Swedish Pianist Håkan Rydin - Mentoring The Soul of Vietnam's Jazz Music

For the past 20 years, Swedish professor Håkan Rydin has made many contributions to the development and the upgrading of Jazz education in Vietnam. He has also been proud to call Vietnam his second home thanks to his deep mentor-mentee relationship and friendship with Vietnamese people.
November 30, 2023 | 12:09

Håkan Rydin's very first connection with Vietnam was his unforgetable meeting in Sweden with professor Luu Quang Minh of the National Academy of Music of Vietnam (VNAM) about 25 years ago. Seeing the determination of the Vietnamese teacher, who traveled a long way to find him, the Swedish teacher was intrigued.

There were only a handful of professional jazz musicians in Vietnam and Minh was looking for mentorship program from Western countries with long history of jazz education. At that time, Håkan Rydin was active at the Malmö Jazz Institute (Skurups Folkhögskola) and was affiliated with the Academy of Music in Malmö.

"When he came [to Sweden], professor Luu Quang Minh did not speak English nor did I speak Vietnamese. So we used German to understand each other. Minh was very open and had many ideas about jazz education. So we talked about what exactly we should teach, who we teach. The programs started to develop and Vietnamese students were sent to my classroom," said Rydin.

Rydin started to take in the first batch of music students from across the globe soon after the fateful meeting. Seeing the number of students increase in each batch was a big encouragement for the jazz professor. Rydin praised the Vietnamese faculty teachers and the students for their passion for jazz. According to the Swedish professor, being a professional musician is a harsh reality that is much different from the calm and composed performance on stage. Also, jazz is about creativity. So in his lessons, Rydin also encourages students, who are often shy and conservative, to work on exploring their own musical identity.

"Of course mastering the techniques is important but I always try to teach them to practice until they can express their personality when they play," said Rydin.

Jazz Pianist Håkan Rydin - A Great Teacher, Friend and More
Swiss professor Håkan Rydin hosted a master class for entry-level students at the National Academy of Music of Vietnam (Photo: Nhung Nguyen).

As much as the students were learning from Rydin when in Sweden, he was also able to explore Vietnamese lifestyle long before stepping foot in the country. From listening to Vietnamese traditional music, folk instruments to sharing the love for jazz with fellow students, he began to fall in love with the country and its people.

The Swedish teacher has now toured in many countries around the world, all continents. He played on the most majestic and prestigious stages for 40 years of his career. Yet during his busy schedule over the years, teaching, recording, releasing albums, and touring, he always spends a longer stay in Vietnam each time he comes. Sometimes he spent the whole month in Hanoi city.

"In Vietnam, I do not only have students and colleagues but also deep friendships. I can truly say Vietnam is like a second home to me," said the foreign musician.

Jazz Pianist Håkan Rydin - A Great Teacher, Friend and More
Håkan Rydin performed at the celebration ceremony of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Sweden in Malmö (Sweden) in 2019 with Vietnamese melodica artist Nguyen Manh (Photo: HåkanRydin.com).

Rydin's mentorship cultivated some of the most famous jazz musicians in Vietnam like Nguyen Tuan Manh or Nguyen Tuan Nam. They are graduates who experienced prestigious music education abroad to return to Vietnam to lay the stepping stones for the Jazz Department at VNAM. Many years after graduating, they still invited their mentor to Vietnam so that the young generation at the department could study from the jazz master himself.

On the other hand, one of Håkan's favorite activities while in Vietnam is to host these masterclasses. For the 15 times he has been to the S-shaped country, he never missed the chance to do so. His love and devotion to Vietnamese students is shown in class regardless of their levels. Håkan's idea of a good piano lesson is to awaken one's gift for music. It means to clearly guide musicians to find their personal trait, not to be a copy of someone else. Even with students who are just 19 or 20 years old, the 73-year-old professor can still find a unique dynamic to make the learning environment more friendly for them.

He has them play with the music sheets then to play without ones. The students must learn to focus and listen to the "wrong notes" or "the wrong ways to play". After listening to their teacher play the piano, they can recite the pieces in their own ways. The Swedish teacher will make sure these aspiring musicians leave the classroom knowing more than just a single way to play a music work.

Jazz Pianist Håkan Rydin - A Great Teacher, Friend and More
Still cut from the special tribute video for Håkan Rydin at the “Jazz & Friends 5” concert (a special jazz concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jazz Department at the Vietnam National Academy of Music) in October 2023.

Sharing a milestone in his long journey with the VNAM Jazz Department, Rydin referred to his latest trip to Vietnam in October this year. The Swedish professor was an honored guest of the concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the VNAM Jazz Department establishment. Half way through the concert, a special video was presented to Rydin as a surprise gift. The 10-minute video is filled with confessions and sincere wishes from the famous jazz masters of the Vietnamese jazz scene for the Swedish teacher.

Afterward, Håkan Rydin dedicated a surprise performance with young local artists to his loved ones in Vietnam. The inspiration behind the performance is a thank-you for the present and for the people who came to celebrate the joy of the Vietnam jazz scene.

Jazz Pianist Håkan Rydin - A Great Teacher, Friend and More
Jazz Pianist Håkan Rydin (Photo:

Håkan Rydin was the first Swedish student to ever pursue a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Pedagogy and graduated in 1978. He was in the Swedish legendary group Nexus, until the group was dissolved in 1994. Since then, a new chapter of his career begun with the longtime collaboration with American singer Kim Parker (daughter of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker).

He has given concerts in famous musical halls and major jazz festivals across more than 20 countries including Vietnam. Throughout his 40 years of music career, this jazz pianist has performed alongside many legendary artists such as Thad Jones, Etta Cameron, David Liebman and Swedish jazz artist Jan Allan, among others.

In 2019, his most recent - ”Melodies…” (AdOpen 18-002) - was voted "10th best piano album 2019 and instrumental album of the month" (March 2019) by the 42nd annual Jazz Station Awards (USA).

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