and pop music was the new. The future would reveal that it was an education that had major significance.

I  was given the chance to sit in with his band, and that was when I took my first steps as a soloist, and at the time with Janis Joplin's repertoire, among others'.
Our interest in each other developed over time, into a huge and strong love, and suddenly we had 4 children.
My plan had of course been to become a midwife, and I worked in the maternity ward at the hospital in Danderyd while I was studying, touring and had our own little children.

It was a life and a pace that I wasn't able to keep in the long run. After 10 years in the maternity ward I left my job and started singing jazz full time 1983.
The debut as a jazz singer had taken place a few years earlier, when we had put together my own quintet, ''Monica Borrfors Quintet''.

There were many long tours in those days. We were one of the best bands in the country, but it wasn't until 1987 that I got to make my first album.

I won the vote at the jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen to make a recording. The record was named ''Your Touch'', after a ballad which my husband Gus had written, with a text by our friend, guitarist and singer Eric Bibb.
In 1988 we won a Grammy for that album.

My second album, ''Second Time Around'', was released in 1990. That one also got its title from a ballad by Gus and Eric. The arrangements were made by Gus and one of the major jazz saxophonists in Sweden, Bernt Rosengren. In those days we had a young drummer whose name is Magnus Örström in the band. After a few years and many tours he later left us to join the internationally acclaimed band EST, with Esbjörn Svensson and Dan Berglund.

This production was also nominated for a Grammy.
It wasn't until 1995 that I made my next album. I recorded for BMG in ABBA's Polar Studios in Stockholm.

That was a record with only ballads. Wonderfully arranged and scored by Gus and the brothers Henrik and Ulf Jansson. Guys who these days write for a large number of international artists such as Celin Dion for example.

The record was given the name ''Slowfox'' and I like it a lot to this day.

I believe that it should have been nominated for a Grammy but the record company had a pop group called ''Kent'', which they wanted to launch, so it wasn't even handed to the nominating jury.  Such a shame in my opinion. Gus and I went over to BMG in New York to talk to them about my record, but at the time BMG was heavily into launching a young Canadian singer by the name of Dianne Krall, and that was it.

I made two albums with the Swedish group ''Sweet Jazz Trio'', which is made up by Hans Beckenroth -- bass, Mats Larsson --g uitar, Lasse Thörnqvist -- cornet, and I toured a bit in Japan with them.

Then I started to sing in my own language and made a record with jazz musicians from Gothenburg. It was Lars Danielsson, upright bass and cello, Anders Kjellber, drums, Tommy Kotter, piano, and Staffan Svensson, trumpet. The trombonist Nisse Landgren produced, and played on, the album. The CD was named ''Monica Borrfors in plain Swedish''.

In recent years I have also interpreted one of Sweden's legendary jazz singers -- Monica Zetterlund -- on two different records -- ''Monica sings Monica'' and ''Li'l Darli'n''.  Monica Zetterlund -- who among other things recorded with many international jazz musicians such as Bill Evans.

I was compared with Monica Z early on, so it was probably high time to do her music. I have done hundreds of concerts during the last few years, when I have told the story of her life and sung her unforgettable songs.

I have always stayed faithful to jazz. That is not an easy choice, but to be in that context and work with the musicians I have had the privilege of working with has of course shaped me into the person I am and the person I have become. I am deeply grateful for it.

Well, it has continued, so to say, with recordings, tours, tv, radio. You forget quite a bit as time goes by.
When I was younger I struggled hard to gain respect for jazz music in Sweden. I sat on different boards and we made calls on the ministries. At the time I was considered to have the gift of speech, which meant that I often got to voice the interests of jazz music.

I was involved in starting the jazz club Fasching in Stockholm and sat on its board. I was on the board of Svenska Rikskonserter for 6 years, and during several years in the Swedish Jazz Academy etc.

Music has opened a lot of doors and I have gained friends in high and low places.

When I in 1992 was about to do a tour with my own group, which started in Kuala Lumpur, continued to Singapore, and onward to New Zealand and Australia, I received a lot of help from our then prime minister Ingvar Carlson. We have been close friends since.

The music has taken me to China, Japan, South East Asia, the former Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, large parts of Europe and the Scandinavian neighboring countries. That would probably never have happened if I had continued on as a midwife.

I have played with amazing musicians, both Swedish and international. I did my first tv-show in the early 80'ies with musicians such as Toots Thielmans among others. I have worked with the Big Band at the Danish national radio, and with big bands here in Sweden, as soloist in different situations.

I believe that I am the female jazz singer in my generation in Sweden who has toured the most.

Nevertheless I have never felt as if I have neglected the family and our children. They have after all been the top priority in mine/our life/lives.

As a jazz musician you of course have to face times of unemployment, and during those periods you really wonder how you ventured into this line of work. The upside is that we have spent time with the children, who are all grown-up, secure and self-sufficient these days.

Gus and I have had the opportunity to travel and play together for years, and we still do.

When I write these words we're expecting our 10th grandchild any hour. It is indescribably major!
At the same time I sit here booking gigs and arranging forthcoming tours. Life as a jazz singer hasn't made me rich in any way, financially, but it is and has been a rich life in so many other ways. Would I have done it all again, knowing how it all is and has been?

That question requires some thought, but I'm leaning towards answering ''Yes''. I shall return to this question when I turn 90. Perhaps I can answer it then.

- Monica Borrfors

Monica Borrfors is a jazz singer who is based in Sweden. She has released nine albums, including her Grammy-awarded album debut ''Your Touch''. She has also contributed to several other artists' albums. Beyond working on her own career Monica Borrfors has devoted energy to improving the working conditions for musicians in Sweden through several official organizations over the years. Monica is married to the musician Gösta Nilsson.
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