Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen

Jazz double bass player of breathtaking dexterity

Friday 22 April 2005 00:00
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Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, double bass player: born Osted, Denmark 27 May 1946; married (three daughters); died Ishøj, Denmark 19 April 2005.

NHOP or Niels-Henning, the two short forms universally used in the lazy world of jazz, played the double bass, not normally the most prominent instrument in a jazz group. But he was such a virtuoso that in the Sixties he showed that Europeans could play jazz as instinctively as the American originators.

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen was only 14 when he began playing in the house band at the Montmartre Jazzhuis in Copenhagen on New Year's Eve 1961, working regularly with the pianists Kenny Drew Jnr and Tete Montoliu. Backing American jazz greats was a dream for most of his contemporaries, but, already eloquent in Bebop, Ørsted Pedersen took it for granted when he worked with them at the Jazzhuis:

You would play, say, two weeks with Stuff Smith, and then it could be Freddie Hubbard, then Kenny Dorham or Bud Powell. It could be Dexter Gordon, Yusef Lateef, Johnny Griffin or Joe Henderson.

He was 17 when he turned down the first invitation from Count Basie to join the Basie band because he was too young to get a work permit in the United States:

The second time I was offered the job I had been at the American embassy here in Denmark and I was told that if I took up permanent residency in the States I might be drafted into the Vietnam War. I didn't fancy that so I stayed in Denmark.

The youngest of five children, he was the only one who became a professional musician, although his mother had forced them all to study music. His father was headmaster at a boarding school and his mother played piano for the morning hymns. Niels-Henning began on piano, but his siblings played other instruments and decided that they needed a double bass, so he made the switch. Concerned when he became so much in demand at the Jazzhuis, his mother went with him one evening to see what kind of company he kept. She was confronted with the drug-raddled, mentally impaired genius pianist Bud Powell. "You're OK," she told Niels-Henning. "He's nice. Good eyes."

Ørsted Pedersen went on to record with Powell, Ben Webster, Roland Kirk, Don Byas and most of the top American soloists who came to Europe. He played regularly with Dexter Gordon, breaking off to tour Europe for a week in a quartet led by the pianist Bill Evans that included the altoist Lee Konitz.

His worldwide fame was entrenched when he joined the pianist Oscar Peterson in 1972 and toured the world with the Peterson Quartet. Taken up by the impresario Norman Granz, at one Montreux Jazz Festival in the Seventies he recorded seven live albums for Granz's Pablo label in two days. His fellow musicians included Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Harry Edison, Benny Carter and Peterson. By the time he left Oscar Peterson in 1987 he had appeared on about 400 albums. Thereafter he led his own trios, mainly with European musicians. Based in Copenhagen, he also taught at the Rytmiske Musikkonservatorium.

Ørsted Pedersen used the same bass for 40 years and his dexterity on it was breathtaking. On one of his albums he played incredibly on some transcriptions of Paganini violin pieces and had early on developed his own pizzicato techniques using three or four fingers of his right hand. He was also masterful in his use of the bow.

Steve Voce

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