Beating it to Nevada
Bert Dahlander lives, plays and paints by Duke Ellington’s lyrics, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”Playing a toe-tapping song on his snare drum on a whim, while wrapping up his garage sale in Battlement Mesa, the world-renowned Swedish-born jazz musician and painter shows that swing is still in his heart. He is selling most of his belongings, including hundreds of his vibrant, music-inspired paintings, to move to Mesquite, Nev., after an international cruise ship music tour this summer.”My father bought me a snare drum with a calfskin head when I was 8 or 9 years old. I was collecting stamps so I sold the stamps to buy a high-hat,” said Dahlander, who will be 77 on Friday. “I left Sweden in 1954 because when I heard this music – jazz – I said ‘I have to be there.'”From Sweden, Dahlander arrived in New York City where he soon learned that the Mafia controlled the live music club scene.
“No one could play in New York City without staying there for six months and paying,” said Dahlander, who has lived in Colorado for 35 years. “Norman Granz, the great promoter of jazz at the time, wanted me to come to Los Angeles. I took a Greyhound bus and stopped in Chicago at a club called The Beehive, which everybody said at the time was the most famous club in America.”Dahlander eventually reached the West Coast, where he played at the legendary Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with friend and drummer Stan Levey, who played professionally with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.”My dad said he was one of the greatest drummers, and he has just carried that on,” said Bob Levey, Stan’s son, who owns a decorative finishing company in Basalt. “Dad didn’t always compliment people, but he loved Bert.”After playing the Lighthouse, Dahlander moved on to Las Vegas to play in a new club started by jazz drummer Shelley Manne.”Shelley said, ‘There’s a young Swedish cat who could make it happen,'” said Dahlander, who once met Frank Sinatra when he was invited to sit at the swooner’s table at a New York City club. “I came in and had a jam session at the Frontier Hotel, which is the one Howard Hughes bought because he couldn’t get a room there. I lived in Las Vegas for three months.”
Bob Levey said Dahlander, his father, and other jazz pioneers should be recognized for making their style of music mainstream.”This guy is a legend,” he said of Dahlander. “They helped develop the instruments. In their era, there were no books, DVDs, and hardly any records to learn from. If there were records, people couldn’t afford them.” Dahlander said for him and others like Stan, who were never offered multimillion-dollar record deals like popular musicians are today, the music always mattered the most.”We didn’t only play jazz, we lived it,” Dahlander said. “You had to love it because you didn’t make any money at it. The whole world is different now.”Jazz not only inspired Dahlander’s lifestyle, which included several decades of performing in Aspen while living there, it also motivated the subjects of his paintings. When he was not helping start the famous Tippler Trio in Aspen, he painted more than 500 works of art that often featured bright color compositions and lyrics such as, “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing” as the focal point.
Doubling as a painter and a musician made for an interesting life for Dahlander and his daughter, Sanna Marcotte, who was born in Aspen in 1969 and lives in Grand Junction.”In my life, there was always something going on. I was able to travel the world and go to school in Sweden,” said Marcotte, who will host her father at her home before he returns to Sweden for a visit and joins the music lineup for a cruise on the Amazon River before moving to Mesquite in October. “I am my father’s daughter, there’s no question, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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