The Captain and The Jazz Boy

Guest blog post by Marcus Cederström

While transcribing the many songs from Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927, I reached out to friends and family for help. After listening to the same song for hours on end, you reach a sort of impasse. You slow things down. You turn things up. You adjust your headphones. You use different speakers. You listen again and again and again just trying to catch another word or two. And each word brings you just a bit closer and each word is a small celebration. But the entire process comes with frustration, as well. 

When the frustration threatens to boil over, I turn to my dad. I turn to him for a lot of things, whether it’s what to do when you come home to a flooded basement or how to translate agricultural vocabulary that appears in 19th century Swedish legends. Over the years he seems to have grown used to my weird emails linking to obscure songs or poems. With a little help, we were able to piece together a few more lines from Folke Andersson’s “I Herrens helgedom.” 

But even he has limits and when the frustration began to get to him and he started laughing at the seriousness of some of the hymns that appear on Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927, I shared with him one of my favorite songs from the collection: Gustaf Fonandern’s “Jazz-Gossen.” And my dad started humming along. Which is not a normal thing for him to do.

It turns out that “Jazz-Gossen” was one of the only songs he ever heard his dad sing. To be honest, I still can’t imagine my grandfather singing. At least not any song that wasn’t in the context of a midsummer celebration or a crayfish party. My grandpa was a farmer in southern Sweden and a captain in the army. Basically every adult I knew referred to him as “kaptenen” (“the captain”). He never seemed to be the type who would sing a song about jazz, an upbeat, lively song, full of innuendo. But he was. And it left a mark on my dad, decades later.

Sheet music for “Jazz-Gossen” (The Jazz Boy)

That’s one of the reasons projects like this matter. Why the work Archeophone does matters. These songs, recorded about 100 years ago still resonate today. Sometimes because of timeless lyrics about love and loss and life. Sometimes because of tunes that have been reused and recycled again and again. Sometimes because of the historical context in which they were recorded. But sometimes, also, because the memories they invoke and the stories we tell when we listen to them bring us closer to our family and friends, to our history and heritage. These songs, recorded in the acoustic era and just after, still carry with them personal connections. 

Wallin’s record label brought together a host of amazing musicians, Swedish and Swedish American. It brought popular Swedish music to the Swedish diaspora and connected people with the country they left behind while they made their own lives in their new home. In doing so, these records today help us better understand the very real and important role of music in Swedish Chicago in the 1920s and beyond. Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927 makes accessible this wealth of historically important songs and is a reminder of the importance of preserving and, in this case, restoring and reissuing the numerous songs from an era in which Swedish rang out all around Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood. 

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