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A young and most charming Allan Stephensen, year 1977

Allan 199?


My first meeting…

At the age of 14 I had accumulated a small collection of jazz records mainly bought second hand at a shop called “New Orleans” in Copenhagen and owned by a well-known collector by the name of Louis Barnewitz. Louis suggested to me that I paid a visit to Mr. Knudsen of Storyville Records having a huge collection. This was in 1953.

My first meeting with Karl Emil took place in his home that same year. Being ten years his junior I was still attending school and arrived there in my shorts a little uncomfortable of how I would be welcomed, if welcomed at all and what to expect. It was a Sunday in mid-summer and as I stood at the door hesitating to ring the bell, in my eyes a grown-up came up the stairs. Approaching he asked me grinning what I was doing just standing there: "Are you going to see the great man, too?" I blushed and felt completely idiotic. As I did not answer him he resolutely rang the bell, the door opened and there he was, K.E. Knudsen as the door-plate offered. Scarcely looking at us he said "hello" and immediately turned around leaving us to ourselves. My companion was the late Bent Haandstad another well-known collector.

Resolutely we followed the sound of voices and of music coming from a record player. Besides Karl Emil three other guys were present drinking tea, smoking and commenting on the disc playing. One of them was another collector and blues-specialist Arne Svensson whom I am happy to say also became a very good friend. Still see him. The room was Karl's "office" and here he developed several of the various ideas that later happened to be realized. Nobody hardly took notice of me giving me the chance to sit on the floor listening to their talk about their favourite records and soloists. "Remember the crowd welcoming Louis when he arrived by train last September?" - "Yes, sure but the repertoire they performed in the 'K.B. Hall' was generally not much to my liking and Velma, well…" And so they went on. Meanwhile I took a look at Karl's vast collection including original Okeh's, Columbia's, Gennett's and several on Biltmore, H.J.C.A. and many more. A new world was opening to my eyes and ears for good: The wonderful world of jazz. I was excited! In the late afternoon we parted and Karl asked me to come around anytime giving me the latest of his reissues on Storyville as he said goodbye.

I had the good fortune of seeing Karl Emil on and off listening to a lot of music and still learning to identify new artists. There were always people around Karl and here I met almost everyone that meant something in the jazz environment already known or names to be. Among them were Timme Rosenkrantz and Chris Albertson. About two years later in co-operation with the founder of the Sonet label Anders Dyrup he established a new company Dansk Grammofonpladeforlag I/S (DGF) at Raadhusstræde 2A, København K. located right in the centre of Copenhagen. During the summer vacation from school I went there daily helping out picking orders for record shops, mailing newsletters and so forth. The 78s had disappeared taken over by 7" singles and EPs as well as 10" LPs. I simply loved to be surrounded by records and I still remember the certain smell that goes with them. Everyday at lunch time I went round the corner to buy a number of open sandwiches "Smørrebrød" as we call them - slices of dark bread with butter spread, slices of ham, sausage, vegetables, cheese, egg and so on usually in fours enveloped in grease-proof paper. Besides this free meal I was paid per hour and always I took records in stead. On a wholesale basis, of course. Karl was at all times generous toward those he liked.
Since my first acquaintance with Karl I observed a special characteristic about him. Then and later he always trusted his fellow men. He never let you down if you asked to loan a book, tape or record from his growing collections. He was good-hearted at that but maybe also a little naive. He willingly let items he cared for to someone he hardly knew. Sometime his confidence in others resulted in the fact that items were not returned. If he noticed at all his only comment was: "poor soul." Sometimes when I was working alone a little late in the offices of DGF he took it for granted that I simply locked the door when I left.

In the house of my parents I was fortunate enough to have a room of my own. I also had a portable typewriter. At this time, it was late in the 1950s, I told Karl about the machine and immediately he asked me if I would like to do some homework for him telling me it would be extremely interesting to me but that there was no money in it - yet. Very persuasive Karl could be in his friendly way. It turned out to be the final typing of hundreds of pages for the edition of Jorgen Grunnet Jepsen's "JAZZ RECORDS, 1942-." It was very interesting, indeed and it became a "labour of love" and initiated my interest in discographical matters. Karl came once a week to collect the finished pages. Another characteristic about him was his rather unusual behaviour calling at our home the first time: My mother opened the front door, saw a little man with a beard asking for Allan. He didn't say his name nor telling the reason for his visit. My mother being of another generation was somehow reluctant in answering and Karl impatiently just repeated his question: "Is Allan at home or not?" Fortunately I overheard the conversation and hurried to her rescue. She never really accepted that Karl could possibly be a friend of her son. Wherever he went, the same procedure. Indeed it was bad manners but he was always a little absent-minded, his thoughts somehow ahead of the present situation. In the long run nobody took offence. Oh well, that's just the way he is was the opinion.

The question has been asked if Karl Emil had a happy life. I, for one think that he had - in his own way. Most happy he was when a project of his came into life. But not for long. There always were new ideas in the pipeline. His creativity never faded and with Storyville's 50th Anniversary he must have felt at the height of his career.

I have always admired Karl Emil for his many qualities and I am grateful for having known him and for his friendship.

Allan Stephensen, 2003