June 2005

Fradley Garner By

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Around 1980, Hanne and I were at an art gallery in Copenhagen to hear "The Great Dane with the never-ending name." We stood four feet from Niels-Henningrsted Pedersen (Kenny Drew may have been on keyboard) as he took a long solo. My jaw dropped. "That's impossible," I whispered. "That's not a guitar. You can't play it that fast." But he did — and the line he spun with four fingers sparkled with just the right notes and plinks of harmonics. He played melody and laid down chords. Since then, we heard NHOP live several times — twice alone, spanning a pizzicato rainbow from Bach to jazz and back again. He was a virtuoso whose wife, he once chuckled, urged him to forget the virtuosity and just swing. Thank heaven for his hundreds of recordings, especially the CD, To A Brother. St. Peter, please open those gates wide for a Great Dane. Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Red Mitchell and a bass section of late greats, make way for...

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Osted, Denmark, May 27, 1946 - Isj, Denmark, April 19, 2005. A bass prodigy who, at 17, turned down an offer from Count Basie because he could not get a U.S. work permit, and later toured in the Oscar Peterson Trio and performed with many other top jazz artistsrsted Pedersen died of heart failure while napping at home. He was 58.

Denmark mourned the loss of a favorite sonrsted Pedersen had spawned a generation of bassists. "He set the modern standard of Danish and international bass playing," Andreas Bennetzen, a young bassist and president of the Danish Contrabass Society, told Jersey Jazz. A fellow bassist, Bo Stief, said he practiced extra hard before every gig abroad because "audiences expected me to be another fantastic Danish bassist."

"There was a Danish bass tradition before NHOP," Dan Morgenstern, director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, told JJ, "but he put that aspect of Danish jazz on the world map. He was both a virtuoso and a great team player, and his sound was a thing of beauty, both plucked and bowed."

Svend Asmussen, 89, the renowned Danish jazz violinist, remarked at his book signing in Odense that "life is sometimes unfairly apportioned, and it's a bit hard to understand why I am still alive, 31 years older than NHOP." The two recorded together on eight albums. rsted Pedersen, whose mother was a church organist, first studied piano. After a year's exposure in Copenhagen to the American bassist Oscar Pettiford, the 12-year-old took up the bass in 1958.

By early 1963, he was the house bassist at Jazzhus Montmartre, working closely with pianist Kenny Drew and backing artists such as Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald and others, and recording with many of them. NHOP joined Oscar Peterson in 1973 and toured in the trio until the early '80s. A member of the Danish Radio Big Band from 1964 to 1982, he freelanced in his last years, led his own combos and taught extensively.

The Google web search engine lists some 500 links under "Niels- Henning Orsted Pedersen discography." The Blue Note label link is especially recommended.

Tutti Camarata, Glen Ridge, NJ, May 11, 1913 - Burbank, CA, April 13, 2005. Salvador (Tutti) Camarata, 91, a trumpeter, arranger, conductor and record company official whose career started in 1934 with Charlie Barnet and continued into the 1990s, died after a brief illness. Camarata arranged for Bing Crosby's radio show and conducted for several television series, including "The Vic Damone Show" and "The Alcoa Hour." He worked with Paul Whiteman in 1938 and played a key role in the Jimmy Dorsey band, writing arrangements that featured both its vocalists, Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell, on the top hits "Green Eyes," "Maria Elena," "Tangerine" and "Yours."

Camarata was one of eight children of Sicilian immigrants in Glen Ridge, who started on trumpet at 14, and won a scholarship at the Juilliard School. He worked briefly for the Casa Loma Orchestra and Benny Goodman before joining the Air Force as a flight instructor. After the service, he charted and conducted recording sessions for Billie Holiday and her hits "Lover Man," "That Ole Devil Called Love" and "Don't Explain." He was named musical director of Decca Records in 1945, setting up its subsidiary, London Records. His own Tutti's Trumpets (1957) was deemed a classic of trumpet composition. In the 1970s, he orchestrated and conducted albums featuring works of Bach and Tchaikovsky for the London label.

Stan Levey, Philadelphia, PA, April 5, 1926 - Van Nuys, CA, April 19, 2005. Stan Levey, who beat on the table with spoons and forks before teaching himself to play drums lefthanded, and grew up to become a professional boxer, modern jazz drummer and photographer, died quietly at home. He was 79 and had undergone surgery for cancer of the jaw several weeks earlier.

Levey was only 16 when he first played with Dizzy Gillespie in a Philadelphia club. When black sidemen rebuked the leader for hiring a white drummer, according to the English critic Steve Voce, Gillespie said, "Show me a better black drummer and I'll hire him." Levey was a professional heavyweight boxer in 1942 to 1944, the year he made his recording debut with Barney Bigard.

The 17-year-old Levey moved to New York City where, with Gillespie's help, he joined another black combo led by bassist Oscar Pettiford. He also played with George Shearing, the Gillespie-Charlie Parker quintet, and the big bands of Georgie Auld and Woody Herman. In 1952 he was sparking the huge Stan Kenton Orchestra. The 1960s saw him accompanying Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Pat Boone, and composing the music for five Disney industrial films. Levey then turned to photography. By the close of the decade he had retired from music to become a full-time professional photographer.

Levey recorded with many bands and artists of his time, and led his own groups. Search on Google for "Stan Levey discography." His family asked this column to thank those who sent condolences or attended a memorial service where Bill Henderson moved many to tears with his unaccompanied vocal, "I Thought About You."

Note: The obituaries of several other musicians who died this spring will be covered in the next issue.

Reader comments and obit tips are always welcome.

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