Born: May 27, 1946 | Died: April 19, 2005 Primary Instrument: Bass
The double bass came a long way in jazz between the 1930s and the 1960s, from plodding marker of the beat and the chord change to fully-fledged countermelodic, and sometimes even frontline instrument. The career of the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who has died aged 58, was a product of that evolution and a significant contribution to it. In jazz circles, he was usually referred to simply as NHOP. He was a bass virtuoso, who made his unwieldy instrument sound almost impossibly agile. Like a finger-style guitarist, he could pluck the heavy strings with all four fingers of his right hand, where most bassists relied on repeated leverage from one finger, or two at the most.
The turn of speed this gave NHOP allowed jazz's classic walking bassline to be played at the most frenetic tempos, and over sustained periods behind soloists. Orsted Pedersen was thus able to hold down one of the most demanding jobs in mainstream jazz, as regular bassist to Oscar Peterson, one of the fastest pianists in the business. This was a tough enough task even with other musicians around to help spread the load, but NHOP often kept Peterson company in that most unforgiving of improvising situations, the drummerless duo. When he took over the job with Peterson, his predecessor Ray Brown observed that the newcomer was the only bassist he could think of who would be quick enough to keep up with Peterson.
Orsted Pedersen was born at Osted, the son of a church organist. He initially studied piano, and, from the age of 13, the double bass. By his mid-teens, he was good enough to accompany leading musicians in nightclubs, working regularly at Copenhagen's Montmartre Jazzhus after his debut there on New Year's Eve 1961, when he was only 15.
The Montmartre was a regular stop-off for touring American stars, and, in the house band there, the young NHOP performed with saxophone legends such as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Stan Getz; and that poet of jazz piano, Bill Evans, with whom he toured in Europe in 1965.
Orsted Pedersen had all the crucial qualities of a jazz double bassist - a big, rich sound, an improviser's melodic imagination, dexterity, soul, the ability to listen - but he seemed to have them in more liberal quantities than most. And although he was most frequently associated with standard songs, trusted chord changes and swing, he was musical enough - and curious enough - to be effective in many contexts, even with those unorthodox exponents of free-jazz saxophone, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler.
His dialogues with Shepp, on the album Lookin' At Bird (1980), sometimes even seemed to put the bassist in the ringside seat, helping direct Shepp toward the essence of the music. Between 1964 and 1982, the bassist was a member of the internationally admired Danish Radio Big Band; the showcase album Ambiance (1993), made with the orchestra, highlights the delicacy and subtlety of his sound.
He was also a prolific studio musician, working on some 400 albums in the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. As well as working with Oscar Peterson, NHOP fruitfully partnered guitarist Joe Pass, notably on the startlingly virtuosic album Chops (1978). He also worked with the Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu; the power and eloquence of his bass-playing can be heard on four of their recordings in the mid-1970s, notably Catalonian Fire (1974).
Orsted Pedersen was the bassist of choice for some of American jazz's best expatriates, including Dexter Gordon and pianist Kenny Drew, but, over the past two decades, he was increasingly active with European jazz musicians. He formed creative bands with Copenhagen trumpeters Palle Mikkelborg and Allan Botschinsky, and also worked with the freewheeling Portuguese singer Maria Joao, guitarists Philip Catherine and Ulf Wakenius, and pianists Michel Petrucciani and Kenneth Knudsen.He taught at the Rytmiske Musikkonservatorium in Copenhagen.
He is survived by his wife Solveig, and three children.
· Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, jazz bassist, born May 27 1946; died April 19 2005