“Isabella Lundgren has a seriousness and a gravity that is unique. Its like she makes time stand still just by being, I guess thats what they call charisma and presence. And then she sings absolutely fantastic, with a natural, flowing time and a low-key but expressive phrasing. The fact the she has something to say with her lyrics, also adds to the magic. She is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to the Swedish Jazz scene”.
Dan Backman- Swedish Daily News
”Lundgren’s incisive and agile voice, often reminiscent of Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday, came from a formally attired, deceptively slight frame and it thus was less of a surprise than it might have been to discover later that having studied music at New York’s New School she is now in Stockholm studying to be a priest. She had the congregation in her hand right from the lightly accompanied rubato intro to That Old Black Magic that opened the set. There was also It’s Magic and a couple of blues, all delivered with compelling authority and a mischievous sense of swing.”
Mark Gilbert, JazzJournal
”And then Isabella Lundgren enters the stage. A Swedish Billie Holiday the program advertises and this might give you a hint, but she is influenced by many others and above all she has the rare artistic ability to make full use of the lyrics both as a story telling device and as a musical expression. . Her phrasing is elastic; she is holding and stretching the notes with the competence that can only occur when you are totally present.”
I am sitting at a wooden table in the basement of the Scala theater in Stockholm. I am watching Isabella Lundgren from afar. Everywhere around us the party is swirling and swaying back and forth. Her party. An after party if you will, after her concert at the Stockholm Concert hall, which she sold out entirely on her own. Last time I was at the concert hall was when Patti Smith held a concert there after receiving the Polar Music Prize, it was not sold out. An hour ago Isabella held a somewhat sacred and rather magical concert with her own material, backed by a full classical orchestra. The seated audience applauded enthusiastically but politely. They were dressed up the way middle age people dress up for the theater. In Scala’s basement the mood in inverted. A wild band is blowing Dixie as underage girls spill Jack and Coke over their music-school-attending boyfriends and the in Sweden mandatory thick winter coats are trampled on the floor. In front of the stage the sweat is dripping down from the ceiling. It is crowded and rowdy and hot. Isabella has a smile on her face and her adopted Romanian street dog in her arms. She is standing a little to the side, watching the party with mild amusement. She is drinking a non alcoholic cider. Out of the sea of people Rigmor Gustafsson emerges to thank Isabella. The Swedish jazz queen Rigmor has stars in her eyes. She gives Isabella, what seems to be, at least from where I am sitting, an overwhelming review. As they are holding each others arms I think of a moment I have only read about. When Johnny Cash made his way over to Bob Dylan after a concert in the late sixties, to give to him his finest acoustic guitar. I think of that and I think of this. An equivalent of that moment. A passing of the torch if you will. There it is, torch passed. They even hail from the same town.
I first heard Isabella Lundgren sing in a music high school practice room in that town. Karlstad in rural Sweden. As I recall her voice then it sounded just like it does now. And I think she was only fifteen years old at the time. She already had that voice. An old voice. With a tear in it. A voice that had seen the bottom of the glass and the top of the world. A voice that had laughed its way through the night in a taxi with it’s fingers in a strangers hair. A voice that had thrown it all away and had to face its gaze in the mirror the morning after. A voice that had felt love. And seen hate. Though it was, at that time, a voice like a bird in a cage. That mostly had been secluded to a teenage girls bedroom, with her mothers jazz records, in an apartment building opposite a gas station and a McDonalds restaurant. A voice that had been singing for thousands of hours accompanied by her Cd-Walkman underneath black and white posters of the Manhattan skyline. A voice that maybe hadn’t lived but had longed to live. I started talking to that voice on the phone for hours on end. For we longed for the same things. We talked and talked, like only teenagers can, about our restless longing. About Bob Dylan and about old movies. About everything that had to happened and about everything that mustn’t. We longed to live and we longed to leave. She left before me. On a full scholarship to the New School University for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. She ended up in New Jersey at first, at some remote relatives house, but she told a lie about having found another place to stay, in the city with a classmate, and again she did leave. A white lie from someone who had been longing. Longing to throw herself out from safety and into life with no safety net. And from what I heard, it was a hard fall. As hard as falls can become for someone who’s been longing. Longing for the night and the stage and the love. Longing for friendship and avenues and smoky clubs and bars. Longing for laughter and random encounters and booze and sex and dope. When she finally came back to Europe she was another. Wise somehow, beyond her years. She was still only twenty five but she had, it seemed, lived five lifetimes. She had found her faith and lost it. Dealt with her longing and her limitlessness. And it took time but she did start to sing again. To use the voice. Harness it. She had so many things to tell. And she now knew that music had to mean more. More than entertainment. It had to mean something real. She started writing her own material. Political, raw, and absolutely beautiful. With that same voice. Sometimes the girl have to catch up to the voice. Sometimes the woman first must live what the voice long have told.
Anton Annersand, Stockholm, 2017
Isabella Lundgren was nominated for a Swedish Grammy for Jazz album of the year, 2016.
She has released the albums “It had to be you” (2012), ”Somehow Life got in the way” (2014) and ”Where is home” (2016).
- Swedish National Radios ”The Jazz Cat”, as musician of the year, 2015.
- ”The Golden Record” for the album ”Somehow Life got in the way”, 2014.
- The Bert Levin scholarship
- The Gustaf Fröding scholarship
- The Louis Armstrong scholarship
- The Anita O´day scholarship
- The Konstnärsnämnden scholarship
- The Stallbröderna scholarship