By Robert Hurwitz
Nonesuch Records President Bob Hurwitz remembers the life of Thomas Stöwsand, the head of the Austrian agency Saudades Tourneen, which booked many great jazz, Brazilian, and new music artists, including Don Byron, Bill Frisell, Kronos Quartet, Caetano Veloso, John Zorn, and many others.
A good friend of ours, Thomas Stöwsand, died a few weeks ago. Thomas ran Saudades Tourneen—an agency in Austria that booked many great jazz, Brazilian, and new music artists, including John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, Don Byron, Steve Coleman, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Egberto Gismonti, Dave Holland, the Kronos Quartet, Paul Motian, John Scofield, Ralph Towner, Caetano and Moreno Veloso, John Zorn, and many, many others (a complete list is below). Thomas called the company Saudades—one of the most untranslatable words in Portuguese, it implies a nostalgic sense of longing—because of his lifelong love of Brazilian music and culture.
There really isn’t anything in America like Saudades. Thomas, who was a cellist, spent his entire adult life working with jazz musicians and others in the creative artistic community, and improbably built up an organization that toured dozens of these artists in Europe, almost all of them outside the world of the commercial mainstream. I know he loved their music, but I think Thomas loved them as people even more, and that’s was large part of legacy. It was not just a job or a business; it was his life. So many musicians that struggled to get work in America and struggled to get good recording deals thrived in Thomas’ democracy; his selfless work on their behalf helped many of these great artists earn the bulk of their income and reach the recognition the so strongly deserved.
Thomas was a big bear of a man, who had a loud, bellowing, unforgettable laugh. He seemed, especially during the years we worked together at ECM Records, to be one of the happiest people I had ever met. I once told a friend how happy Thomas was and he said, “He must be a very smart man.” He was. But though he was highly intelligent, he had a carefree attitude that made almost everyone who knew him adore him. His fingers were always yellow from smoking Gauloise, he could drink anyone under the table, and he spent his life driving around at 100 miles an hour. Literally.
I was fortunate to take a few trips with Thomas during the 1970s and '80s, before he started his own business and I came to Nonesuch. We went down to Italy in the summer of 1977 to visit the Italian trumpet player Enrico Rava and his wife Graciela at their home in Corniglia, and we were planning on leaving the next morning when Thomas announced, around midnight, that we should start driving now. I remember waking up somewhere in the front seat of his car in the Swiss Alps near the Italian border early the next morning; I had no idea how we got there that quickly. Sometimes musicians would complain about tours he booked where they had to drive long distances in short periods of time, because Thomas simply assumed everyone drove as fast as he did. No one came close.
Last fall, we heard from Bill Frisell and from our friends in Kronos that Thomas was really sick and might not have very long to live. Thomas had a private side, and though he was suffering from cancer for many years, he kept it to himself until nearly the end. When it became known how sick he was, many musicians and friends made a pilgrimage to Schwaz, Austria to see him; it had a tremendous impact on him, and although he was in terrible shape, it helped him hold on a little longer. Long enough, for instance, though he has almost totally incapacitated, to somehow get himself in his car—even in recent weeks—to drive long distances (surely at great speeds) to see as many of his friends perform as he could. David Harrington of Kronos told me a few weeks before Thomas died how astonished and deeply moved he and the group were to suddenly see Thomas in a concert in Austria. If you looked at him, he was no longer the robust man you remembered, but when he spoke, and laughed, it could only be one person in the world.
I wrote to him about a year ago, as soon as I heard he was so ill, and told him many of the things I am talking about now, how important a figure he was to me, and to the community, and reminisced about some of the incredible and funny times we had. A few days later, we spoke and Thomas starting laughing about my letter. “Everybody is writing to me, and they all read like obituaries.” He thought it was really funny.
Like he did all of this life, he was fighting for something against great odds. In every other aspect of his life, he succeeded in fighting those odds, in a way no one I have ever known has succeeded before. It was a great privilege to know him and count him as a friend.
Artists that Thomas worked with over the years include:
John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joey Baron, Tim Berne, Steven Bernstein, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Joao Bosco, Lester Bowie, Mike Brecker, Don Byron, Uri Caine, Betty Carter, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Scott Colley, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Peter Erskine, Mark Feldman, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith,Gilberto Gil, Egberto Gismonti, Charlie Haden, Jim Hall, Graig Harris, Dave Holland, Wayne Horvitz, Paulo Jobim, Elvin Jones, David Krakauer, Kronos Quartet. Dave Liebman, Arto Lindsay, Mike Mainieri, Michael Mantler, McLaughlin,Myra Melford, Ron Miles, Marlui Miranda, Marisa Monte, Michael Moore, Jaques Morelenbaum, Paul Motian, Oregon, Greg Osby, Hermeto Pascoal, Mike Patton, Pau Brasil, Chris Potter, Bobby Previte, Dafnis Prieto, Wolfgang Puschnig, Dewey Redman, Marc Ribot, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Dino Saluzzi, John Scofield, Elliott Sharp, Andy Sheppard, John Surman, Steve Swallow, Henry Threadgill, Ralph Towner, Tin Hat Trio, McCoy Tyner, Caetano Veloso, Moreno Veloso, Yosuke Yamashita, and John Zorn.