As a jazz enthusiast of fifty years, I must admit that Denmark is not the first location to pop into my head when I think of my favorite music. Recording ventures that explore the jazz history of any nation are always interesting but the music is not always great. A group of Danish collectors, discographers, musicologists and indefatigable researchers are out to prove that their nation is delightfully different. Little Beat Records
is not a record label in the true sense of the word. The company is a consortium of very knowledgeable enthusiasts who are interested in, and proud of Denmark’s jazz contribution. They have gleaned their music from rare European 78s on such labels as Odeon, Tono, Polyphon, Sonora Swing and private acetate transcriptions. Those of you who are collectors will appreciate the fact that the acetate coatings on an aluminum base don’t last very long and must be handled with great care, lest the acetate separate from the disc. The re-mastering of these 60 year old records is about the best I’ve heard in many years.
Let’s get to the music now. Most folks will ask "Who the hell are the Harlem Kiddies?" That’s not an easy question to answer as the group varied considerably during the years of 1940-45. Remember that Denmark was under German occupation at the time. Life, especially for jazz musicians, became more and more difficult. The Nazi regime frowned upon jazz and its Negro origins. The music style was totally banned in Germany but somewhat tolerated in occupied territories like Denmark. The fact that the Harlem Kiddies had both Negro and Jewish players made their brand of music even more unhealthy. At one point in time, singer Raquel Rastenni
said "Just imagine! There we were - three blacks and a Jewish girl - on stage in Munchen (a Danish café), while Germans teared along in Copenhagen." In fact, Rastenni escaped to neutral Sweden with her family in 1943. She returned to Denmark after the war and died in 1998 at age 83. Her vocals are reminiscent of Helen Ward.
Where the Harlem Kiddies acquired their name is not mentioned but I assume that the fact that the band was a six-piece unit having three Afro-Danish swing musicians had something to do with it. Drummer Kaj Timmerman
was born in Denmark and his father had arrived there from what was then, the Belgian Congo. Timmerman began his musical career in the late 1920’s.
The other Black members were Jonny and Jimmy Campbell
. The Campbells were also born in Denmark, sons of William Campbell, an American who moved to Europe prior to the turn of the century. His wife was Danish by birth. There you have it - a mini background of a little band with some fine music behind it.
The 24 song CD traces the story of the Harlem Kiddies and the Campbells through many staff changes, nine studio recording units and a single live jam session. Their recording history begins with two swinging tracks from 1940 for Odeon under the name of the Svend Asmussen Sextet
. The Danish violinist patterned himself closely on Joe Venuti during his early years. Later, he fell under the spell of Stuff Smith and that’s the way he sounds on this waxing of Sweet Sue
and Limehouse Blues
. The Campbells are also in this group on alto and guitar. Asmussen still plays today at the age of 89 or 90 and has many CDs and LPs to his credit. He’s well known on the American scene.
The year of 1941 saw the release of the first discs under the name of the Harlem Kiddies
and the makeup is Kaj Winther Petersen on trumpet and mellophone, Jonny Campbell - alto sax and clarinet, Gunnar Bengston on piano, Jimmy Campbell on guitar, Henry Stampe on string bass and Kaj Timmerman on drums. Raquel Rastenni was the first vocalist and sings on both sides of the Tono
The Harlem Kiddies compilation CD continues through several personnel changes and a total of 24 tracks. Happily, the producers have utilized discographer Brian Rust’s
widely accepted discographical method. Rust wasn’t the first jazz discographer in the world but he set the standards. Actually, some Scandinavians were among the finest discographers. Denmark’s Jorgen Jepsen
and Sweden’s Tor Magnusson
contributed hugely to the history of recorded jazz. This writer was privileged to assist Tor Magnusson on a couple of projects in the 1980s.
Space does not allow details on each and every track but perhaps a few highlights could be mentioned. There are a couple of tracks featuring the Kordt Sisters
. Grete, Inga and Else Kordt follow the tradition of the Boswell Sisters and swing gracefully but without the fire of the Louisiana natives. Nevertheless, the Kordts do a great job on After You’ve Gone
Jonny Campbell swings beautifully throughout the album with a sense of rhythm that reflects his early career as a tap dancer. There are traces of a number of influences in his notes including Johnny Hodges blended with Earl Bostic. Trumpeter Kaj Winther Petersen is a standout horn man. Obviously a fan of Harry James, Petersen still contributes some highly original licks throughout these 1940s sessions.
The sides from 1944-5 are perhaps the most interesting to today’s listeners. All the elements of early R&B are here. Rollicking pianists in the persons of Max Leth, Egon Due
and Karl-Erik "Charles" Norman
set the pace for a hot band. Tunes like Flyin’ Home, Do You Wanna Jump Children
and Jonny Campbell’s own Alligator Swing
herald the coming of a new chapter in Danish jazz.
This remarkable volume is well worth your attention. The enthusiasts who produced The Harlem Kiddies 1940-45
deserve our admiration and support. It’s the first effort for the fledgling label and hopefully, the beginning of a continuing series of rare recorded jazz.