Liner notes by Mike Hennesey
In a liner note to the Sonet Album, Toots & Svend, recorded 34
years ago, Leonard Feather described Svend Asmussen as one of the few
violinists to attain international prominence. More recently, Jim Lowe,
creator of the Asmussen web site, expressed the view that Svend `may be
the finest little- known jazz performer in the world."
my judgement, Feather's evaluation was more realistic, it has to be said
that Asmussen has not had anything like the recognition and credit he
deserves, bearing in mind his undoubted virtuosity, his distinctive
style, his commitment, his beautiful sound and his prodigious output of
high quality music in a career spanning nearly seven decades.
represents a most welcome encore to Fit As A Fiddle, an excellent 1986
recording by the same quartet released on the dacapo label, chief among
its merits being the ingenuity and resourcefulness which has gone into
the arrangements, the fascinating variety of the repertoire and the
almost intuitive rapport which exists among the four musicians of this
beautifully integrated unit.
Jacob Fischer ranks in Svend's judgement
as one of the world's finest jazz guitarists. "1 have worked with him
for about eight years and the more I listen to him, the more I
appreciate his tremendous talent. He has an uncanny sense of style and
whatever genre of music he plays, he brings to it wonderful
authenticity. When we play Brazilian music, you would swear that he
comes from Rio."
Jesper Lundgaard was always Hank Jones's first choice on bass and has also
worked with Tommy Flanagan, Chet Baker, Phineas Newborn Jr., Dexter Gordon,
Johnny Griffin, Pepper Adams, Benny Carter, Warne Marsh, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Tanggaard has worked with Johnny Griffin and Chet Baker and, as well as
being a highly accomplished and sensitive drummer, he is a brilliant
sound engineer and he supervised the recording of this album.
Asmussen's approach to jazz violin involves two simple, basic criteria.
Says Svend, "I certainly believe that it don't mean a thing if it ain't
got that swing. And, secondly, when I play a tune, I try always fry to
have the lyric in mind."
When Harold Christian Svend Asmussen first
began playing jazz violin in 1933, his hero was Joe Venuti and he
modelled his quartet on Venuti's Blue Four. But then he heard Stuff
Smith and, says Svend; "for me, Stuff is the supreme jazz fiddle player.
He may not have a legitimate tone but he has a wonderful, gutsy sound
and is a great swinger and improviser:" Asmussen worked with Smith on
many occasions and recorded the album, "Hot Violins" with him far
Storyville in January 1966. And in September of that year he joined
Stuff, Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty in Basle, Switzerland, far a
"Violin Summit" which was released on the MPS label.
In the liner
note for the Storyville album, "Swingin' Stuff", by the Stuff Smith
Quartet, recorded at the Jazzhuis Montmartre in March 1965, Timme
Rosenkrantz recalled that, after playing a concert with Smith in
Copenhagen, Svend said to him, "Thanks, Stuff, for the lessons."
Says Svend "1 recently heard some tapes of Stuff recorded at the Onyx Club 65 years ago and they are really amazing."
album kicks off with a tune of 1928 vintage, "The Best Things In Life
Are Free", which is taken at an appealingly leisurely tempo, with Svend
making effective use of double stops and a key change from C to Eb.
"This is one of those old standards which I love to play," says Svend.
"A pleasing melody and nice chords this is something you can build on."
Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean", written five years later, is given a
slow, sensitive treatment which brings out the full beauty of this
It is back to 1928 again for the next piece, "My
Yiddish Momme", which is included in memory of the great Edith Piaf.
"In 1947 I was in Oslo, sharing a programme with
Edith Piaf and Les Compagnons de la Chanson. It was Edith's first stage
appearance outside France and she was extremely nervous in case they
didn't understand her songs or take to her performance. But, of course,
she triumphed. And every night we were invited to people's homes to wine
and dine. I took my fiddle and Edith sang - and one of the songs she
performed was "My Yiddish Momme." Afterwards she told me that I should
remember the tune and record it one day. At that time I was not too
interested - 1 was more into Stuff Smith! But then, two years ago,
Edith's words came back to me and so I made a little arrangement for
guitar, bass and fiddle and included it on the album. I dedicate it to
Edith with much affection."
The song, played with real passion,
starts off in slow tempo and then moves into an infectious gypsy rhythm.
Jacob Fischer's guitar solo, with some appropriate echoes of Django, is
"Silly Shuffle", a catchy Asmussen original, is built on a
12-bar blues but with codas and a middle eight actually runs to 82 bars.
Fischer's guitar sofa hers is in a really boppish vein. Asmussen
creates the effect of two fiddles playing in harmony by using his
electronic amplifier to add a line which is a third below the melody.
With Fischer playing two-note chords, a four-part harmony is created.
Edvard Grieg's "Jeg Elsker Dig", a most romantic theme, is played by
Asmussen with great feeling, Written originally for a soprano singer
with piano accompaniment, it was adapted by Svend, using the piano
voicing for guitar and bass. "We played this piece in the concert hall
in Oslo two years ago and it was really well received," says Svend. "•t
is such a beautiful melody."
In dramatic contrast comes "Down South
Camp Meeting°, a number originally recorded by Fletcher Henderson in
1934. With Fischer playing four-in-the-bar, an infectious groove is
established and then comes another adventurous, boppish guitar solo.
Man's Gone Now", from Gershwin's "Porgy And Bess", is played with deep
emotion and sensitivity by Asmussøn, climaxing the treatment with a
The next track, "Hallelujah", is a genuine four de
force. It is taken at a fast pace and, with delicate rhythmic backing,
Svend races through the changes with effortless case. Lundgaard's bass
lines behind Fischer's bravura solo are tremendously stimulating. The
quartet switches to half-tempo for a spell and then returns to the
original tempo to take the tune out with a grandstand finish.
comes Svend's salute to his hero, "Sermon For Stuff", a piece in waltz
tempo with a strong gospel feeling which is a moving tribute to Hezekiah
Leroy Cordon Smith, the violinist who always said he wanted to be the
Louis Armstrong of the violin.
"It Had To Be You", the Gus Kahn-Isham
Jones standard written back in 1924, gets a very tasty treatment by the
quartet, with the violin playing the theme and the guitar echoing the
phrases. Once again Svend uses double stopping to good effect on the out
chorus, "Shalom Elechem" ("Peace Be With You") was a tune suggested by
Svend's good friend, the mandolin player David Grisman, with whom Svend
recorded at Fat Tuesday's in New York in November 1986.
track is another immortal standard, "Memories Of You", written in 1931
by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf. The quartet takes the first chorus at a
strolling tempo and then moves up to a brisker pace for the freewheeling
solos from Svend and Fischer.
Halfway through the bridge of the out
chorus, $vend switches to a rhapsodic rubaf© passage and then the
quartet reverts to the initial tempo and finishes off with a delightful
Svend Asmussen is a modest man who sets himself very high
standards and he admits, "1 wasn't totally happy with the way this
session turned out when we recorded it. But listening to it later, I'm
However, in my view, a far more accurate
evaluation was made by two young violinists who heard the CD when they
were visiting Svend recently. They thought the album was wonderful. And I
think they qualify as very good judges.