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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 and toured with them, following that by working as an arranger and producer, making hit records with Freddy Quinn and Ivo Robi?. Kaempfert met his future wife, Hannelore, in 1945. They married a year later, on 14 August 1946. They had two daughters, Marion and Doris.
Bert Kaempfert & His Orchestra
Kaempfert's first hit with his orchestra was "Wonderland by Night". Recorded in July 1959, the song could not get released in Germany, so Kaempfert took the track to Decca Records in New York, which 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 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 his capacity as record producer, Kaempfert played a part in the rise of The Beatles. In 1961, he hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on an album called My Bonnie. Sheridan had been performing in Hamburg, and needed to recruit a band to play behind him on the proposed tracks. Kaempfert 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). The album and its singles, released by Polydor Records, were the Beatles' first commercially-released recordings.
On October 28, 1961, a man walked into the Liverpool music store owned by Brian Epstein and asked for a copy of "My Bonnie", a song 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 that he investigated. That event led to his discovery of the Beatles and, through his efforts, their signing by George Martin to Parlophone Records after Kaempfert helped them avoid any contractual claim from Polydor.
Throughout the 1960s, various artists recorded renditions of Kaempfert's music:
A jazzier number called "A Swingin' Safari" was the initial theme tune for the long-running TV game showThe Match Game, used on the NBC version from 1962 to 1967. The composer received credit for the theme ("Music by Bert Kaempfert") but the show actually used Billy Vaughn's cover of "A Swingin' Safari." The Vaughn version 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 is sampled in the 1998 song "One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies. The song's lyrics also declare that "Bert Kaempfert's got the mad hits".
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
Street sign for Bert-Kaempfert-Platz, a street in Hamburg, Germany named in Kaempfert's honour.
Kaempfert died suddenly on 21 June 1980, at the age of 56, following a stroke at his home in Majorca, shortly after a successful appearance in the United Kingdom.
Bert-Kaempfert-Platz, a square in the Barmbek district of Hamburg, Germany, is named after Kaempfert.
^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 .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)