Jan Garbarek

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Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek-2007-2.jpg
Jan Garbarek live in Athens, 2007
Background information
Born (1947-03-04) 4 March 1947 (age 69)
Mysen, Norway
Origin Oslo, Norway
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, producer
Instruments Soprano, tenor, bass saxophone, clarinet and flute
Years active 1966–present
Labels ECM, Flying Dutchman
Associated acts George Russell, Terje Rypdal, Bobo Stenson, Keith Jarrett, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber, Bill Frisell, David Torn, Gary Peacock, Hilliard Ensemble
Website Official website

Jan Garbarek (born 4 March 1947)[1] is a Norwegian tenor and soprano saxophonist, active in the jazz, classical, and world music genres. Garbarek was born in Mysen, Norway, the only child of a former Polish prisoner of war Czesław Garbarek and a Norwegian farmer's daughter, and grew up in Oslo. He was effectively stateless until the age of seven, as there was no automatic grant of citizenship in Norway at that time. At 21, he married Vigdis. He is the father of musician and composer Anja Garbarek.[2]


Garbarek's sound is one of the hallmarks of the ECM Records label, which has released virtually all of his recordings. His style incorporates a sharp-edged tone, long, keening, sustained notes, and generous use of silence. He began his recording career in the late 1960s, notably featuring on recordings by the American jazz composer George Russell (such as Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature). If he had initially appeared as a devotee of Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann, by 1973 he had turned his back on the harsh dissonances of avant-garde jazz, retaining only his tone from his previous approach. Garbarek gained wider recognition through his work with pianist Keith Jarrett's European Quartet which released the albums Belonging (1974), My Song (1977) and the live recordings Personal Mountains (1979), and Nude Ants (1979).[3] He was also a featured soloist on Jarrett's orchestral works Luminessence (1974) and Arbour Zena (1975).[4]

Garbarek live in 2007.

As a composer, Garbarek tends to draw heavily from Scandinavian folk melodies, a legacy of his Ayler influence. He is also a pioneer of ambient jazz composition, most notably on his 1976 album Dis a collaboration with guitarist Ralph Towner that featured the distinctive sound of a wind harp on several tracks. This textural approach, which rejects traditional notions of thematic improvisation (best exemplified by Sonny Rollins) in favour of a style described by critics Richard Cook and Brian Morton as "sculptural in its impact", has been critically divisive. Garbarek's more meandering recordings are often labeled as new-age music, a style generally scorned by more orthodox jazz musicians and listeners, or spiritual ancestors thereof. Other experiments have included setting a collection of poems of Olav H. Hauge to music, with a single saxophone complementing a full mixed choir; this has led to notable performances with Grex Vocalis, but not yet to recordings. In the 1980s, Garbarek's music began to incorporate synthesizers and elements of world music. He has collaborated with Indian and Pakistani musicians such as Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Garbarek is credited for composing original music for the 2000 film Kippur.

In 1994, during heightened popularity of Gregorian chant, his album Officium, a collaboration with early music vocal performers the Hilliard Ensemble, became one of ECM's biggest-selling albums of all time, reaching the pop charts in several European countries and was followed by a sequel, Mnemosyne, in 1999. Officium Novum, another sequel album, was released in September 2010. In 2005, his album In Praise of Dreams was nominated for a Grammy. Garbarek's first live album Dresden was released in 2009.

Awards & honors[edit]

  • In 1999, Garbarek was appointed a Knight 1st Class of the Order of St. Olav and in 2004 he was awarded the Norwegian Arts Council award.
  • Due to his influence on European jazz and his Norwegian-German relationship he received the Willy-Brandt-Award in Oslo on 28 October 2014.[5]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Karin Krog

  • Jazz Moments (1966)
  • Til Vigdis (1967)
  • Joy (1968)

With Terje Rypdal

With George Russell

With Art Lande

With Ralph Towner

With Bill Connors

With David Darling

With Keith Jarrett

With Egberto Gismonti

With Charlie Haden

With Zakir Hussain

With Trilok Gurtu

  • Living Magic (1990)

With Manu Katché

With Eleni Karaindrou

  • Music For Films (ECM, 1991)
  • Concert in Athens (ECM, 2013)

With Kim Kashkashian

  • Monodia (2002)

With Marilyn Mazur

  • Elixir (2007)

With Gary Peacock

With L. Shankar

With Paul Giger

With Giya Kancheli

  • Caris Mere (1995)

With Miroslav Vitous

With Eberhard Weber

With Kenny Wheeler


  1. ^ Hultin, Randi (2002). "Garbarek, Jan". In Barry Kernfeld. The new Grove dictionary of jazz, vol. 2 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. pp. 11–12. ISBN 1561592846. 
  2. ^ Allmusic biography
  3. ^ Yanow, S. Allmusic Biography accessed 5 November 2009
  4. ^ Keith Jarret discography accessed 5 November 2009
  5. ^ willy-brandt-stiftung.de, 28 October 2014

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jon Christensen
Recipient of the Buddyprisen
Succeeded by
Arild Andersen
Preceded by
First award in 1982
Recipient of the Gammleng-prisen
Succeeded by
Karin Krog
Preceded by
Jon Fosse
Recipient of the Norsk kulturråds ærespris
Succeeded by
Agnes Buen Garnås