“Elsa has a beautiful conception of melody and music.” -Chris Potter
“I would’ve never thought that innocent face encompassed so much creativity” -Hubert Laws
Elsa Nilsson’s music is profoundly playful and widely influenced. She believes the beauty of music is how it transcends cultural boundaries, and she accentuates this in her compositions by mixing cultural elements to create a sound that is distinctly her own. Nilsson has built a solid career and reputation upon her belief that all folk music (including jazz) has a common thread, and that by weaving those threads together, a deeper, more complete understanding among varying cultures can be reached.
The Elsa Nilsson Quintet plays jazz like the Vikings who ventured out of the cold and fled to Brazil; Their shows are a tour de force featuring arrangements of Swedish folk music as well as originals influenced by childhood experiences and world travel. In her playing Nilsson takes the flute to its fullest potential, employing everything from folk styles to extended classical techniques to create a sound that is both lyrical and warm while retaining a modern edge.
Nilsson was born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she started her love-affair with music at the early age of 2, singing in her father’s ex-navy choir. At age five, she began playing piano. At age 6 she wrote down her first song. By the time she was accepted to Hvitfeldtska gymnasium (a classical conservatory-style program in Gothenburg) at age 15, she had been playing flute for three years, teaching herself how to improvise by playing along with Swedish Jazz records.
After her early years traveling between Gothenburg, Sweden and California in the States, Nilsson followed her heart and then-boyfriend to Seattle on a plane ticket that was intended to be roundtrip back to Sweden. But true to her self-reliant free spirit, Nilsson instead auditioned for — and was accepted immediately into — Cornish College Of the Arts. In that moment, she decided to stay in Seattle and her return ticket went unused.
Upon completing school in 2008, Nilsson spent a few years teaching and playing in Seattle before moving to Brooklyn, New York in September of 2010. She has studied with Chris Potter, Peter Bernstein, Kenny Werner, Jean-Michele Pilc, Robert Dick, Jamie Baum, Brad Shepik and many more in the process of obtaining her Masters degree from NYU’s Jazz Program. Nilsson has performed with the likes of John Cowherd, Davy Mooney, Marc Ferber, Brad Shepik, Kenny Werner’s NYU ensemble, The Jim Knapp Orchestra, Jovino Santos Neto and more.
Aside from Nilssons work as a leader she composes for and regularly performs in a variety of projects including a duo with pianist Jon Cowherd (from the Brian Blade Fellowship) and Far Cry Flutes (with Robert Dick, Jamie Baum and Jessica Lurie). Nilsson also plays with several singer/songwriters including Jann Klose and the Wendy Hackett Band.
In 2013 Nilsson released “Already There Yet,” an album best described by her friend and mentor, Robert Dick:
“Do you hear that sound from the Northern skies? It’s Elsa Nilsson with something new, passionate and beautiful to say with her flute and her pen. Check out her music and let her light your skies.”
Aside from her work as a leader and side woman in her various projects Nilsson runs a busy Brooklyn based private music instruction studio with around 30 weekly students between the ages of 5 and 13 as well as adult flute players seeking to improve their improvisation and doublers seeking to improve their tone and articulation on flute.