Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Orsted Pedersen, Niels-Henning

Bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen's stunning technique never overwhelmed: he had the ability to make any context more musical. With big and small bands, trios, duos, and solo, on over 800 recordings, he always combined taste, humor and faultless facility. Since his start at Copenhagen's Montmartre Jazzhus in the early sixties, whether the repertoire was standards, folk songs, psalms or his own compositions, the result was the same: enchantment.

Ørsted Pedersen was born on May 27, 1946 into a very musical family in the little town Osted, just about 20 miles west of Copenhagen. Both parents and all his three elder brothers and a sister played an instrument and sang, and like the other children, he took up the piano from the age of seven.

At age twelve, his brothers formed a Dixieland jazz band, but when his friend Ole Kock Hansen took the chair at the piano, Ørsted Pedersen was asked if he would like to take up the bass, the only instrument that now was needed. He accepted, and his father bought him a cheap one.

From the start, he took lessons on the bass with Oscar Hegner, who played in the orchestra at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. Hegner was an excellent teacher who had written a guide on how to play the double-bass. One of the fundamentals he taught was that a player's left hand had to be totally free, away from the fixed positions most bass players used.

With this innovative technique it became easier to play fast tempos, and it was through this method that Ørsted Pedersen got his speed. Later, he trained his right hand so he was capable of playing pizzicato with four fingers by using the little finger as well - a feature Ørsted Pedersen was the first to develop.

Gifted with a great sense of time and swing, it was not long before he was sought after by many bands. His big break came in early 1962, when he became part of the house rhythm section at the now famous Montmartre Jazzhus club in Copenhagen. His first job there was to accompany Bud Powell, and during the following nine years at the club he had the opportunity to play with a who's who of jazz.

These included, among others: Brew Moore, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Ben Webster, Lucky Thompson, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Johnny Griffin, Don Byas, Stuff Smith, Albert Ayler, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Paul Bley, Roland Kirk, and Stan Getz.

Pedersen also teamed at this time with pianists Kenny Drew and Tete Montoliu, and drummers Alex Riel, Makaya Ntshoko and Al Heath. From 1964 to 1982, he also was a member of the Danish Radio Big Band.

His reputation quickly spread beyond Copenhagen, and a dream came true in 1973 when he was offered the bass chair in pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio, and he played with Peterson on and off right up to his death. It was Ray Brown who recommended Ørsted Pedersen to the pianist, who later said about these two:

”I have often been asked who was the better player of these two, Ray or Niels, but this is an unfair question which is impossible to answer, because their attitudes towards music are so different. Ray was primarily a fantastic part of a rhythm section, he was the best rhythm player I ever played with, while Niels was, as a soloist, very lyrical in his playing and the best soloist on his instrument I have known.”

From the 80s on, Ørsted Pedersen freelanced, toured and recorded all over the world, and also found time to play with his own trio, which from the 90s consisted of the Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius – who also later joined Peterson's group – and drummers Jonas Johansen, Adam Nussbaum or Alvin Queen.

With his artistic treatment of the bass, his big and flexible sound which in the high register achieved a great expressiveness, and his ability to care a melody in both small and big ensembles, Ørsted Pedersen has influenced a long row of other bass players. It is certainly due to him, that Danish bass players today has obtained very high standards.

Ørsted Pedersen died unexpectedly from coronary thrombosis on April 19, 2005.

Fortunately for listeners, his musical brilliance was well documented on over eight hundred recordings. And those of us who were fortunate enough to hear him play need only close our eyes to hear his inimitable sound.

Bibliography:

NHØP. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. By Peter H. Larsen & Thorbjørn Sjøgren. (Copenhagen, 2005).

J. Woodard: ”Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: The Great Dane’s low tones and highlights.” Jazz Times, vol. 28(3), 1998

J. Pettinger: Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings. (Newhaven, CT & London, 1998)

M. Jansson: ”Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen”. Bass Player, vol. 7(5), 1996

Select Discography:

These are a small selection of the hundred of albums on which Ørsted Pedersen played on in his more than forty-year career.

Duos:

With Kenny Drew: Duo (SteepleChase 1973); with Joe Pass: Chops (Pablo, 1978).

As leader:

Jaywalking. (SteepleChase, 1975); Live at Montmartre (SteepleChase 1976); The Eternal Traveller (Pablo, 1984); Uncharted Land (Pladekompagniet, 1992); To a Brother (Pladekompagniet, 1993); Scandinavian Wood (Caprice, 1994); Friends Forever (Milestone, 1995); Those Who Were (Verve, 1996); This Is All I Ask (Verve, 1997).

As sideman:

Bud Powell: Bouncing With Bud (Storyville, 1962); Don Byas: Anthropology (Debut, 1963); Stan Getz: Live at Montmartre (SteepleChase, 1975); Dexter Gordon: Cheese Cake (SteepleChase, 1964), One Flight Up (Blue Note, 1964), The Montmartre Collection. Vol.1-2. (Black Lion, 1967), The Apartment (SteepleChase, 1974); Tete Montoliu: Catalonian Fire (SteepleChase, 1974); Oscar Peterson: The Trio (Pablo, 1973), Oscar Peterson at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Pablo 1975), The Paris Concert (Pablo, 1978), Summer Night in Munich (Telarc, 1998); Michel Petrucciani. Concerts Inédits (Dreyfus Jazz, 1994); Stuff Smith: Live at Montmartre (Storyville, 1965).

Contributor: Frank Büchmann-Møller