Amanda Sedgwick was born in Stockholm in 1970 and grew up in numerous suburbs outside the city. At eight she begun to take piano lessons for her aunt, a pianist and piano teacher. When the time came to start junior high she applied for Adolf Fredrik, a school highly focused on choir singing.
– It was really very good to sing in choir! she says. Everything was very ordered and prudent and you quickly had to learn about self-discipline. This has been of great value to me later on. Plus you got vocal training and some basic insight in musical theory.
At one point during these years Amanda picked up the violin which was a ”complete disaster”. But her father insisted on her learning how to play two instruments. She was allowed to quit the violin if she took up something else. What did she want to start with?
– It was by chance that I started playing the saxophone. My best friend thought it looked cool when that guy in that English pop band Madness played it.
So at thirteen she walked through the door for her first lesson for teacher Alf Lund.
– He had me started with standard tunes at once. He used to comp me on the piano and I messed my way through the melody. It was fantastic! I got hooked, emotionally and mentally.
The alto sax was meant for me!
At that time Amanda mostly listened to music from the sixties, like The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.
– But my grandfather liked jazz and he had a friend who gave me a whole bunch of LP’s with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Hank Jones … that was my introduction to jazz.
During her years in school Amanda played in several student big bands, her shcool big band and one under the tutelage of Swedish pianist Nils Lindberg.
In the big band at school we played those Basie-tunes from the fifties. In Nils Lindberg’s band we played his arrangements of bebop tunes. You had to learn how to phrase and to improvise a little bit and all that. A good foundation!
Next step was three years in an Art’s high school in Stockholm. For saxophone teacher Gunnar Andersson she studied a little bit more technique. Her days were filled with jazz ensemble, lessons in piano, choir, music theory and music history.
After high school two years in southern Sweden awaited. The typical and popular Swedish education form ”folkhögskola”.
– That was of course very different from high school. You didn’t have much else to do than practice and broaden your repertoire. Every week there were four different ensembles, each one focused on a certain musical style. You also had piano, music theory, and you practiced and practiced.
From 1991 to 1995 Amanda studied at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm. Besides saxophone she studied arranging and composition, counterpoint, instrumentation, music theory and clarinet.
– That’s when I really started to work with a goal in mind and learned to write and arrange music. I put together a band with trumpeter Magnus Broo, basist Filip Augustsson and drummer Jesper Kviberg. We played a lot in a small café in town, not just my tunes but also the music of Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.
These years she played a couple of times with Bernt Rosengren’s big band and had the opportunity to play with legendary trumpet player Rolf Ericson before he died. Nils Sandström had a band that played the repertoire from ”Birth of the cool”, and in Kalabra she played folk-rock.
For her final exam at the College she wrote the suite ”Volt” for her own group, string quartet and woodwinds. That became the major piece on her debut CD ”Volt” which was the ”Jazz in Sweden” record 1996 (then an annual award to up-and coming musicians).
– I attended a class in instrumentation and was very inspired by Debussy and Schönberg. It’s modern jazz influenced by European music of the twentieth century.
In light of that you shouldn’t draw the conclusion that Amanda Sedgwick sees herself as a composer, however. She’s more of a songwriter that gives herself tasks.
– One method I use is to fill in the blanks of my group’s repertoire. I can decide to write a latin tune or a blues or to do a pastiche, of Bud Powell’s ”Glass Enclosure” for instance.
When she writes she begins with melody. That decides harmony and form, and one distinctive feature of her music is unevenness in form.
– The melody was good for nine or ten measures instead of the expected eight … well, that’s the way it had to be.
As her greatest inspiration through the years Amanda names Charlie Parker.
– I listen to him all the time and now that I’m older and have different experience I understand his music better. I copy his solos on a molecular level. That’s the best school you’ll ever attend! Because he is a genius! His harmony is so intricate and he’s completely free rhythmically. His music is completely grounded in swing and bebop but he will quote Stravinskij or a pop tune, just like that. And with such a big heart and sound.
1998-99 Amanda had a group with pianist Arne Forsén, bassist Marcus Wikström and drummer Ali Djeridi.
– We played a kind of mix of bebop and free form and some Lennie Tristano tunes and the like.
1999 Amanda moved to Holland and lived in the Hague for three years.
– For me it was like Christmas, a miniature New York of sorts, you could always find a session. And the level was high. Everyone knew all the tunes. And you had to take some constructive critisism. How I got along? I taught saxophone at a school for kids.
2003 Amanda returned to Sweden and started a group with bass player Martin Sjöstedt, drummer Gilbert Matthews, pianist Daniel Tilling and trumpeter Philip Harper as a returning guest. They toured through Sweden and also played in Gilbert’s home country South Africa.
2004 they released the CD ”Reunion”.
That same year Amanda left Stockholm for Atlanta, Georgia, where she stayed until 2006.
– I taught saxophone at Morehouse College. The South was new to me and I enjoyed it very much. The culture was truly different from what I was used to. Everyone took their time with things, and there was a certain courtesy about everything. At the same time, living there gave me a whole new insight of the racism that still prevails in the US.
2007 she was back in Stockholm with yet another group, this time with Moussa Fadera on drums and at times extended with Karin Hammar on trombone, Anders Bergcrantz on trumpet and René Martinez on percussion, as heard on the next CD ”Delightness”. The repertoire was a mixture of her own compositions and some select standard tunes.
Between 2007 and 2010 Amanda taught ear training and jazz ensemble at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm.
– The most important thing in teaching is to make the student want to progress, and you can do that in several ways. You pose some very basic questions: What does music consist of? How does this happen? … in an interesting and meaningful way. When it comes to the saxophone student it’s also about helping him or her with the development of sound, so that they get that feeling of connection when they start to sound better. But first and foremost you have to at all times show love and enthusiasm for what they are doing, focus on everything that’s good and give the positive feedback, to transmit passion and curiosity.
In 2011 it was time to again change scenery. This time she went to New York. She there sat in regularly at jazz club Smalls, with Sacha Perry and Dwayne Clemons.
– I lived in South Bronx, lived on my savings, practiced and went to sessions. It was like a second youth. On Sundays I had a weekly gig in a AME church across the street from where I lived, which was a great experience.
Amanda claims that these are times which are good for getting things done. For example, you can book a tour in Sweden right from your apartment in the Bronx, sitting in front of your computer.
Since 2012 Amanda again lives in Stockholm.
I have a good platform here. Now I go back to New York for lenghty visits instead and I get a lot of inspiration from it. I don’t have to adapt to all the politics that are prevalent there … you can meet a lot of wonderful musicians there and learn from sitting in with them, and just by listening.