Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Svend Asmussen

The great Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen’s birthday is today. The 1940’s were a bad time to be a jazz musician in National Socialist occupied Europe. Early one morning, Asmussen got the dreaded knock on the door, and quickly found himself incommunicado in a Copenhagen prison. Fortunately, Danes weren’t too keen on collaboration. Eventually Asmussen was released through the efforts of Danish-German Gestapo officer, sympathetic to the Danish cause. Asmussen would survive to become one of Europe’s leading jazz musicians, and to dub one of the voices in the Danish version of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

Always a tasteful player, Asmussen attained international stature through his own recordings, and work with French violinist Stephane Grappelli. He played on an unusual Ellington small group session, also featuring Grappelli and Ellington violinist Ray Nance. Benny Goodman was impressed enough by the violinist to try to bring him to the States twice, but was stymied by restrictive U.S. immigration regulations. Our loss.

And of course, he is a Dane, so he must be trouble. Like the National Socialists before them, the Islamic fascists take issue with the Danish commitment to freedom. Amazing how similar extremists are in their prejudices. Fortunately we can enjoy Asmussen’s music of ninety swinging years.