Danish Golden Age Jazz Vol. 1-4.
By Peter Elsnab, journalist and Jesper Nykjær Knudsen, music editor og journalist, 2006
Take it easy!
Imagine a little swinging jazz orchestra seated tightly together on a tiny stage in a smoke-filled basement room. Here the rebellious sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie abandon themselves to the rhythmically pulsating music, as they go on a spree to escape from the grim reality of the Nazi occupation, the curfew and the German soldiers patrolling the streets just outside the door.
The Danish jazz scene flourished during World War Two and the period is known as “the golden age” - the foundation of Danish jazz. And pianist Leo Mathisen captured the essence of the times with his elegant version of Fats Waller’s “Take It Easy.”
“Take it easy boy, boy/spend every dime/ have a good time,” he would sing, as his teeth sank ever deeper and deeper into the cigar, which was his permanent inventory, lodged firmly in the corner of his mouth.
A little rebellion
The American musical genre of jazz had come to Denmark in the 1920s and 1930s. Great artists such as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Benny Carter inspired Danish audiences with their visits. At that time jazz was regarded as something rebellious - just as rock and roll was to be later on in the 1950s. The fact was that just cultivating an American musical style was itself something of a rebellious act during the German occupation. Theatres and revues were equally rebellious in their way of cultivating an unprovable duplicity at this time. New jazz dives shot up all over the place and the number of new record releases exploded. The war may well have set limits on input from the outside world but Danish jazz musicians were still able to go on improving their style, their inspiration rooted in the swing music of the 1930s.
“It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing,” as Duke Ellington wrote in 1932. Bruno Henriksen had a big swing orchestra, whereas the others had smaller bands which were better suited to playing in tiny, intimate public bars and clubs. Leo Mathisen, violinist Svend Asmussen, trumpeter Boerge Roger Henrichsen and pianist Kjeld Bonfils were just some of the major jazz soloists of the period. Not to forget a young pianist by the name of Bent Fabricius-Bjerre who also made his appearance at that time. In short it was a true golden age. Where today would you find better examples of physical pulse, timing, unity of execution and soloists? The balance between abandon, tight discipline and being laid back? Isn’t that the very essence of jazz?
Did you know?
During World War II there were virtually no foreign orchestras that made their way past Denmark. This greatly increased the demand for Danish jazz musicians and meant that the number of Danish jazz releases was rising. In the years 1935-39 180 Danish jazz records were released and in 1940-45 almost four times as many. After the war the number of releases declined again.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Music, 2006
Before jazz was accepted as a musical art form, it was the most significant popular music of its time. Despite strong resistance from the establishment, jazz functioned on its own premises as a natural accompaniment to youthful optimism during the generational rebellion in the 1930s and as a light in the darkness during the occupation. A strong contributing factor was the Danish musicians’ high standard and ability to give the controversial American music a personal character.
In the anthology Danish Golden Age Jazz vol. 1-4, there are contributions from the most important soloists and orchestras of the period: Leo Mathisen, Svend Asmussen, Kai Ewans, Bernhard Christensen, Harlem Kiddies, Børge Roger Henrichsen and Henry Hagemann.
The four CDs demonstrate how Mathisen put a Danish spin on Fats Waller’s music without betraying either Waller or his Danish background, and how Asmussen formed the foundation of a lifelong career as a pensive and subtle dandy. In addition, the release underlines how Bernhard Christensen, as one of the first Europeans to do so, utilised jazz in music pedagogy and how instrumentalists such as Erik Parker, Niels Foss, Peter Rasmussen, Helge Jacobsen, Kjeld Bonfils, Jonny Campbell and Max Leth were able to formulate improvised solos with such melodic ingenuity and rhythmic nerve that they came close to surpassing their role models. There is no doubt that in a few decades there will be several identifiable ‘golden ages’ for Danish jazz; however, this was the first, and remains the one built on the most solid popular foundation.