Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 27 May '46, Osted, Denmark; d 19 May 2005, Ishøj, Denmark) Bass, indeed one of the finest ever players of the upright instrument, with impeccable time and tone, indeed making things difficult for other Danish bassists: after Ørsted Pedersen, they all felt that they were expected to be supermen. NHØP (as the Danes knew him) participated in over 425 recording sessions, occasionally playing electric bass, and less often piano, keyboards or drums. The Danes cherished him as a musician who opened a unique Danish door to jazz: instead of the American songbook, he sought his original materials in the Danish national psalm book and Scandinavian folksong. Ørsted Pedersen also served on the first board of directors of the modern art museum Arken in his hometown of Ishøj, south of Copenhagen.

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen came from a closely-knit musical family in the little parish of Osted. His mother was the church organist; his father, two brothers and sister sang or played in the family band. NHØP first studied the piano at about age seven. After a year’s exposure in Copenhagen to the resident American bassist and cellist Oscar Pettiford, 12-year-old Niels-Henning took up the bass so he could play in the family band, in 1958; by age 15, he was the house bassist at Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen’s foremost club, working with the expatriate pianist Kenny Drew and backing artists such as the saxophonists Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon while they lived in Copenhagen (Webster died and is buried there), and a roster of other top names. Count Basie invited the 17-year-old to join his band, but NHØP was too young to qualify for a U.S. work permit. He finished his secondary education and studied privately with a conservatory teacher. Over the years he performed with Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and many others, recording with most of them.

Oscar Peterson took young Ørsted Pedersen on the road in 1972; by the time he left the trio in 1987, the 'Great Dane' had recorded scores of albums and made countless concert and television appearances. A member of the Danish Radio Big Band from 1964 to 1982, he led his own combos from the 1990s, mainly trios with the Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and the drummers Lennart Gruvstedt or Jonas Johansen. He gave solo recitals in his last years, charging 10,000 Danish kroner (£915 at current rates) for a performance. He also taught promising pupils at his home studio in Ishøj.

Danish jazz historian Frank Büchmann-Møller said that Ørsted Pedersen was one of the first 'to play melodic themes and accompany himself with plucked four-finger chords, while others used one or maybe two fingers.' When Fradley Garner, an American expat (and amateur bassist) living in Denmark, first saw NHØP play he thought, 'That's impossible! It's not a guitar! You can't play it that fast!' Dan Morgenstern, director of the Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies, remarked about NHØP's arco playing that he always bowed perfectly in tune. Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen said at his own 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 NHØP.' (The two made eight albums together.)

NHØP made far too many recordings to list here, but of the many live sessions at the Jazzhus Montmarte, one of the most impressive tracks is 'Devilette', recorded in 1967 when NHØP was just 21, with Drew, Dexter Gordon and Tootie Heath on drums (album Both Sides Of Midnight on Black Lion). The tune was written by a bassist, Ben Tucker, and NHØP's version throbs with a melodic bass line that has to be heard to be believed. Among the other most recommendable albums in a stellar output are the duos Duo '73 with Drew and Looking At Bird '80 with Archie Shepp, both on Steeplechase, and Chops '78 with Joe Pass and The Viking '83 with Philip Catherine, both on Pablo; as a sideman on Don Byas's Anthropology '63 on Debut, Oscar Peterson at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1975 on Pablo, Stan Getz's Live at Montmartre '77 on Steeplechase; and as a leader, Jaywalkin’ and Double Bass '75-6, both on Steeplechase, To a Brother 93 on Pladekompagniet and This is All I Ask '97 on Verve.