When Portugal won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest it wasn’t only the first time for the country to take the trophy, but also the first time that a song in the jazz-pop genre won the contest. Today we take a look at the jazz-pop or jazz-inspired entries in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Earlier in May, Salvador Sobral captured the hearts of the voters in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, just as much as his sister-penned jazz-inspired song, Amar Pelos Dois, captured their ears. What an outstanding victory for Portugal after more than 50 years of participation in the competition that they had never finished in the Top five before. If we focus in the song itself and its genre, it’s almost safe to say that “jazz” also achieved its first victory in Eurovision this year. It wasn't however the first time we've heard songs inspired by that genre though...
Step back in time
Back in 1963 the Danish wife and husband duo of Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann won the Eurovision Song Contest but, even though they had been working mostly in the jazz style, their winning entry Dansevise was, as its title in Danish suggests, more of a “dance ballad”. In the same year Sweden was represented by one of Scandinavia’s top jazz vocalists, Monica Zetterlund, who performed En Gång I Stockholm, a jazz ballad about the winter in the Swedish capital. However, far from winning, she finished last and scoring the infamous nul points. It was widely believed that this was the reason why the genre came to be viewed as unsuitable for Eurovision. The poor placing didn’t affect Monica’s career at all and she remained very successful in Sweden despite the disappointment.
In those days it was more common to find jazz artists performing in Eurovision like, for example, Norway’s first ever entrant, Nora Brockstedt, who despite being more popular in the 1960s for her pop songs she always kept a close connection with jazz which eventually became her main performing genre. In her two appearances at the Eurovision Song Contest she had a hint of both the jazz and chanson styles, first with Voi Voi which finished 4th in 1960 and the year after with Sommer I Palma, placing 7th.
Sweden's entry in 1966, Nygammal Vals, was a jazzy number performed by Svante Thuresson and Lill Lindfors, the much-loved presenter of the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest. They were accompanied on stage in Luxembourg by the American jazz musician Sahib Shihab on the flute.
All that jazz... or not!
For the next three decades, jazz wasn’t heard much on the Eurovision stage, with some exceptions from Austria. In 1979 in Jerusalem, the jazz singer Christina Simon performed a ballad with some influences from contemporary jazz and blues, Heute in Jerusalem, finishing equal last. Their artist in 1995, Stella Jones, was more lucky with her uptempo jazzy number, Die Welt Dreht Sich Verkehrt, finishing in 13th place.
Switzerland also sent some jazz-inspired songs in the 1990s. Even if it wasn’t originally chosen to represent them, Mister Music Man finished second in the Swiss national selection for the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest, but when the winning song, Soleil, Soleil by Géraldine Olivier, was disqualified, Mister Music Man went to Malmö instead in the voice of Daisy Auvrai.
Iceland also sent an entry with jazz influences, Sjubidú, performed by Anna Mjöll in Oslo in 1996. The song actually talks about such important names in the world of jazz such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie or Frank Sinatra, and how they all sang something as understandable as “Shoo-be-doo". Anna’s dad, Ólafur Gaukur, a jazz musician himself, wrote the song for her.
A century of love for jazz?
The last century was far more productive when it comes to entries with a jazz flavour but success still remained elusive for most. Bulgaria’s debut in 2005, Lorraine performed by Kaffe, and A Century Of Love, Moldova’s effort in 2008 sung by Geta Burlacu, both failed to qualify from the Semi-Finals. Germany sent two jazz-inspired pop numbers in 2004 and 2007, with Max and Roger Cicero. The former took the Stefan Raab-penned song Can’t Wait Until Tonight to a Top 10 finish in Istanbul (eighth place), while the latter sung Frauen Regier’n Die Welt, finishing 19th in the Grand Final in Helsinki.
2007 saw two more songs that could fit in this style, Lithuania’s Love Or Leave by 4Fun (21st) and Hungary’s Unsubstantial Blues. Despite the title, jazz is ubiquitous in the song. Performer Magdi Ruzsa’s finished ninth in Helsinki, at that point it was Hungary’s best result in Eurovision since their debut in 1994.
To jazz or not to jazz?
Some song titles have been rather misleading over the years. Turkey's entry in 1992, Yaz Bitti, actually means "Summer is over" rather than being a reference to any musical genre. There have also been several jazz artists, such as Malene Mortensen (Denmark 2002) and Valentina Monetta (San Marino 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017) who took to the stage with songs that are far from the genre.
Italy was absent from the Eurovision Song Contest for 14 years before they returned in 2011 with a bang, and a jazz song. Madness Of Love was performed by Raphael Gualazzi who was the winner of that year’s newcomers’ category in Sanremo. Madness Of Love had influences from American swing, plus and jazz music. Raphael's strong performance took Italy to second place and their best showing in the Eurovision Song Contest since they won the contest in 1990.
Whilst Portugal's success in Eurovision broke the mould, the Czech Republic didn't fare so well with their jazz entry this year. My Turn, performed by the Czech jazz singer and musician, Martina Bárta, failed to make it to the Grand Final in Kyiv.
Portugal's victory in the Eurovision Song Contest showed that a captivating performance of an original song can hold the key to victory. Simple worked for Salvador and perhaps his victory will lead to more jazz-inspired Eurovision entries in the future?