It is probably fair to say that since the 1960’s, Copenhagen has been one of the important and well-known cities on the jazz world map. Many bassists around the world will also know that the Danish jazz scene has fostered a great number of very good bass players. Maybe less well-known is the fact that much of what went on in jazz here from the 50’s and until now (and which will go on) was initiated or facilitated or inspired or organized by one particular person of a rather extraordinary energy, initiative and influence: Erik Moseholm – double bassist, pianist, vocalist, teacher, organizer, producer, composer, conductor and band leader, conservatory director, writer, cultural debater, music politician and much more. Much of this is captured in the apt words of Danish band leader Ib Glindemann: “Moseholm was a jazz strategist”
We lost Erik Moseholm, entirely unexpectedly, in October 2012, far too early for a man of his liveliness. This article will endeavor to give readers an impression of the many facets of his musical life. (May 1930-October 2012)
Growing up in a Danish Provincial Town
Erik Moseholm lived in the town of Fredericia in Eastern Jutland until his 18th year. Born there to a father who was a high school teacher (and later principal of the high school) and a mother who was a music teacher (educated as a violinist, viola player and pianist at the Copenhagen Conservatory at the time when Carl Nielsen was the director!), the foundation was laid early for the career we shall hear about. The house seething every day with all kinds of music, Erik played to begin with a number of different instruments, including piano and cello. Once after a home performance of the Trout quintet, the bass player had celebrated too heavily afterwards and left the bass behind, and Erik picked it up. This was a decisive moment. He was 14 then.
There was no bass teacher in Fredericia, so Erik read a mail course produced by the Danish jazz bass master Niels Foss. (Many decades later, after Foss had moved permanently to Switzerland, Erik mentioned that Foss did not even himself have a copy of the course material, which Erik was then able to present to Foss at his 75th birthday in 1991.)
The lack of teaching did not prevent the young Mr. Moseholm from debuting at 15 with a jazz trio, soon after a quintet named “Pink Spots” (inspired by the American group Ink Spots) and a piano-bass duo “Moses And His Hot One” and playing in several bands that appeared in public, in particular at local dance restaurants. The young man was also interested in jitterbug dancing. All this was accepted by his parents as long as he did his schoolwork as he should. However, they were unaware that it led him to go eventually to play at places absolutely not considered appropriate for teenagers (the young man pretended to go early to bed but then sneaked out through the window later at night) – until a local newspaper announced that professor Moseholm’s son had won a jitterbug competition at one of the dance restaurants!
Transfer to Copenhagen – Teacher and Double Bassist
After graduating from high school, Moseholm moved to Copenhagen with the intention of studying literature and music at the university, but ended up at the teachers’ college and became qualified as a primary and secondary school teacher – and alongside with this studied the double bass with Oscar Hegner, principal in the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra, who was also a professor at the conservatory. In the years 1951–1961, except for two one-year leaves of absence, Erik had a full-time teacher’s job while also pursuing his musical career. He finished the conservatory and played the Hindemith sonata for his debut concert as a classical bassist in 1953. The pianist, by the way, was John Winther, much later to become director of the opera in Sydney, Australia.
Oscar Hegner published a method book for the double bass, which I believe is known to some extent abroad as well (Hegner 1950). He tried it out on Moseholm. It introduced some (then) unconventional fingerings involving both a very closed left hand (one half-note between the first and fourth fingers) and a very open hand (one half-tone between each successive pair of fingers, so e.g. fingering G, Ab, A, Bb on the D string with fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4). Moseholm notes that he used the latter kind of fingering extensively in both jazz and classical music and could do that because he had long and strong fingers, but that it became particularly popular with jazz bassists after amplification made it possible to play with lower action, making it easier to stretch out and still press the strings down, thereby gaining mobility.
Moseholm of course continued to play jazz, too. It seems almost incredible to anyone reading his schedule today that he was able to be always involved with a number of jazz ensembles, many of which were led by himself, while also teaching 36 hours a week at school, having private students on the bass, playing in several classical ensembles, and soloing with regional Danish symphony orchestras. He even recorded the Dittersdorf Sinfonia concertante (see list of recordings at the end).
The 1950’s and early 60’s: the full-fledged jazz bassist
One of the early connections Erik Moseholm made in Copenhagen was to Ole Schmidt, the jazz pianist and then conductor of a big band, who later became widely known as a conductor on the classical scene and eventually recorded the Nielsen symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra. Schmidt and Moseholm teamed up for a variety of musical activities including playing at theatres and restaurants, often together with the composer, vibraphonist and pianist Finn Savery. [For us bassists, I note in passing that Savery wrote an interesting Sonata for double bass and piano (Savery 1960) which Moseholm was one of the first bassists to perform.]
Moseholm had the chance to jam with international musicians visiting Copenhagen, a few examples being Clifford Brown, Lee Konitz, Lionel Hampton, Quincy Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Lucky Thompson and Don Byas. He also accompanied Stan Getz, Mose Allison, Memphis Slim and the Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund.
All this may seem very established now and in particular not oriented much towards a young audience, but here one should consider that back then, jazz was popular with the teenagers. Moseholm has stated that in the 50’s, he felt much like a rock music hero of today.
In his second leave of absence from the school, Moseholm did his military service as an assistant to the medical staff at an air base in Jutland. He had brought the bass with him, and as there were not many patients to care for, he had plenty of spare time in which he practiced and composed. Back in Copenhagen, he formed several new groups that worked on the basis of the new compositions.
In 1958, he was named Danish jazz musician of the year.
Moseholm’s groups also played abroad. With the composer and jazz pianist Børge Roger Henrichsen, he premiered Roger Henrichsen’s Jazz suite, a three-movement composition inspired by Schönberg’s music, at the jazz festival in Frankfurt in 1960. Perhaps the culmination was the festival in Juan-les-Pins in France, also in 1960, where Moseholm was awarded the title Best European Jazz Bassist. Charles Mingus was sitting in the front row at the competition. Moseholm has told that he was very influenced by Mingus, and he got to work and record with his saxophonist Eric Dolphy soon after.
With Finn Savery, and Jørn Elniff on drums, Moseholm played at the Belgian TV jazz festival in Liège in the years 1960-1963.
A good impression of Moseholm’s playing can be gained by listening to the records Collection and Collection 3 (see discography at the end).
There seemed to be no limits to the kind of musical activities Moseholm would engage in: Jazz & Poetry-performance at the Louisiana Art Museum inspired by Jack Kerouac from the US. ‘Action painting’ with jazz musicians performing with dancers, while painters were creating their pictures right in front of the public in the street. A mannequin show with fashion designer Jean Voigt. ‘Third stream’ concerts (contemporary score music combined with jazz/improvisation). Writing and composing revues and musicals where he would often also join the orchestra. In 1962, he played in Finn Savery’s orchestra for the musical Teenagerlove by Ernst Bruun Olsen. Moseholm composed and played to more than 50 different musical theatre performances and revues. The titles are part of the present author’s childhood reminiscences, but unfortunately for wider audiences, all this was in Danish. Moseholm also composed for and played to a number of Danish regular and experimental movies.
Erik Moseholm and Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford has been biographed recently here in Bass World with particular focus on his last years in Copenhagen (Mohr Petersen 2011). He and Erik Moseholm became friends, and as one lasting result of their joint interest in the bass and in jazz, they together produced the tutor Jazz Bass Facing (Moseholm and Pettiford 1962), although Moseholm had to complete it himself because of Oscar’s untimely death. Overall Moseholm became very much inspired by Pettiford – he mentioned, e.g., Pettiford’s large tone, the logical bass lines, his general musical overview, his ability to create melodies and his rhythmic nerve. Moseholm would perform several of Oscar’s pieces repeatedly in the following years.
Jumping for a moment in time, Moseholm was one member of the group that took the initiative to erect a new tombstone for Oscar Pettiford in 2010. Moseholm had been been affected for years by the fact that the original tombstone for Pettiford had been canceled due to lack of funding for maintenance. (See more details on this story in Mohr Petersen 2011.)
The years at the Danish National Radio – The Birth of the Danish Radio Big Band
In 1961, Børge Roger Henrichsen, who was mentioned above, and who then produced jazz broadcasts for the Danish National Radio, took the initiative to establish the Danish Radio Jazz Group with Moseholm as leader (and, initially, as bassist). This ensemble was to exist for 25 years as a forum where jazz musicians and composers could try out their ideas. During that period, 635 compositions by 150 composers from 15 countries were premiered. Ray Pitts, who was the leader of the group 1966–67, wrote 46 pieces for the group’s repertoire, Moseholm himself composed 25 pieces, and other international contributors included Dollar Brand, Graham Collier, Michael Gibbs, Joachim Kühn, Sahib Shihab and Idrees Sulieman.
The Danish Radio Big Band came to existence soon after as a reincarnation of a Radio Dance Orchestra that had existed in the 50’s. Moseholm became the artistic director for the Big Band for more than two decades, and it was in this capacity that he attracted people like Thad Jones and Ray Pitts to Denmark. Many years later, Moseholm began to write the history of the Radio Big Band. Unfortunately, this project was not completed before he died. The book is being completed by Ole Mathiesen and will be published in 2014.
In connection with the advent of the above opportunities, Erik Moseholm decided in1961 to end his career as a school teacher, but also to stop teaching the bass which he had been doing intensively for 10 years. By coincidence, the day he had made this rather wide-ranging decision, a father called him on the phone to ask whether he would give bass lessons to his 14-year-old son. Moseholm had already heard the boy play and knew he was extremely talented, but he stood firmly on his plan and suggested Oscar Hegner as a teacher instead. The boy’s name was Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
However, Moseholm continued to play rather frequently through the first half of the 60’s, and in fact on the Collection 3 album there is music played by the Radio Jazz Group where one can hear him playing together with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (see discography).
In 1966, Moseholm had a traffic accident where his left index finger was irreversibly damaged. This definitely impaired his playing abilities, but as we have seen, he had already earlier moved away from the career as a professional musician and entered a new phase of his life with a large focus on administrative, organizational and editorial work in the service of jazz music.
The association with the National Radio was to last for about 30 years. In addition to the artistic functions in connection with the Radio Jazz Group and the Big Band, he acted as producer of radio transmissions, studio recordings and concerts. He also wrote textbooks on radio music production for educational purposes and taught courses on this subject.
Erik Moseholm and the Danish Bass Society
In 1987, the Danish Double Bass Society, as it was named from the beginning (Damhus 2001), was formed at the initiative of Mette Hanskov with the help of, among others, Erik Moseholm. Erik and the present author met there for the first time and we were together in the first editorial group for the society’s magazine Bastidende (the editor-in-chief was Preben Fahnøe) and we were also both members of the first board.
One of Erik’s projects in the society setting was to arrange for the Hungarian double bass virtuoso Aladar Pege to come to Copenhagen and play a concert and give masterclasses. Pege was firmly rooted in both classical music and jazz, much like Erik himself.
Erik became a frequent contributor to Bastidende, and when the society celebrated its first 10 years with a great concert in the Danish National Radio Symphony’s concert hall, Erik was the natural show master connecting all the musical performances with commentary which we later published in the magazine.
Erik was made an honorary member of the Society in 2009.
Børge Roger Henrichsen’s music for double bass and piano
In 1941, when Niels Foss (mentioned above) was a central figure on the Danish jazz scene, the Danish jazz pianist and composer Børge Roger Henrichsen (1915-1989), whom we also mentioned above in his role as producer at the Danish National Radio, composed a Prelude in C for double bass and piano and dedicated it to Foss. Foss played it, and they also recorded it a year later. The piece is in a rather unique jazzy style. Later Roger Henrichsen added two more movements, Souvenir and Made in Germany. It is interesting to speculate whether Roger Henrichsen was influenced by Jimmy Blanton’s duet playing with Duke Ellington, which certainly had his keen interest later. Maybe, maybe not; the war impeded the free flow of recordings into Denmark exactly at this time.
Later, Roger Henrichsen went on to write more preludes and fugues for double bass and piano in other keys and planned to cover all keys in the spirit of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, and inspired also by the Danish pianist and composer Niels Viggo Bentzon’s similar collection of eventually no less than 576 preludes and fugues (for piano). When Roger Henrichsen died in 1989, he had completed 23 of the planned 48 pieces – 13 preludes and 10 fugues – and made sketches for 20 more. The old Prelude in C was now the first piece in the collection which he had given the overall title Tonarium. All pieces in the autograph were carefully annotated with the exact date and time of completion.
Erik Moseholm was entrusted with the autograph, and in 1992, he arranged that the completed pieces were played by several well-known Danish bassists and pianists (including Niels Viggo Bentzon on piano and himself on bass, once again) in Dansk Tonekunstnerforening, a forum for performance of modern music. Later, in 2002, Jesper Lundgaard (b) and Thomas Clausen (p) recorded the Tonarium (see discography). Whereas the Prelude in C and the two accompanying pieces mentioned had been published by Skandinavisk Musikforlag, the other pieces in the Tonarium were only available in Henrichsen’s handwriting. Eventually we began to talk about getting them properly published, and with Moseholm as catalyst and Lundgaard and Clausen as editors, it finally happened (Wilhelm Hansen, 2010).
Erecting a conservatory for ‘rhythmic music’ in Copenhagen
It may be surprising for members of our international community to learn that there was no conservatory education in jazz in Copenhagen throughout the entire ‘golden age’. There are indications that there was even resistance at the classical conservatory where jazz was not considered a music form comparable to classical. Erik Moseholm, as a consequence, I think, had taken the initiative to have intensive courses in an independent setting with international artists playing and teaching. Starting in 1966, these were held on several of the Danish boarding schools called folkehøjskoler, a rather unique concept originally conceived by N.F.S. Grundtvig in the 19th century: institutions for enlightening the entire population through cultural activities, lectures, singing, etc. Names like Magleås, Vallekilde and Brandbjerg may be familiar to those who have visited either as attendees at the courses or as tutors and performers-in-residence.
However, in Moseholm’s mind, we really ought to have a true conservatory education for jazz musicians and others performing ‘rhythmic music’ (i.e., jazz, but including also such genres as folk music, rock music, world music). He envisaged 5 different tracks that one could pursue at such a conservatory: performing musician; composer; music technician; music pedagogue; and music communication manager. He was the main driver in establishing such a conservatory, to begin with located with limited space on Frederiksberg, but later moved to the old military buildings on Holmen in the Copenhagen harbor area, probably known to most visitors of Copenhagen for the new Opera that was built close by some years later (and at which the BASS2012 event took place!). Moseholm became the first director of the conservatory (whose official name is now The Rhythmic Music Conservatory) during the years 1992-1997.
(The term ‘rhythmic music’ is interesting; it is of course easy to joke about classical music not being rhythmic. But it is commonly used in Denmark now, and there is reasonable agreement as to what it covers. Moseholm may well be the originator; at least he was also a member of the commission establishing in the 1970’s the first legislation in Denmark about society’s musical activities, and here the term was used officially.)
Erik Moseholm was also very active in various international contexts. He was a board member in the International Jazz Federation; he was a board member in Association Internationale de Défense des Artistes; he was twice the president of the UNESCO International Music Council Congress; he started, and was the first chairman of, EuroRing, a body that supported collaboration between radio broadcasting organizations in Eastern and Western Europe; he arranged an international jazz cruise in the Baltic 1996 under the auspices of the International Association of Schools in Jazz; etc. He mentioned proudly that he was responsible for getting Miles Davis to Denmark to receive the prestigious Leonie Sonning music prize in 1984.
Moseholm also established Danish editions of the Django d’Or jazz prizes. He co-founded and became the artistic director of The European Youth Jazz Orchestra and chairman of the board for the project “Swinging Europe” in the years 1997-2010. As an example tying together the latter activities, in 2007, the Danish Django d’Or prizes were given out at a concert with – The European Youth Jazz Orchestra. Among the recipients were Mads Vinding, jazz bassist par excellence, and Niels Foss. Living now permanently in Switzerland, Foss was represented by family members.
The last many years the only performances Erik Moseholm gave were with his wife, the actress and story-teller Vigga Bro. These were improvised shows, although they circled around certain themes; no two performances were identical. Moseholm would accompany the spoken part on his bass. The presence and concentration that Erik displayed there can be seen in several such sessions to be found on the web.
Today, Vigga’s story-telling continues, but with the young bassist Ida Bach Jensen playing Erik’s good old bass. (And the drummer Birgit Løkke has joined the duo.) Ida was trained classically and studied five years with François Rabbath in Paris. Returning to Denmark in 2000, she has performed in several different settings: playing the acoustic bass in classical and experimental music, folk music and modern jazz and when story-telling for children, but working also electroacoustically with live looping and other effects. Ida furthermore composes music for, e.g., film, dance and theatre.
Vigga wanted Erik’s extremely well-cared for bass to come out of its corner again and be played and asked Ida to help out with a new story-telling show “Bobler” (Bubbles) that was just about to be premiered when Erik died. Ida explains vividly about playing the instrument which has so much to tell about its long life. Ida loves her own Quenoil bass of recent make, too, but that instrument was only ever played by herself; when she plays Erik’s bass, she feels very strongly that “others have been there before”. Another difference is that Erik’s strings have very high action, which fit his way of playing pizzicato, but Ida has discovered that that was not a great problem.
Erik Moseholm received numerous awards and honorary memberships and titles. Some were mentioned above. In 1998, Queen Margrethe II made him Knight of the Dannebrog order.
Erik died suddenly, just after having expressed to his wife how happy he was that everything was still working and they were having such a good time. He was 82. It was no surprise that there was a large crowd at the funeral and Danish newspapers were replete with obituaries expressing sincere appraisal of the contributions Erik had made to the music world in general and to jazz and the promotion of the bass in particular. Finn Slumstrup in his obituary mentions what Erik said at an early stage in his carreer: “My greatest interest is to make others take an interest in jazz and music at large.” He certainly pursued this mission ever since.
[Editor’s Note: Thanks to ISB member Ture Damhus for sharing his article with us.] Ture Damhus works as a scientist (chemistry) in the Danish biotech company Novozymes A/S.
He has played the double bass as a dedicated amateur for more than 40 years, has been active in the Danish Bass Society and has been also a member of the board of directors of the ISB.
T.D. had the pleasure of knowing Erik Moseholm during the last 25 years, and there is also a vast material in print to draw from – most of it, unfortunately, in Danish.
The author would like to thank Kai Mohr Petersen for advice regarding source material and help with the editing of this article, Ida Bach Jensen for an interesting conversation about her participation in the story-telling project and Vigga Bro for reading and commenting on the final manuscript.
The many obituaries for Erik Moseholm, not all mentioned explicitly, have also been a valuable source.
Damhus, Ture: The Danish Double Bass Society, Bass World vol. 24, no. 3 (2001) 42-43.
Hegner, Oscar: Tutor for the double-bass. Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen, 1950.
Moseholm, Erik and Oscar Pettiford: Jazz Bass Facing. Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen 1962.
Moseholm, Erik: Da den moderne dansemusik kom til Danmark (in Danish; published by Moseholm himself; ISBN 978-87-993793-0-9). Title in English: When the modern dance music came to Denmark. The book comes with two CDs with 85 rare recordings of dance music.
Moseholm, Erik: Be on time. Lectures or advice to the young musicians in Swinging Europe on international education of musicians. Illustrations by Klaus Albrectsen. (Wilhelm Hansen 2001).
Petersen, Kai Mohr: An Oscar for Oscar: Oscar Collins Pettiford, Okmulgee 9.30.1922 – Copenhagen 9.8.1960, Bass World vol. 34 no. 3 (2011) 15-22.
Slumstrup, Finn: Jazzens farende riddersmand (‘The roaming knight of jazz’), obituary for Erik Moseholm in Jazz Special no. 130 (2012) 46-49.
Moseholm authored some 20 further books and published music scores for and CDs with Danish revue music and musicals.
Printed music referred to above
Roger Henrichsen, Børge: Tonarium (Thomas Clausen and Jesper Lundgaard, editors; Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen 2010; ISBN: 978-87-598-1680-6).
Roger Henrichsen, Børge: Prelude in C – Souvenir – Made in Germany. Skandinavisk Musikforlag 1947.
Savery, Finn: Sonata for double bass and piano. Samfundet til udgivelse af dansk musik (The Society for Publishing Danish Music) 1967.
Dittersdorf: Sinfonia concertante. Erik Moseholm, double bass, Knud Frederiksen, viola; Copenhagen Symphony Orchestra, Newill Jenkins, conductor. Haydn Society Records HS-9052 X-YV-28643-44.
Erik Moseholm Collection (2 CDs). Music Mecca CD 2106-2. Music by various composers played by Erik Moseholm.
Erik Moseholm Collection 3 (Music Mecca CD 3071-2). Music by Erik Moseholm and played by the Danish Radio Jazz Group 1962-1966. If one listens carefully, there is a chance to hear Moseholm and a fully operational Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen both playing together in the 32 min long Blues Suite. This was recorded in 1962 with NHØP at age 15!! In the Christmas song (with lyrics probably best appreciated by Danes) there is a rare chance to listen to NHØP on electrical bass, too.
Erik Moseholm Kompositioner 1957-1982. Music Mecca CD 5047-2.
Play the Music of Børge Roger Henrichsen with Jesper Lundgaard (b) and Thomas Clausen (p). Music Mecca CD 4013-2. Contains 20 of the completed preludes and fugues from the Tonarium.