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Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: Embraced by the Icons

by admin on April 24, 2017

Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Stan Getz, and Chet Baker are just a few of the iconic American jazz artists who performed and recorded with the virtuosic Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen as their upright bassist. While his Danish nationality might have been viewed as a handicap, given preconceptions about the abilities of Europeans to play jazz authentically, they accepted him as one their own and granted him the opportunity to write himself in to the history of traditional jazz.

After having played the upright bass for about 2 years, Pedersen was 15 years old when he began playing in the house band of a happening jazz club in Copenhagen called Jazzhus Montmartre. This is where he would develop the technique that would open many doors for him throughout his multi-decade career. Montmartre was a popular stop on the European jazz circuit throughout the 60s and 70s. When Pedersen joined the house band in ’61 it gave him the opportunity to play every night with a rotating selection of fantastic American jazz artists who became impressed with his ability, and began to invite him in to their inner circle.

Dexter Gordon alone recorded 13 live albums at the club and played countless shows there, most of which included Pedersen right there by his side. Stan Getz also had a lengthy tenure in Copenhagen and Pedersen was the man he called when he needed a bassist. In an interview with Graham Reid, Pedersen talks about how grateful he was to support these American greats on the stage. They realized some of these Europeans could play just as well as any American trio, and this acknowledgment, given in a foreign environment was uplifting, Pedersen also talks about how playing behind such talented people allowed him to control his ego. “You may feel you are a great bass player but when you play behind another musician you realize who the boss is.”1

Over this period Pedersen developed an ability to play walking lines at breakneck speed.2 This put him in the sights of the virtuosic Oscar Peterson, who was forming a new trio after parting ways with Ray Brown. Thus begun a long-standing relationship between the two, who would go on to record many albums and perform many concerts throughout their careers. This also marks a major hallmark in the road to acceptance in to the jazz canon for Pedersen. Peterson, Pedersen, and the American jazz guitaristJoe Pass released an album together entitled The Trio which won a Grammy in 1973 and provides definitive proof of Pedersen’s amazing ability to keep up and comp very tastefully for Oscar Peterson, at any tempo, and with no drummer to keep him in time.

Pedersen was unreservedly accepted by many icons of the American jazz canon. When there was a performance to be had in Denmark, Pedersen was the man to call. For many of the icons, when they wanted a quality record produced, they too called Pedersen. Yet despite the overwhelming acceptance, he still retained his Danish heritage, never leaving his home country.3 Regardless of the lure of success associated with American icons, he remained grounded in Europe and continued to record with and pay acknowledgments to European artists, especially more so in the latter part of his career.

by Connor Law

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