Bert Kaempfert

Most Popular Works
See all

Biography

Born: October 16, 1923; Hamburg, Germany   Died: June 21, 1980; Majorca, Spain  
Bert Kaempfert had almost too much talent, ability, and good luck rolled into one career to be fully appreciated, even by his own chosen audience, the lovers of fine orchestral pop music. He was one of the most successful conductors, arrangers, and recording artists in the latter field, but was also a major producer and played a key (if indirect) role in the roots of the British beat boom of the early '60s, which evolved into the British Invasion Read more of America in 1964. Berthold Kaempfert was born in Barmbek, a working class section of Hamburg, Germany, in 1923. He was musically inclined as a boy, and found that interest indulged by an act of fate when he was six years old -- Kaempfert was injured in a car accident and his mother used the money from the settlement to buy him a piano. He became proficient at the keyboard, and also on the clarinet and saxophone, among other instruments. He studied at the Hamburg Conservatory and although he was interested in all facets of music, Kaempfert was particularly taken with American-style big band music of the late '30s and early '40s -- his multi-instrumental skills made him a potentially valuable commodity, and he was recruited into a pop orchestra run by Hans Bussch while in his teens, but was later drafted and served as a bandsman in the German navy, before being captured and interned as an Allied prisoner. He founded a band of his own and later toured American military installations in Germany, at last able to play his favorite kind of music. Returning to his native Hamburg, he began performing on the British Forces Network radio and writing compositions, initially using the alias of Mark Bones. Kaempfert's reputation in Hamburg attracted the attention of Polydor Records, which hired him as an arranger, producer, and music director during the second half of the 1950s. Among the talent that he brought to the company's roster was the Yugoslav pop artist Ivo Robic, who chalked up an international hit (Top 20 in America), and Viennese singer/guitarist/actor Freddy Quinn, who had a German hit with "Die Gittarre Und Das Meer." His own orchestra generated such hits as "Catalania," "Ducky," "Las Vegas," and "Explorer," but he had bolder, more ambitious music in mind. He arranged, produced, and recorded an instrumental entitled "Wonderland by Night," which was pretty enough but couldn't seem to get a hearing in Germany, even from his own company. Instead, Kaempfert and his wife brought the track to Milt Gabler, the legendary producer at Decca Records in New York, who arranged for its release in America in 1959; with its haunting solo trumpet, muted brass, and lush strings, the single topped the American pop charts and turned Bert Kaempfert and his 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," bringing them all high onto the pop charts internationally, as well as composing pieces of his own, including "Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)," "Danke Schoen," and "Wooden Heart," which were recorded by, respectively, Al Martino, Wayne Newton, and Elvis Presley (with Joe Dowell charting the hit single of "Wooden Heart"); for an old American jazz fan like Kaempfert, however, little may have brought him more personal satisfaction than Nat King Cole recording his "L-O-V-E." At the turn of the decade into the 1960s, Kaempfert was still busily at work in his duties as a producer. He was well aware that a new generation of listeners had come along, whose interests lay far from the beautifully crafted instrumental music that he favored, which were an outgrowth of the pop sides of such '40s artists as Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Glenn Miller -- they preferred music drawn from country and R&B sources. He had signed a Liverpool-based singer named Tony Sheridan, who was performing in Hamburg, and needed to recruit a band to play behind him on the proposed sides -- he auditioned and signed a quartet from Liverpool called the Beatles, and even cut a couple of interesting sides of theirs, "Ain't She Sweet" and "Cry for a Shadow," during his sessions for Sheridan; with its pounding beat and raw singing, the former wasn't Kaempfert's kind of music, but "Cry for a Shadow," with its rich melody and sonorous guitar, was perhaps as close as this new music ever came to his own. The Beatles' own sides didn't emerge until a couple of years later, when events made it economically feasible for do so, but Kaempfert's recording of the Beatles, even as a backing band for Sheridan, proved a vital catalyst to their entire subsequent success. Stylistically, none of the Kaempfert-recorded sides closely resembled the music for which they became famous, and had their path to being signed by George Martin at Parlophone Records resulted from, say, their being heard in a performance, those Hamburg-recorded sides would rate nothing more than a footnote in their history -- but those Polydor sides cut by Kaempfert played an essential role in their story. As Beatles biographer Philip Norman recalled in his book, Shout!, on October 28, 1961, an 18-year-old printer's apprentice named Raymond Jones walked into the music store owned by Brian Epstein to ask for a copy of "My Bonnie," recorded by the Beatles (though it was actually credited to Tony Sheridan); the store didn't have it, but Epstein noted the request and was so intrigued by the idea of a Liverpool band getting a record of their own out that he followed up on it personally. Thus began a chain of events that led to his discovery of the Beatles and, through his effort, their signing by George Martin to Parlophone Records (they first had to get clear of any contractual claim by Polydor). It is possible, of course -- though unlikely, given the rawness of their sound even as late as 1962 -- that the group could have achieved success by some other means, but it is equally likely they would have developed a very different sound. Ironically, by the time that the Beatles were recording for Parlophone, Kaempfert had become so successful as a recording artist that he was forced to give up his duties as a producer -- his records were selling by the hundreds of thousands, the album of Wonderland by Night even topping the American charts for five weeks in 1961. By 1965, he'd joined the ranks of film music composers with the soundtrack to a movie entitled A Man Could Get Killed -- the title song from the movie became "Strangers in the Night," which Frank Sinatra propelled to the top of the American and British charts. He followed this up a year later with another hit for Sinatra, "The World We Knew (Over and Over)." For Kaempfert, whose admiration of American music began with the big band pop sound whence Sinatra had begun his career, those hits must have represented a deep personal triumph, transcending whatever money they earned -- indeed, he was selling records during the early '60s in the kind of quantities that rivaled Tommy Dorsey or Harry James' successes 20 years before, and he'd proved himself a prodigiously talented composer as well, an attribute that few of the big band leaders possessed. And speaking of Dorsey and James, Kaempfert could also take pride in having been the first music professional to notice and, in effect, have "discovered" the Beatles, much as James and Dorsey had with Sinatra in an earlier era, and much as Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey had also been the first television personalities to book Elvis Presley. Although Kaempfert's chart placements faded by the end of the decade, there could be no disputing his impact on the popular culture of the 1960s, which was so widespread into so many different areas that few individuals appreciated its scope; teenagers, had they known of his role, could be grateful to him for giving the Beatles that all-important first break, while their parents may well have danced to "Wonderland by Night" and its follow-ups, their older siblings might well have orchestrated their romantic endeavors to "Strangers in the Night," and television viewers and casual radio listeners might well have heard and hummed the Kaempfert tunes "That Happy Feeling," "Afrikaan Beat," or "A Swingin' Safari" (which, in a recording by Billy Vaughn, became the theme for the long-running game show The Match Game). His success as a composer was reflected in the five awards that he received from BMI in 1968 for "Lady," "Spanish Eyes," "Strangers in the Night," "The World We Knew," and "Sweet Maria." Kaempfert's chart placements vanished in the 1970s as the music marketplace (especially on radio) finally squeezed out the adult and older dance music listenership he'd cultivated. His records continued to sell, however, and his bookings remained healthy for another decade, and Kaempfert piled up awards in Germany. As he had with rock & roll, he also changed somewhat with the times -- when disco became popular in the mid-'70s, Kaempfert recorded a disco version of Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" that even impressed the composer. His sales were always healthy, if not substantial, in America, but in Europe he was still a top concert draw as well. Kaempfert died suddenly, at the age of 56, of a heart seizure while at his home in Mallorca, resting up after a triumphant British tour. In the years since, he has finally been recognized for the breadth of his achievements -- virtually his entire album catalog (and all of his hits) from the late '50s through the end of the 1960s remains in print on CD. Additionally, Kaempfert's recordings of the Beatles have at last been given the recognition that they deserved, in the form of a Bear Family Records box. Additionally, his own music has acquired a new fan base in tandem with the late-'90s boom of interest in 1950s pop instrumental (i.e., "bachelor's den" audio) music, and "Afrikaan Beat" is arguably as popular as incidental music in 2003 as it was in 1965, as well as closely associated with that past in American popular culture, itself a great achievement for the bandleader from Hamburg. Read less
Browse 1-12 of 12 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Baryshnikov/Nureyev DVD 4-Pack
    Label: Kultur Video   Catalog: 4940 Release Date: 04/07/2014   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Adolphe Adam,  Alexander Glazunov,  Bert Kaempfert,  Dean Kay  ... 
    DVD: $49.99
    In Stock
    DVD:  $49.99 Add DVD to Cart

  • 2.
    Love Letters
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 1079180 Release Date: 02/11/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Jean-Philippe Rieu,  Sir Edward Elgar,  Cole Porter,  Bert Kaempfert  ... 
    Performer:  André Rieu
    On sale! $15.99
    Import CD
    $13.99
    In Stock
    On sale!   $15.99   CD:  $13.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 3.
    100 Best Placido Domingo
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 47472 Release Date: 01/11/2011   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi,  Giacomo Puccini,  Arrigo Boito,  Pietro Mascagni  ... 
    Performer:  Fiorenza Cossotto,  Placido Domingo,  Montserrat Caballé,  Reri Grist  ... 
    Conductor:  Riccardo Muti,  Carlo Maria Giulini,  John Barker,  Bruno Bartoletti  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,  New Philharmonia Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra  ... 
    CD: $19.99
    In Stock
    CD:  $19.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 4.
    Passion - The Love Album / Placido Domingo
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 48671 Release Date: 01/11/2011   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Nicholas Brodszky,  Jacob Gade,  Francis Lai,  Eduardo Di Capua  ... 
    Performer:  G. Solera,  Peter Horton,  Placido Domingo,  Laszlo Bencker  ... 
    Conductor:  Boris Jojic,  Eugene Kohn,  Bebu Silvetti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra,  Chorus,  VVC Symphonic Orchestra  ... 
    CD: $12.99
    In Stock
    MP3 Available
    CD:  $12.99 Add CD to Cart

    MP3:  $7.99 Add MP3 to Cart

  • 5.
    Golden Age Of Light Music - More Strings In Stereo!
    Label: Guild   Catalog: 5159 Release Date: 01/12/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Victor Herbert,  Bert Kaempfert,  Manuel Ponce,  Angela Morley  ... 
    Conductor:  Percy Faith,  Robert Farnon,  Pierre Challet,  Angela Morley  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Percy Faith Orchestra,  Robert Farnon Orchestra,  Pierre Challet Orchestra  ... 
    Recommendation
    CD: $16.99
    In Stock
    CD:  $16.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 6.
    Golden Age Of Light Music 1950s Vol 5 - Sunny Side Up
    Label: Guild   Catalog: 5142 Release Date: 06/17/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ron Goodwin,  Ira Lee,  Robert Katscher,  Bert Kaempfert  ... 
    Conductor:  Ron Goodwin,  David Carroll,  Ray Martin,  Bert Kaempfert  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ron Goodwin Orchestra,  David Carroll Orchestra,  Ray Martin Concert Orchestra  ... 
    On sale! $19.98
    CD: $16.99
    In Stock
    On sale!   $19.98   CD:  $16.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 7.
    Pure Domingo / Placido Domingo
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 55616 Release Date: 07/23/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harold Arlen,  Giacomo Puccini,  Federico Moreno-Torroba,  Maurice Jarre  ... 
    Performer:  Placido Domingo
    Conductor:  Eugene Kohn,  Manuel Moreno-Buendia,  Bruno Bartoletti,  Julius Rudel  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra,  National Philharmonic Orchestra,  Madrid Symphony Orchestra  ... 
    ArkivCD $16.99
    Low Stock
    ArkivCD:  $16.99 Add to Cart

  • 8.
    Baryshnikov Dances Sinatra and More
    Label: Kultur Video   Catalog: 1167 Release Date: 10/25/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Joseph Lamb,  Dean Kay,  Bert Kaempfert,  Alexander Glazunov  ... 
    Recommendation
    On sale! $29.99
    DVD: $26.99
    In Stock
    On sale!   $29.99   DVD:  $26.99 Add DVD to Cart

  • 9.
    Label: Universal   Catalog: 685660 Release Date: 10/26/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Larry Kusik,  George Forrest,  Carl Zeller,  Robert Stolz  ... 
    Performer:  André Rieu
    On sale! $26.99
    Import CD
    $22.99
    Special Order
    On sale!   $26.99   CD:  $22.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 10.
    Rarities Of Piano Music At 'schloss Vor Husum'
    Label: Danacord   Catalog: 719 Release Date: 03/20/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Edvard Grieg,  Alf Hurum,  Sverre Bergh,  Jean Sibelius  ... 
    Performer:  Håvard Gimse,  Artur Pizarro,  Jonathan Powell,  Marc-André Hamelin  ... 
    On sale! $22.98
    CD: $18.99
    In Stock
    On sale!   $22.98   CD:  $18.99 Add CD to Cart

  • 11.
    Domingo - Songs Of Love
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 57045 Release Date: 10/10/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Francis Lai,  Eduardo Di Capua,  Nicholas Brodszky,  Carrilo,  ... 
    Performer:  Laszlo Bencker,  Placido Domingo,  Bebu Silvetti,  Billy Ross  ... 
    Conductor:  Eugene Kohn,  Boris Jojic,  Bebu Silvetti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choir,  WC Symphonic Orchestra
    CD not available
    MP3 Available
    MP3:  $8.99 Add MP3 to Cart

  • 12.
    The Telarc Collection Vol 6
    Label: Telarc   Catalog: 89106 Release Date: 09/29/1992   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  P.D.Q. Bach,  Sir Edward Elgar,  Bert Kaempfert,  John Denver  ... 
    Performer:  Doc Severinsen,  Hilton Ruiz,  Dizzy Gillespie,  Clifford Jordan  ... 
    Conductor:  Peter Schickele,  David Zinman,  Erich Kunzel,  Martin Pearlman  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Turtle Mountain Naval Base Tactical Wind Ensemble,  Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,  Cincinnati Pops  ... 
    ArkivCD $16.99
    Low Stock
    ArkivCD:  $16.99 Add to Cart