Bert Kaempfert (born Berthold Heinrich Kämpfert, 16 October 1923 – 21 June 1980) was a German orchestra leader, multi-instrumentalist, music producer, arranger, and composer. He made easy listening and jazz-oriented records and wrote the music for a number of well-known songs, including "Strangers in the Night" and "Moon Over Naples".
Kaempfert in 1967
|Birth name||Berthold Heinrich Kämpfert|
|Born||16 October 1923|
Barmbek, Hamburg, Germany
|Died||21 June 1980 56) (aged|
|Genres||Easy listening, instrumental, jazz, big band|
|Occupation(s)||Orchestra leader, composer|
|Instruments||Accordion, clarinet, piano, saxophone|
|Labels||Polydor, Decca USA, MCA|
Early life and career
Kaempfert was born in Hamburg, Germany, where he received his lifelong nickname, Fips, and studied at the local school of music. A multi-instrumentalist, he was hired by Hans Busch to play with his orchestra before serving as a bandsman in the German Navy during World War II. He later formed his own big band, toured with them, then worked as an arranger and producer, making hit records with Freddy Quinn and Ivo Robić. Kaempfert met his future wife, Hannelore, in 1945. They married a year later, August 14, 1946. He had two daughters, Marion and Doris.
Bert Kaempfert & His Orchestra
Kaempfert's own first hit with his orchestra had been "Wonderland by Night". Recorded in July 1959, the song couldn't get a hearing in Germany, so Kaempfert took the track to Decca Records in New York, who released it in America in the fall of 1960. With its haunting solo trumpet (by Charles Tabor), muted brass, and lush strings, the single topped the American pop charts and turned Bert Kaempfert and Orchestra into international stars. Over the next few years, he revived such pop tunes as "Tenderly", "Red Roses for a Blue Lady", "Three O'Clock in the Morning", and "Bye Bye Blues", as well as composing pieces of his own, including "Spanish Eyes" (a.k.a. "Moon Over Naples"), "Danke Schoen", and "Wooden Heart", which were recorded by, respectively, Al Martino, Wayne Newton, and Elvis Presley. For Kaempfert, little may have brought him more personal satisfaction than Nat King Cole recording his "L-O-V-E".
Kaempfert's orchestra made extensive use of horns. A couple of numbers that featured brass prominently, "Magic Trumpet" and "The Mexican Shuffle", were played by both Kaempfert's orchestra and by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, whose initial Mariachi style, in fact, evolved towards the Kaempfert style as the 1960s progressed. The Brass covered "Magic Trumpet", and Kaempfert returned the favor by covering Brass compadre Sol Lake's number "The Mexican Shuffle". The latter tune evolved into a TV ad, The Teaberry Shuffle.
Promotion of the Beatles
In 1961, Kaempfert hired The Beatles to back Tony Sheridan for an album called My Bonnie. The album and its singles, released by Polydor Records, were the Beatles' first commercially released recordings.
In his capacity as record producer, Kaempfert played a part in the rise of The Beatles when he signed a Liverpool-based singer named Tony Sheridan. Sheridan had been performing in Hamburg, and needed to recruit a band to play behind him on the proposed sides. He auditioned and signed the Beatles, and recorded two tracks with them during his sessions for Sheridan: "Ain't She Sweet" (sung by rhythm guitarist John Lennon) and "Cry for a Shadow" (an instrumental written by Lennon and lead guitarist George Harrison).
On October 28, 1961, a man walked into the music store owned by Brian Epstein to ask for a copy of "My Bonnie", a song that was recorded by the Beatles, but credited to Tony Sheridan. The store did not have it, but Epstein noted the request. He was so intrigued by the idea of a Liverpool band releasing a record, he investigated. This event led to his discovery of the Beatles and, through his effort, their signing by George Martin to Parlophone Records after Kaempfert helped them elude any contractual claim by Polydor.
Throughout the 1960s, various artists recorded renditions of Bert's music:
- "Strangers in the Night" (with words by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder), was originally recorded as part of his score for the 1966 film A Man Could Get Killed. It became a #1 hit for Frank Sinatra in 1966. This was followed a year later with another hit for Sinatra, "The World We Knew (Over and Over)".
- "Wooden Heart", sung by Elvis Presley in the film G.I. Blues was a hit in 1961. Joe Dowell's cover of "Wooden Heart" became a big hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 28, 1961. Bert arranged this traditional German folk song for the Presley movie.
- His instrumental "Moon Over Naples", when given words by Snyder, became "Spanish Eyes", originally a hit for Al Martino and also recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck, Presley, and many others.
- "Danke Schoen", with words added by Kurt Schwabach and Milt Gabler, became Wayne Newton's signature song.
- "L-O-V-E", with words added by Milt Gabler, was a hit for Nat King Cole.
- "Almost There", which reached No. 67 on the U.S. charts but No. 2 on the U.K. charts, was recorded by Andy Williams.
- His 1962 movie theme from the film 90 Minuten nach Mitternacht (Terror After Midnight), with lyrics added by Herb Rehbein and Joe Seneca, became a pop ballad called "Love After Midnight", recorded by both Patti Page (1964) and Jack Jones (1966).
- A jazzier number called "A Swingin' Safari" was the initial theme tune for the long-running TV game show The Match Game, used on the NBC version from 1962 to 1967. Billy Vaughn's cover of "A Swingin' Safari" also hit the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 13 in the summer of 1962. Another 1962 single, "That Happy Feeling", became well known as background music for children's television programming, most notably that of Sandy Becker on his daily WNEW-TV (now WNYW) show in New York between 1963 and 1967.
- The LP entitled A Swingin' Safari was heavily influenced by South African kwela style music, containing versions of "Zambesi", "Wimoweh", "Skokiaan", and "Afrikaan Beat", as well as the title track. Many of the tracks were later used in the 1969 film An Elephant Called Slowly.
- "Tahitian Sunset" was sampled extensively by the lo-fi dance artists Lemon Jelly as their track "In the Bath".
In 1963 jazz trumpeter Bobby Hackett recorded a complete album with 12 Kaempfert compositions, Bobby Hackett Plays the Music of Bert Kaempfert. It has now been re-released in the United States under the Sony Records label in the Collectable Jazz Classics series, along with the album Bobby Hackett Plays The Music of Henry Mancini on a "2-in-1" CD. In 1967 jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain recorded the album Pete Fountain Plays Bert Kaempfert in Hamburg, Germany, with musicians from Kaempfert's orchestra. It featured Kaempfert's signature hits. In 1967 the Anita Kerr Singers released the LP Bert Kaempfert Turns Us On!, a tribute to Kaempfert, featuring the standard hits.
In 1968 jazz trumpeter Al Hirt recorded the album Al Hirt Plays Bert Kaempfert. It too featured Kaempfert's major hits. That year, BMI awarded accolades to five of Kaempfert's songs: "Lady", "Spanish Eyes", "Strangers in the Night", "The World We Knew", and "Sweet Maria". Many of his hits during the 1960s were composed and arranged with the help of German Herb Rehbein, who became a successful bandleader in his own right. Rehbein's death in 1979 shook Kaempfert deeply. Both Kaempfert and Rehbein were posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 1970 Johnny Mathis issued a double-LP album set, Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, for Columbia. It consisted of a total 21 tracks in a heavyweight gatefold picture sleeve. The Kaempfert tracks were done in his arrangement style, and the Bacharach tracks were done in the American's unique upbeat style. The same year Kaempfert composed the score for the war film You Can't Win 'Em All, starring Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson.
By the 1970s, sales of Kaempfert's music had declined, but he continued to record. His version of the Theme from Shaft was admired by composer Isaac Hayes and remained popular with audiences. He expanded the musical scope of his band and recorded in a wide variety of styles. He also began to play live concerts with his orchestra, beginning in 1974, with an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Kaempfert used many musicians who were available in Germany and other parts of Europe, including many of the same players who played for James Last, Kai Warner and Roberto Delgado. He featured such top soloists as trumpeters Charly Tabor, Werner Gutterer, Manfred Moch and Ack van Rooyen, trombonists Åke Persson and Jiggs Whigham, and sax/flute player Herb Geller. Drummer Rolf Ahrens supplied the characteristically simple but steady beat, often playing just a snare drum with brushes.
Another contributor to Kaempfert's music was guitarist/bassist Ladislav "Ladi" Geisler, who popularized the famous "knackbass" (crackling bass) sound, using the Fender Telecaster Bass Guitar, which became the most distinctive feature of many Kaempfert recordings — a treble staccato bass guitar sound in which the bass string was plucked with a pick and immediately suppressed to cancel out any sustain. An acoustic bass played a simple pattern in unison with this staccato electric bass, which created a unique sound. It was Geisler who lent his guitar amplifier to The Beatles for their recording session with Tony Sheridan, after the band's own equipment proved to be inadequate for recording purposes.
Death and legacy
On 25 June 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Bert Kaempfert among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
Titles are for European releases; the U.S. release may have a different title.
- "Cerveza" (U.S. #108, Music Vendor, 1959, his first U.S. chart single; re-charted U.S. #73, 1961)
- "Wonderland by Night" (U.S. #1, 1961)
- "Tenderly" (U.S. #31, 1961)
- "Now and Forever" (U.S. #48, AC #14, 1961)
- "A Swingin' Safari" (1962)
- "Afrikaan Beat" (U.S. #42, AC #10, 1962)
- "That Happy Feeling" (U.S. #67, 1962)
- '"Livin' it Up" (1963)
- "Holiday for Bells" (1963)
- "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" (U.S. #11, AC #2, 1965)
- "Three O'Clock in the Morning" (U.S. #33, AC #10, 1965)
- "Moon Over Naples" (U.S. #59, AC #6, 1965)
- "Bye Bye Blues" (U.S. #54, AC #5, 1966)
- "Strangers in the Night" (AC #8, 1966)
- "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (U.S. #100, AC #6, 1966)
- "Hold Me" (AC #37, 1967)
- "Talk" (AC #39, 1967)
- "Caravan" (AC #10, 1968)
- "The First Waltz" (AC #30, 1968)
- "Mister Sandman" (AC #12, 1968)
- "(You Are) My Way of Life" (AC #17, 1968)
- "Jingo Jango"
- "Games People Play" (AC #30, 1969)
- "The Maltese Melody" (1969)
- "Someday We'll Be Together" (AC #27, 1970)
- "Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)" (AC #24, 1971)
- "Love Theme" (1970)
- "Only a Fool (Would Lose You)" (1972) - a very brief foray into music with proper words.
- April in Portugal (1958)
- Ssh! It's Bert Kaempfert & His Orchestra (1959)
- Combo Capers (1960)
- Wonderland by Night (1960)
- The Wonderland of Bert Kaempfert (1961)
- Dancing in Wonderland (1961)
- Solitude (1962)
- Afrikaan Beat and Other Favorites (1962)
- With a Sound in My Heart (1962)
- A Swingin' Safari (1962)
- That Happy Feeling (1962)
- 90 Minuten nach Mitternacht (1962)
- Dreaming in Wonderland (1963)
- Living It Up (1963)
- Christmas Wonderland (1963)
- That Latin Feeling (1964)
- Blue Midnight (1964)
- Let's Go Bowling (1964)
- The Magic Music of Far Away Places (1964)
- Love Letters (1965)
- Bye Bye Blues (1965)
- Three O'Clock in the Morning (1965)
- A Man Could Get Killed (1966)
- Strangers in the Night (1966)
- Greatest Hits (1966)
- Hold Me (1967)
- The World We Knew (1967)
- Bert Kaempfert's Best (1967)
- Bert Kaempfert/Pete Fountain (MCA Double Star Series DL 734698) (1967)
- Love That Bert Kaempfert (1968)
- My Way of Life (1968)
- Ivo Robic singt Kaempfert-Erfolge (with Ivo Robic, 1968)
- Warm and Wonderful (1968)
- One Lonely Night (1969)
- Traces of Love (1969)
- The Kaempfert Touch (1970)
- Free and Easy (1970)
- Orange Coloured Sky (1971)
- Bert Kaempfert Now! (1971)
- 6 Plus 6 (1972)
- Yesterday and Today (1973)
- To the Good Life (1973)
- Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1973)
- The Most Beautiful Girl (1974)
- Gallery (1974)
- Live in London (1974)
- Love Walked In (1975)
- Forever My Love (1975)
- Moon Over Miami (1975)
- Kaempfert '76 (1976)
- Safari Swings Again (1977)
- Tropical Sunrise (1977)
- Swing (1978)
- In Concert (with Sylvia Vrethammar, 1979; also released as a video)
- Smile (1979)
- The Spinning Image, Monterey Pop Year: 1969 Director: D.A. Pennebaker Stars: Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Mamas and the Papas, The Who, Ravi Shankar, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Country Joe and the Fish, Hugh Masakela, Canned Heat, Eric Burdon and the Animals; Genre: Documentary, Music http://www.thespinningimage.co.uk/cultfilms/displaycultfilm.asp?reviewid=142 (Uploaded March 14, 2012); P*Funk Review, Jimi Hendrix Black Experience, 'Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection' (A Slight Review) -- “12) Wild Thing (7:41), Monterey Pop Festival, Monterey, Ca. June 18, 1967]; This was yet another song that Jimi came to hate, but he always seemed to put an interesting spin on the song when he played it live. First of all, he always seemed to have an extended intro to the song and here the segue from The Star Spangled Banner is perfect. Then he usually seems to play it slower and FUNKIER than on the radio version of the song. Finally the totally unexpected segue into Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra is always surprising.” "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2012-03-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) (Uploaded March 14, 2012) Who Sampled, Jimi Hendrix, Wild Thing, Live at Monterey Experience Hendrix 1970 http://www.whosampled.com/sample/view/96723/Jimi%20Hendrix-Wild%20Thing_Frank%20Sinatra-Strangers%20in%20the%20Night/ (Uploaded March 14, 2012).
- Lounge Legends, The Original Masters of Lounge, zaterdag 26 November 2011, In Memoriam-Ladi Geisler - (27 November 1927 – 19 November 2011) http://loungelegends.blogspot.com/2011/11/in-memoriam-ladi-geisler-27-november.html%5B%5D.
- Rosen, Jody (25 June 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2019.