St Thomas

Walking past a Jazz club during my recent trip to Copenhagen – sadly, I didn’t have time to go in – I remembered the many times I’d heard the great Danish bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (known universally to Jazz fans as NHØP) playing there in the past. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2005, at the age of 58, bringing to a close a career that had started when he was only 17. He was an incredible virtuoso, playing his unwieldy instrument in an astonishingly nimble fashion. As a result he was number one choice as accompanist whenever leading jazz artists toured his native Denmark where he remained most of his life, despite frequent invitations to join big name bands abroad. Although he appeared quite frequently on TV in the United Kingdom with Oscar Peterson in the 1970s, he never really became as widely known as he should have been given what a great musician he was.

I looked around on youtube to find an appropriate example of his playing, and found this superlative performance which I’d never seen before and which also offers a fine helping  of the great Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone.  He will be 80 later this year and is still playing with the immense drive and imagination that he has shown since he began his career at the age of 11. He also wrote the tune, St Thomas, which has a strong caribbean feel to it, and which is based on a song from the Virgin Islands that his mother sang to him when he was a child. I’ve seen him play a number of times live, including at Ronnie Scott’s club in London and at the Royal Festival Hall, and wherever it was he always set the place on fire.

I hope the lilting calypso beat,  infectiously happy tune and, most of all, superb playing by every member of the band here will give you as warm a feeling as it did me when I first heard it. The other members of the quartet alongside Sonny Rollins are Kenny Drew on piano and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, but listen out for NHØP’s fantastic bass solo, starting around 4:41. Brilliant.

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