The long story
Andreas Hellkvist was born in Stockholm in May of 1976 and lived his first 4 years in Jakobsberg, one of the city’s western suburbs. His parents were both academics who had met during their studies at the university in Uppsala (about an hour north of Stockholm) in the 60s. His mom was a librarian and his father worked at the national road administration. Andreas was their second son, his brother Mattias being 3 years older. When the headquarters of the road administration was relocated from Stockholm to the town of Borlänge, the family moved with it, and so Borlänge became the place where Andreas grew up and went to school.
At the time, Borlänge was going through some major changes, from being mainly an industrial town with a steel mill and paper mill, to a town with a more academic profile. Borlänge have also for long had a reputation of being a city of music. A lot of great musicians and bands have come from there, and continue to do so. The reasons for that has been debated, but for sure, there has been a well functioning music school at all ages and a tradition were younger generations are inspired by and learn from their older colleagues.
As many in Andreas’ generation, he started to play the recorder in 3rd grade. The choice was either recorder or piano, and surprigingly enough, there wasn’t a piano in his home at the time. In 4th grade one could choose instrument more freely and then Andreas chose to try the drums, probably inspired by his brother who also had been playing drums in his middle school years. After a year of drums Andreas finally decided to start playing the piano.
Andreas and his brother had shown early musical talent, both having unusually good ear and musical perception. When Andreas started to get piano lessons it became even more evident, and by the end of 6th grade his skill at the keys had surpassed most of his school mates, most of which had had two more years playing the instrument. His teacher Grazyna, a stern but kind woman from Poland, would make a lasting impression in Andreas’ life.
Though, in seventh grade, things changed. A new school, a new piano teacher and new musical interests made playing the piano less appealing. As hard rock and heavy metal became the focus he got himself a guitar and started to learn to play it by himself. He and a few friends started a band called Ethereal. Musically speaking, it was Andreas’ first experience of playing and creating music together with others, and the joy that it brings.
The piano stood at home, rarely played for a few years. Although, it wasn’t about to last. At the beginning of high school, Andreas found himself sitting by by the piano again. Partly composing the songs for his band, partly playing and learning blues tunes. It was becoming clear that he felt more at home with the keys than with the strings.
More and more he became interested in jazz music. This was the time before the internet, so music in general was not as easily accessible as it is today. The closest thing he had to a search engine was his mother, the librarian. So he asked her to bring him some jazz CD:s from the library. And she did – a whole pile of them. Andreas started to listen and explore the music and there was one CD that got played more than anyone else – Oscar Peterson’s ”Night Train”. From that moment on, Andreas knew he wanted to learn to play jazz. He started taking piano lessons again at the community music school, and this time his teacher was Inger Hägglund, who just happened to be a jazz pianist. She would guide him in his first steps in the world of jazz standards, chord analysis and improvisation. It didn’t take long before new band was formed.
Up until his last year of high school, Andreas had never seen a Hammond organ in real life. A remarkable fact, considering that his hometown of Borlänge had raised two of the most prominent Hammond players in Sweden. Nippe Sylwén, who had played around Sweden with various bands and artists and also toured the world with The Gimmicks. And then Pierre Swärd, who recently (2018) celebrated 50 years of playing the organ and is often one of the first names that is mentioned when talking about Hammond in Sweden. This was in the mid 90s when soul jazz had seen a revival and B3 organs again were appearing on stages of jazz clubs and other venues.
One winter night in the beginning of 1995, Pierre was playing with his trio in Borlänge, at the club Bolanche (yes, it is the french version of the town name). The drummer of Andreas’ jazz band told him – you have to see this guy. Andreas didn’t know at all what to expect but they but went to listen. That became one of the defining moments in Andreas’ life. Seeing and hearing Pierre playing the B3 live, he immediately felt that this was what he wanted to do.
There actually was an organ standing at home with which Andreas could begin practising. Some years earlier, his dad had bought one of these Yamaha home organs, with all kinds of orchestral sounds, drum machines and auto comping of many sorts. Earlier Andreas had played it mostly for fun, exploring its sounds and features. But with the appropriate settings, it could actually serve as a Hammond substitute for the aspiring new organ player. It had two manuals, a full set of pedals, and sounds that were close enough to the real thing.
A few months later he acquired his first Hammond, complete with a leslie. Not a tonewheel organ though, but an early 80s transistor organ called the B200. Still not the real thing, but one step closer in that direction. He could start figuring out the essentials of playing the Hammond, such as drawbar registration, lesli control, playing the bass with pedals and the left hand. Things started to fall into place.
He went to Pierre for lessons. A perfect way to start learning the instrument. Pierre was (and still is) living in Borlänge , and since he was the one who inspired Andreas to switch to the organ, he had the exact skill set that Andreas wanted to learn. And on top of that – he had a Hammond B3 and Leslie 122. Now Andreas really got a taste of the real thing and he soaked it all in wholeheartedly.
More and more, Andreas felt the need to upgrade his rig, but finding a B3 at the time was close to impossible. There was a british Hammond technician Bryan Davenport, residing in Gothenborg, that was renovating and selling vintage organs and from him Andreas could purchase a Hammond A100 with a 760 leslie. On Easter Friday 1997 Andreas and his father drove the 6 hours from Borlänge to Gothenburg to pick it up. The dream of a real B3 remained of course, but the A100 actually had a feature that made it optimal for the time being, at least in the practical sense. The A100 is about 10 centimeters slimmer than the B3, because of the placement of the preamp. That made it possible to bring it into the room of Andreas student dorm, where he was currently living. A B3 actually wouldn’t have passed through the narrow door.
Having a real B3 type organ meant that Andreas really could start developing his style and skills, and he devoted most of his waking hours doing so. Many of the songs he composed at the time he is still playing to a great extent today. One might say that the foundation of his musical life was laid.
Andreas´ change of musical path and rapid development on his new instrument did not go unnoticed. He was brought together with some older, more experienced musicians and so his first organ quartet was formed. Later the same year he made his first concert at the local jazz club in Borlänge. The audience, as at most jazz venues, mostly people in retirement age, were astonished to see this young talent, swinging with his band, utilizing the organ to its full extent, delivering the tunes of Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, as well as tunes of his own. The headline in newspaper the following day read – ”Sensational organ debut”.
By the time he had moved to the university town of Uppsala to study. Being raised in an academic family, music as a professinal career wasn’t an obvious choice, especially since his achievements in school in subjects like maths and physics well matched those of his musical counterparts. At the high school graduation he received an award for having aced all the tests of the final year. He went to Uppsala university to study physics, with continued academic success. After a few years he switched to computer science in which he later got his degree. Parallel to his studies, he was playing the organ more and more, creating an ambiguity towards what professional career to pursue.
Uppsala wasn’t just a university town, but also had a rich musical life. It provided many new connections and people to play with. Shortly after his first Borlänge concert he formed an Uppsala based quartet and made his debut on the Uppsala stage later the same year. One of the first groups he worked with was a quartet named ”The Hammond Project”, in which he got to know the drummer Daniel Olsson.
One day, working on an assignment at the University, the phone rang. It was Thomas Arnesen, whom Andreas knew primarily from one of his favorite bands ”Öhman Organ Grinders”. Thomas had decided to start a blues band of his own. He had heard of Andreas in some way and asked him to join. To this day, 18 years later, the band is still active. It was also during this time that he met and started playing with Jojo Djeridi, which later would develop into forming the trio Trinity, with trumpet player Karl Olandersson.
Having all these new people with whom to play, Andreas could develop his style further, branching out in different directions in each constellation. He toured around Sweden and some parts of Europe.
So far, his fame was limited to Sweden, but the emerging capabilities of the internet provided new means of reaching audiences all across the globe. Except for his A100 organ he would also use some of Hammond’s modern digital organs, and he started to work with the Swedish Hammond office, doing demonstrations for them. It was often filmed and put on youtube. He began to get noticed by viewers all over the world, especially in the USA. It became even more clear that he brought something unique, and several of those videos are still being viewed, enjoyed and shared today.
In 2013, Hammond USA started a hall of fame, and organists from countries around the world was nominated for the first list. I Sweden, the nominees where, as expected, Pierre Swärd, Kjell Öhman and Merit Hemmingsson, but also – Andreas Hellkvist. This certainly was proof that he had reached an audience far outside Sweden.
In 2010 a dream came true. There had been a vintage B3 for sale at the Swedish Hammond office that Andreas had been eyeing for a while. There are actually a few videos out where he’s trying it out and they are among the more popular ones, still being shared and liked. So, Andreas decided to get it, and thus fulfilled a dream of many years. The visual image of Andreas sitting behind the B3 on stage has since become a trademark.
Being swept up in touring and recording with Trinity, Arnesen Bluesband and other projects, resulted in Andreas putting his own group and his own music a little to the side. However, regardless of whether he is the sideman or the main artist, Andreas always puts his touch on the music. He often tends to get noticed and sometimes even steal the show, though not through attention seeking excesses but combination of skill and desire to give the music everything it needs in each moment.
And it felt like it was time to do something in his own name. The songs from his early days of organ practice still hadn’t been recorded, and he had a lot of new material as well that would fit into such a project. So the idea started to take shape, although it took a few years before it was finished. In 2016, coinciding with his 40th birthday, he released the album appropriately named ”Finally!”. It contains songs that spans two decades, from the early ”The Hellkvist Shuffle” and ”Morgonkaffe” written back in 1997, to songs finished just before recoring in 2015. Since he had no existing group of his own at the time it took a while to figure out how to do it. The classical organ trio, with a drummer and guitar player was the basis, but he decided to invite a few different guitar players to be able to give each song the song and approach needed. Daniel Olsson was the obvious choice for drummer and the guitar players were Erik Söderlind, Samuel Hällkvist and Thomas Arnesen. Erik has a traditional jazzy sound, Thomas is more bluesy and Samuel is a little harder to define.
Andreas and Samuel had known each other all the way back since the late 90s, when they both were aspiring jazz musicians. Samuel grew up quite close to Borlänge so they would meet at the local jazz club, play gigs and have jam sessions. They was always an almost intuituve connection between the two, although geography made it harder to sustain a continuous musical collaboration. Samuel went to Malmö to study and later settled down in Copenhagen. But when the time came to revive the old songs that they’ve been playing for so many years, Samuel felt as obvious as Daniel for the album.
So in a way, the album featured three different trios, but only one of them would be the official ”Andreas Hellkvist Trio”, and that became the trio with Daniel and Samuel. The summer following the release, the trio made its first tour abroad, to Iceland. Now the music and the interplay within the trio started to take shape and come alive on a whole new level.
For a number of years, Andreas had had a growing fan base in the US but he had never been there to play. That finally changed in 2019, when he was invited by the Swedish Hammond office to go to the NAMM show, the annual musical manufacturers fair in Anaheim, California. While being on the west coast he also was invited to Bellingham, WA by a long time facebook friend who arranged a few concerts, Andreas’ first on American soil. Later the same year he was listed as ”B3 artist” at the Hammond USA website, and his American audience keeps growing.
2019 also saw the release of his second album ”Becoming”, recorded only with his trio featuing Daniel Olsson and Samuel Hällkvist. His second album is an obvious continuation of the path that he is on with his own music, exploring the sound, style and potential of the organ trio format and the Hammond B3. The recording was setup for the trio to really experience the music while playing. All in the same room, no headphones, and two leslie cabinets on each side of the room. It sure allowed for a greater cocreation and interaction between the three.
Earlier that year Andreas had been in touch with bay area based radio host and Hammond jazz nestor Pete Fallico. Pete knows practically everyone in the business playing the Hammond and does a weekly podcast called ”The Doodlin Lounge” interviewing Hammond players. Andreas was featured on the show and Pete also wrote the liner notes for the record Becoming. It concludes with the words .
”One gets the impression that Andreas is a devoted musician who knows how and where the organ best conveys its message. His connection to his guitarist and drummer is on a metaphysical level and it allows this music to transcend the page and float, effortlessly, within space. There is sanctity in its delivery and purity in its presence.”
The making of Becoming also coincided with a personal journey of Andreas’. Those who had followed him for a while could see his apperance slowly changing in a more feminine way. Andreas himself describes it as a side of him that has been there all his life but it’s only now that he has begun to explore and express it more openly. As with the music that flows from the inside and out, it’s another form of expression from the soul, reflecting to the world a larger picture of oneself.
In 2019 Andreas also began to do more concerts playing solo organ. Up until then he had been doing it mostly only on youtube clips. It allows for even more freedom of expression with the instrument, and to shape each performance in the moment.
Following the Swedish release tour of Becoming with his trio, he did an extended tour in Iceland, doing mostly solo concerts and some guest appearances.
In the beginning of 2020 it seemed that except Sweden, Andreas would be playing a lot also in Iceland and in the US. He attended the NAMM show again as a Hammond artist. Several tours and gigs were being planned. And then – enter covid. Like most of his colleagues, bookings where wiped out from the calendar, with no short term end in sight. A new phase, for him and for humanity, no doubt, had begun.
He is now focused on his online presence, to compose, produce and share music from his studio.