Another one gone

Yesterday’s Times carried a sad notice: renowned bassist Niels-Henning Oersted Pedersen has died at age 58 in Denmark. I in no way intend this space to be devoted strictly to remembrances of deceased bass players, but Niels deserves a mention. He was one of the great ones, and played, in his long career, with the best of the best.

I only did one project with him; it was the Bireli Lagrene album “Standards”, also featuring the drummer Andre Ceccarelli, recorded at Studio Davout in Paris back in 1992. I knew of Niels by reputation, of course, and was very happy finally to have a chance to record him. He was a big bear of a man, gruff but amiable, and as soon as we had been introduced at the beginning of the project he began to explain to me how he wanted me to record his instrument.

I should explain that this has always been a pet peeve of mine. Microphone selection and placement are the most important parts of a recording engineer’s craft, and to have my clients tell me what to do as regards these crucial choices has always seemed to me to be the equivalent of ordering dinner at a restaurant and telling the chef which saucepans to use. Niels had got no farther than “Let me tell you how I want you to record the bass…” when I cut in with “Well, I have a method I generally like to use, and bassists always seem very happy with the results.” He then said “Well I always like to have it done a particular way,” and by this point we were both starting to bristle a bit. So in an effort to be diplomatic I asked him to tell me about his preferred method, and to my happy surprise he described exactly the technique I always use: two Neumann u67s, symmetrically placed on either side of the fingerboard, just above the soundholes.

At that point we realized that what we had before us was a textbook example of great minds thinking alike, and from then on we got along like two coats of paint. We went out at the end of the first day’s recording to have a few beers together, and enjoyed one another’s company enough to do so every evening for the rest of the project. He was an intelligent, opinionated and very articulate man (all Danes seem to speak English with a fluency and grace that would put most Americans to shame), was rightly proud of his homeland and its culture, and was a mighty good man to stand at a bar with at a long day’s end.

He was also, of course, one of the great masters of his instrument.

I very much enjoyed our brief acquaintance, and I am awfully sorry to hear that he is with us no more. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him.

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