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Karin Krog (* 1937) is one of the world's most outstanding jazz singers. After her record debut in 1964, she appeared at many festivals in Europe in the mid-1960s and toured the USA and Japan. She released more than 30 records. The interview was conducted by the Norwegian journalist and literary critic Erle Marie Sørheim.
Sørheim: When you were a child, the Second World War raged in Europe. Do you have memories of that time?
Krog: I vaguely remember April 9, 1940, the day the Germans invaded Norway. From then on, sirens kept warning of air raids, sometimes at night. Then we had to go to the basement half asleep, where it was cold and uncomfortable.
Sørheim: It must be a terrible experience for a child.
Krog: No, I wasn't very scared. But I was also very lucky: when a bomb struck in the immediate vicinity, I simply slept through it.
Sørheim: How did you experience the end of the war?
Krog: I remember the day of liberation. Unfortunately, my mother did not let us into town to see the King arrive [from exile in Britain]. She was worried that something might happen to us.
Sørheim: Can you describe the atmosphere in the country?
Krog: Many people were bitter - and there was definitely an aversion to the Germans. But I also remember my mother always saying justifiably: “You know, those were difficult times in Germany.” After all, my father had studied there. If you read Hans Fallada's “Everyone dies for himself”, you understand why most people in Germany did not know much about what was going on in the country.
Sørheim: Your father lived in Germany in the early 1930s. Did he talk to you about that time?
Krog: Yes, both he and my uncle talked about the simmering unrest in the country. They witnessed the rise of the National Socialists.
Sørheim: How did you get into jazz?
Krog: My father played drums before moving to Germany - in a Dixieland band in Oslo.
Sørheim: And when did you notice your talent for singing?
Krog: I don't really know. But my maternal grandmother was a singer. She studied in Dresden, her father was a composer and played the violin.
Sørheim: Did you know which musical direction you were going from the start?
Krog: Yeah, I heard Billie Holiday and I knew I just had to listen to her and learn from her.
Sørheim: How old were you there?
Sørheim: When did you decide to start your career as a professional musician?
Krog: A few years later, that must have been the beginning of the 1960s. I had released my first album, which was well received in America and rated 3.5 out of 5 stars by Downbeat magazine.
Sørheim: What did that mean?
Krog: The stars in the renowned magazine got off to a good start. An invitation to Sweden followed - along with a few other artists who made very modern music. That was an exciting time. Soon Jan Garbarek and I were performing at festivals in Prague and Warsaw: he with his tenor saxophone, me, the singer, and a Swedish bassist with whom I worked. Many did not understand this composition and always believed that a piano player was missing. But I said, “No, just the three of us!” That was new.
Sørheim: When did you leave Scandinavia for the first time?
Krog: When I was around 30 years old. The North German Broadcasting Corporation invited me to its "Jazzworkshop" series.
Sørheim: How was it for you so soon after the war?
Krog: It was great. The people at NDR were professionals and had great equipment.
Sørheim: When did you become a professional musician?
Krog: That was in the late 1970s when John [John Surman, Krog's husband and British jazz musician], I and a few other colleagues won a first prize in "Downbeat" and formed a group.
Sørheim: Did you expect all of this when you were 20?
Krog: No, I wouldn't even have dreamed of that. But then I recorded an album in Berlin and performed at the Berlin Jazz Days. It was fantastic.
Sørheim: Were you also to the east of the city?
Krog: Yes, we also visited East Berlin.
Sørheim: Do you remember whether you felt happy about all the freedom you had?
Krog: Yes, absolutely. People wanted to see the world - and couldn't. A good friend from the east wanted to come and visit us, but he wasn't allowed to. When the wall came down in 1989, I was in Hungary. So I followed events from there, from the other side.
Sørheim: How did you feel then?
Krog: It was so exciting. We didn't even know what was going to happen. Would Russia attack now? When Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, we were also in Moscow for the first time. There we were looked after by an older man who placed us at the university. It was the safest place, he said. Because in 1990 crime in the city was a huge problem. We then played in the Central House of Artists - it was just great!
Sørheim: Did you get the feeling that the 1990s were politically very optimistic?
Krog: Yeah, I think they were. It was impressive how the Germans managed to reunite.
Sørheim: How was it to travel in Europe in the 60s, 70s and 80s? With all the borders and the different currencies?
Krog: I don't really remember any major problems - apart from Poland, where you had to exchange your money for zloty, but you couldn't change it back later.
Sørheim: Today most Norwegians view the European Union with great skepticism. How come
Krog: I think that fishermen and farmers in particular fear for themselves and their property. And of course they have to, because these are disintegrating occupational fields. However, it was considered a high treason to vote to join the EU.
Sørheim: How should Norway and Europe continue? Do you believe in a positive development, maybe in the next 50 years? What will be the greatest challenges?
Krog: Well, there is Russia. Basically our entire northern hemisphere. If you want Finnmark, why didn't you take it back in 1945?
Sørheim: Maybe they didn't have enough soldiers.
Krog: Well, basically you could have taken it whenever you wanted. And then there is Scandinavia, where we are the nation that is in NATO, but not Sweden. We should be in NATO together, we are defenseless.
Sørheim: Are there any political events that meant more to you? Something that was close to your heart?
Krog: I consider cultural and - musical - exchange between all European countries to be very important. You can criticize the EU as you like, but this aspect was the reason why I voted for Norway to join the EU. I think European cooperation is important.
about the project
“Work on Europe” is a group of young committed Europeans who have come together to help shape the future of Europe. The “European Archive of Voices” is a central project of the group that collects interviews with well-known Europeans. In it, contemporary witnesses who were born before 1945 tell young people about their lives.
“Tell me about Europe” is a Goethe-Institut project, funded with special funds from the Federal Foreign Office for the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020.
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