The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz

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”A good sound comes from a good musician and a good instrument,” says Norwegian Jan Erik Kongshaug, founder of the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo. He’s a living legend of jazz sound and was celebrated with his own festival in Oslo and received The King’s Medal of Merit earlier this year.

Jan Erik Kongshaug is a well-known sound engineer in the world of recorded jazz music due to his close co-operation with Manfred Eicher at ECM, who helped redefine jazz in the early 1970s. Jan Erik is hardly noticed behind the glass – yet he makes a whole lot of difference. His silent presence can be heard on some of the most tone-setting record releases of our time.

The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz
Jan Erik Kongshaug., guitarist and sound engineer

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The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz
Over the past thirty years Jan Erik Kongshaug has recorded hundreds of albums for ECM. Many of those – albums by Keith Jarret, Jan Garbarek etc. – are today’s classics. After working at the legendary Power Station studio in NY, and Arne Bendiksen and Talent studios in Oslo, he set up his own Rainbow Studios, one of today’s finest recording studios.

The sound coming out from the Rainbow Studio, established in 1984, is called “The Kongshaug Effect”, and it tells the story of the man behind sound. A man who has over 4,000 recordings to his name and who has worked with every great jazz musician to set foot on this earth.

The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz
At 75, Kongshaug does not see himself moving towards retirement

Largely self-taught
For an engineer who has built an international reputation for his almost unparalleled instincts and keen attention to sound and detail, it may come as a surprise to learn that Kongshaug is largely self-taught.

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“I think my reputation comes from what I’ve done for ECM, and less from making audiophile recordings. The reason why some records sound better than the others is that there’s a good performer, a good instrument … we for instance have a really fantastic piano here,” he says, referring to the handmade Steinway D-model concert piano in the studio which is tuned at least twice a day.

The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz
From Rainbow Studios in Oslo

A hallmark for quality
“Recorded at Rainbow Studio, Oslo. Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug” is considered a hallmark for quality sound recording, and there are few, if any, sound engineers who can claim they have an audio style named after them: “The Kongshaug Sound”.

Jan Erik was born in Trondheim in 1944 and started playing accordion when he was eight years old. His father was a professional guitarist. He started to play the guitar when he was at high school. In 1963/64 he was playing in a band on a cruise ship and had the chance to visit New York several times a year. There he heard Coltrane live and Miles Davis’ new band and he wanted to preserve their sound.

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Today, people are coming over from all over the world to the Rainbow Studio to either mix or record albums. “If I’m just mixing they’re expecting me to give them the same sound as I give to my recordings done at my studio,” he says, “but that’s not possible because often their pianos and other instruments are not that good.”

The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz
The handmade Steinway D-model concert piano in the studio is tuned at least twice a day

Also filmmaker
In 2012, he made a film about his late father and the Norwegian jazz musician, Frode Thingnæs. During this process he suddenly saw himself as a filmmaker and quickly found that this was what he wanted to do – to make documentaries about people and places with music at the core.

At 75, does Kongshaug see himself moving towards retirement? “I work every day,” he says,  “but as long as I love it and can do it, I’ll continue to work; of course, you don’t always know when you’ll have to stop. Today there are very few studios left, in a few years I don’t know if there’ll be any studios like this; they’re closing down all over the world.”

The King of Norway knew what he was doing when he awarded Jan Erik Kongshaug a medal, and the sound and music coming out of his Rainbow Studio will always shine.

The Norwegian Wizard of Recorded Jazz, written by Tor Kjolberg

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