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About Karl Emil Knudsen

By Adrian Bentzon 
One cannot think of the Danish New-Orleans revival without thinking about Karl Emil Knudsen.


I entered that scene playing at the opening night of the jazz club Storyville in “folkekøkkenet” in Hambroesgade, a wooden building popularly called The Negro Hut. That was in September 1952, but the initiative was taken by a group, who already for some years had dedicated themselves to the revival of the original jazz. Among them were the cornettist Gunnar Jonsson and the clarinettist Henrik Johansen, who were the front line in the New-Orleans band that came to bear my name and was one of the regular bands in Storyville. But the central figure was Karl Emil. He used to be a first-class football-player, but came down with meningitis, which left him physically somewhat frail but never reduced his zest and initiative. He took a special interest in our band, which contained members of the original group. He always partook in our gatherings and sometimes attended our rehearsals. I remember him as he always arrived in a heavy overcoat, carrying two heavy briefcases with records and stuff, plus a couple of newspapers stuck under his arm. At that time the only way to learn the tunes and the way of playing was by listening to the old 78-records, many of them acoustic recordings and always thoroughly scratched. A special kind of record was called a psychopath-record, meaning that you could here nothing but scratch and suspect some dim notes in the background. (It was often the dearest possession of the collector as it could be an original Gennet from 1923.)



Karl Emil did not have many of those, but he had an extensive collection of all kinds of jazz-records, which he let us use to our purpose. He also suggested numbers, we should play and commented our way of playing them. One day he came to me and said: “I have found a blues singer for you”. That was Lise West, who came to sing regularly with the band. To the opening night of Storyville Jazzclub was invited Chris Barber, who played with the popular Danish jazz-group The Ramblers. Out of that came two 78-records Chris Barber with the Ramblers, as far as I know the first records, which Karl Emil produced.  He then founded Storyville Records, which merged with Anders Dyrup’s Sonet  and became the leading (maybe the only?) company that published Danish Revival Jazz.. In the beginning he recorded much of the music himself, and wherever something interesting was going on, Karl Emil and his tape recorder could usually be seen. When my first orchestra disbanded in 1955, Karl Emil went with Henrik Johansen as manager of his new band, and I did not see him so much after that time. Except in the recording studios and in connection with visits by American jazz-musicians which he also arranged together with Anders. But the old friendly way with each other lasted until his death. 

Adrian Bentzon May 2007