Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHØP) (27 May 1946 – 19 April 2005) was a Danish jazz bassist known for his fabulous technique and musical approach.
NHØP was born in Osted, near Roskilde, on the Danish island of Zealand, the son of a church organist. As a child, NHØP played piano, but from the age of 13, he started learning to play upright bass and at the age of 14, while studying, he began his professional jazz career in Denmark with his first band, Jazz Quintet 60. By the age of fifteen, he had the ability to accompany leading musicians at nightclubs, working regularly at Copenhagen’s Jazzhouse Montmartre, after his debut there on New Year’s Eve 1961, when he was only 15. When seventeen, he had already turned down an offer to join the Count Basie orchestra, mainly because he was too young to get legal permission to live and work as a musician in the United States.
The Montmartre was a regular stop-off for touring American Jazz stars, and as a member of the house band, the young NHØP performed with saxophonists such as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Stan Getz, and pianist Bill Evans, with whom he toured in Europe in 1965. During the 1960s, NHØP played with a series of other important American jazzmen who were touring or resident in Denmark, including Ben Webster, Brew Moore, Bud Powell, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Jackie McLean, and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. He also played with Jean-Luc Ponty, and became the bassist of choice whenever a big-name musician was touring Copenhagen.
He was awarded Best Bass Player of the Year by Downbeat Critics’ Poll in 1981.
Ørsted Pedersen worked in duo and trio arrangements with pianist Kenny Drew, recording over 50 albums together. He also worked with Stéphane Grappelli and Joe Pass and recorded extensively as a leader. His best known songs are “My Little Anna”, “Jaywalkin'”, and “The Puzzle”, as well as jazz arrangements of traditional Danish folk songs. A duo performance with Rune Gustafsson at Vossajazz 1980, concluded on the album Just The Way You Are on the label Sonet Gramofon, recorded half a year after this first meeting. He was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize in 1991. This was the first time this prize for composition was awarded to a performing musician, and this must be ascribed to his great international standing. He was presumably the most sought-after Danish instrumentalist internationally ever, and has travelled and recorded with a series of the greatest jazz soloists internationally.
Ørsted Pedersen also had a particular ability to interpret Danish songs and folk melodies. He often played within trio ensembles, partly collectively with the trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and the keyboard player Kenneth Knudsen, and partly under his own name, usually with guitarists like Philip Catherine and Ulf Wakenius. In 1999, he co-led a duo with pianist Mulgrew Miller, touring Europe, Japan, Australia, and Korea. This format was later enlarged into a trio featuring drummer, Alvin Queen. This trio remained intact until Pedersen’s all too early death.
Ørsted Pedersen died of heart failure in 2005 at the age of 58 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was survived by his wife, Solveig, and his three children.
The NHOP Trio Live
This 2005 recording was made only a few weeks before Pedersen’s final heart attack, yet there’s no intimation of it whatsoever in his playing, which sounds like he hasn’t a care in the world. The feeling is contagious.
Track Listing: The Bach Piece; Memories; The Song Is You; Lines; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square; You And The Night And The Music; My Little Suede Shoes; NHOP Spoken Word Presentation; I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro; Jeg Gik Mig Ud En Sommerdag; Our Love Is Here To Stay.
“From the first night that my dear friend Audrey Genovese of Chicago played a Dexter Gordon record that featured Niels Pedersen on bass, I realized that this musical giant and I might someday have the pleasure and occasion of not just meeting but also playing together.
This vision and thought took place in the early 1970s, when I was fortunate enough to be able to invite him to join my then trio. I vividly remember Niels stepping in without any fanfare (or rehearsal) for the first concert. This turned out to be a totally impromptu performance. I selected tunes that I had obtained an OK from Niels about, and believe it or not, we managed to have a wonderful performance that evening, filled with exciting spontaneity and musical searching into each other’s jazz thinking.
After the concert, I immediately thanked Niels and told him how much I enjoyed playing with him, even considering the unexpected spontaneity that we had to work through. The audience seemed to have really enjoyed the evening. The following day I called Norman Granz and apparently was overly excited about the immediate cohesion that took place between Niels and myself the evening before. With his usual ad lib and spontaneous reaction, Norman said, “If it was that good to play with him, why don’t you use him as your regular bassist?” Needless to say, I am happy that this took place, and Niels has remained in my group until his recent unfortunate passing.
Allow me to express my reaction to his playing this way: First and foremost, he never got in my way–but he also had such a great musical perception of what I was trying to do that he served to greatly inspire me from a spontaneous aspect. I came off walking on Cloud 3000 that evening because of Niels’ musical contribution. He had the most phenomenal technique, coupled with incredible harmonic perception, along with impeccable time. I shall never forget that evening.
Almost from that evening on, we became very close friends, not just musically but most certainly personally, for I developed a great admiration for the depth of Niels’ political, geographical and personal understandings. He was a man who had an almost unbelievable wealth of historic cognizance pertaining to European history. He also had a very kindred spirit as a human being, always able to easily make good friends, should he care to do so.
People in general who got to know Niels the man grew to love him apart from his unbelievable musical talent and dexterity on his instrument. I think I can afford to make this kind of evaluation of him, for I have had the good fortune to have played with some of the other great bassists in jazz over time: Sam Jones, Major Holley and, of course, Ray Brown. I used to marvel at the respect and love (and almost musical fear) that I saw in some of jazz’s best bassists whenever they were around Niels.
Niels and Ray became fast friends and had a great love and respect for each other. This may seem odd in that they were basically both operating in the same musical medium.
One point that I must make here that perhaps is not known by many people, is that Niels could also play the piano (many times sitting in for me in the preconcert sound checks). I know he had a great love for the piano, which we saw when, on a visit to the Bosendorfer piano showroom, he was lovingly impressed with the Bosendorfer grand that I eventually picked out as my own choice.
Over time, I dubbed him (and announced him as) the Viking. He seemed to enjoy this title, and for some reason it stuck to him.
Niels-Henning was a player of unbelievable talent and dexterity, but selfishly speaking, personally, he became my closest friend and brother, and I shall never forget him or his talent. God bless you, Niels, and may you brighten up the musical world in Heaven as you have done on this earth.”
Niels Pedersen Trio – Live in Hungary Stefánia Palace 1990