Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Svend Asmussen: Makin' Whoopee ... and Music

Svend Asmussen: Muziek met plezier (Nederlands) Svend Asmussen: Makin' Whoopee .. and Music ( English)

93-year old: Still goin' Svend !
Jørgen Larsen

The Danish phenomenal fiddler and entertainer, Svend Asmussen (b. 1916), has been a top swing violinist since the mid-'30s. He started playing violin when he was seven and, in 1933, made his professional debut in a quartet emulating his first inspiration in jazz, Joe Venuti's Blue Four. Asmussen made his first records as a leader in 1935 and has been consistently popular in his homeland ever since. He played with the Mills Brothers, Fats Waller, Josephine Baker and Oscar Alemán in the 1930s when they passed through Denmark, in the 50's Benny Goodman tried to persuade him to join his staff of musicians, but Asmussen declined the offer judging family affairs first priority. Later, in the 1960s, Asmussen recorded with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet (1962), Duke Ellington (1963) and Toots Thielemans, Lionel Hampton (1978), and on a few occasions with Stephane Grappelli, in addition to many dates with his own groups. Since the mid-1990s Asmussen has led, performed and recorded with his own quartet featuring topnotch Danish musicians.
As mentioned, Benny Goodman had an interest in persuading Asmussen to join his orchestra, probably because the two musicians had the same concept of and feeling for swing. The two men never made a record together, but they have performed together several times. Here's a fragment from a concert at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen 1981 featuring the two giants of swing in great interplay, enjoy their rendition of "After You've Gone"

According to the sleeve notes of the new cd by Svend Asmussen, Makin' Whoopee! ... And Music! (Arbors, ARCD 19390), Benny Goodman should have exclaimed: It's been a long time since I had this kind of fun after a gig similar to the shown above, and it's obvious that the two men enjoyed and inspired each other, I think. Svend Asmussen has only recorded a couple of times in the US prior to his latest cd, first time was in 1961 as part of a tour of the States with Danish guitarist, Ulrik Neumann (- their duo album, Danish Imports, is now available in the cd-format), second time was in 1983 at a session for Bob Thiele's Doctor Jazz label teaming Asmussen with pianist Derek Smith, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Oliver Jackson on the album June Night. In 1986 Asmussen was featured on mandolinist David Grisman's great LP, Swingin' With Svend, but then there has been a gap until early 2009, when the new cd was recorded for Arbors Records January & February in Florida.
Svend and Ellen on the cover of their latest album.
On the new cd Asmussen is joined by Richard Drexler on piano, organ and bass, Tony Martin on drums and shakers and Danish guitarist, Jacob Fischer ( a mainstay with Asmussen's own quartet) and, on a single track, Tom Carabasi on drums instead of Martin. The quartet setting is a perfect choice to let Asmussen show that he still makes great music at an age when most people are either retired or no longer with us. The repertoire chosen for the session consists of standards of the great American songbook ("Makin Whoopee", "The Nearness of You", "Skylark", "You Brought A New Kind of Love", "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Things Ain't What They Used To Be") as well as Brazilian flavoured tunes like "Trubel" by Swedish troubadour-poet Olle Adolphson ,"Copacabana" and Asmussen's own "Fiddler In Rio" reflecting inspiration from choro and Jacob do Bandolim. A couple of evergreens like "Singing In The Rain" and "Just A Gigolo" are performed with excellent arrangements and so is the Django Reinhardt success "Nuages". A couple of tunes, "Danny Boy" and Asmussen's "Sermon for Stuff", are rooted in church music and get a soulful rendition. Richard Drexler is exposed in a solo piano version of his own "Banjo" and Jacob Fischer is spotlighted in his intricate and magnificent solo guitar version of "Gypsy". The material chosen for this cd shows a varied repertoire, all very well performed and a sheer pleasure to be listening to, highly recommended!
Liner notes to the cd are written by Ellen Bick Asmussen and she quotes her husband regarding the inspiration to continue playing: When I play, I'm like a child with wondrous toys, it's like ice-skating or skiing when I was ten. This experience of freedom and joy matches perfectly the music recorded on the cd, also captured in the chosen title "Makin' Whoopee ... And Music", I think. Ellen Bick Asmussen emphasizes the meaning of "whoopee" as "expressing exuberant joy, rejoicing noisily" especially for the fact that Svend Asmussen is still going strong. And she adds: Perhaps we should create a new idiomatic expression: "Still going Svend!".
To end this small review, I found another film fragment featuring Asmussen, this is from 2007 and has Asmussen teamed with young violonist Jonathan Russell - enjoy!

Jørgen Larsen

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