The Jazzcat

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen has passed away

by on May.01, 2005, under News

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen
(Filed: 22/04/2005)
– Telegraph on Line [UK]

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who died in Copenhagen on Tuesday aged 58, was described by Oscar Peterson as “arguably the most inventive bassist in jazz”; a supreme virtuoso of the double bass, he was nevertheless one of the most judicious and least selfish of accompanists.

Pedersen, whose name proved such a mouthful that he was customarily referred to as “NHOP”, was among the most frequently recorded jazz musicians in history, having taken part in more than 400 albums. There was scarcely a major name with whom he had not played in the course of the last 40 years.

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, the son of a church organist, was born at Osted, Denmark, on May 27 1946. He began piano lessons at the age of seven, and at 13, when he was tall enough, took up the double bass in order to play in his family band. He made such rapid progress that, within two years, he was playing at the Montmartre Jazzhus, Copenhagen's leading jazz club.

He became a member of the resident band, a trio which accompanied the parade of star soloists who passed through the club. These included the saxophonists Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, trumpeters Chet Baker and Art Farmer, multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk and the pianist Bill Evans. At the age of 17 he was invited to join the Count Basie orchestra, but was forced to decline, mainly on account of his youth but also because he wanted to complete his studies.

Pederson's instinctive grasp of the jazz idiom allowed him to fit in with a remarkable variety of styles, including such avant garde artists as Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. However, it was in the broad mainstream of jazz that he felt most at home. Between 1964 and 1982, and occasionally thereafter, he was a member of the Danish Radio Big Band, one of the finest jazz orchestras in Europe.

He subsequently recorded an album, Ambiance (1993), which featured him accompanied by this band, in which his extraordinary technique is heard to full advantage. He had developed a method of playing pizzicato using all four fingers of the right hand, enabling him to execute very high-speed passages without sacrificing either tone or definition. Although he used an amplifier, there was always a deep, woody core to his sound.

During the early 1970s, Pedersen joined the American pianist Kenny Drew, then resident in Scandinavia, to perform duets at European festivals. Together they recorded a superb album, Duo, in 1973. He also recorded acclaimed duet albums with the guitarists Joe Pass and Philip Catherine, but it was his association with Oscar Peterson which brought him universal recognition.

From 1974 until 1987, Pedersen toured regularly as a member of Peterson's trio. He was originally hired as an emergency replacement, on the recommendation of Peterson's original bassist, Ray Brown. “He's the only one I know that might keep up with you,” were Brown's words, and they proved to be prophetic. Peterson wrote in his memoirs: “His virtuosity on the bass surpasses anyone else that I have known.” Perhaps the best of Pedersen's many recordings with the trio is The Paris Concert (1978).

Pedersen remained firmly attached to his Danish roots. In recent years he led his own bands, made up mostly of Scandinavian players. Notable among these were the guitarist Ulf Wakenius, trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and pianist Kenneth Knudsen. He also taught at the Rytmiske Musikkonservatorium in Copenhagen. He was married with children.


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