Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson plays Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Kelowna on his upcoming Canadian tour, but in many ways he’ll be performing for an audience of one: Ken Pickering, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival’s late co-founder and guiding light.
“Ken meant a lot to me over the years,” the Swedish-born musician explains from his home in rural Austria. “He was actually the first presenter in North America who brought me over, and when we met for the first time we immediately jumped into our biggest interests, which were records and ice hockey—and we stayed like that. It was a very special kind of friendship, and so what I would like to do is somehow add those ice hockey things into what I will do musically.”
Gustafsson recalls conspiring with Pickering and Vancouver clarinet virtuoso François Houle during the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. Having latched on to some free-flowing Olympic money, Pickering commissioned the two performers to create a sonic game based on the rules and culture of what, until recently, was Canada’s favourite sport.
“We had one Swedish team—one line and a goalie—and then Canada had the same, and a referee. A Danish referee, actually,” he says, laughing. “People were dressed up in ice hockey jerseys. We had intermission music, we had commercial breaks, and I’d brought a tabletop hockey game from the ’50s from Sweden, with Swedish and Canadian players on the ‘ice’, and we had that set up with microphones and processed through some weird music program as an ending for the whole game, so to speak. It was spectacular!”
Gustafsson won’t be reprising that improv face-off, but he has made some LPs of the amplified tabletop game and he’ll be working those discs into his local performances.
“I’m bringing a couple of Vinyl Killers,” he says. “They look like a toy Volkswagen bus, three inches long or something, and they have a needle underneath and a little preamp in the back and a speaker that comes up from the roof, and they spin around on the vinyl. So my plan is to bring a couple of those LPs that I did with those tabletop sounds, and have the Vinyl Killers run on that vinyl while I improvise on my saxophone—and that will be the hockey connection.”
Pickering, who loved the surreal, would approve.
“I don’t believe in doing music that is too programmatic,” Gustafsson says, “but whatever I’m playing on all those gigs in Canada, Ken will be there.”
Mats Gustafsson joins the Kids’ Table Quartet for a free afternoon show at Performance Works on Friday (June 21) and opens for The Comet Is Coming at the Imperial that night, both as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. It runs from Friday (June 21) to July 1 at many venues around the city.