Trygve Hernæs & Ben Webster -
Photo 1970, Ben visit Trondheim.
||Remembering Karl Emil Knudsen.
I first met Karl Emil in 1971 during a Sonet/Storyville conference
in Sweden. I had joined this organisation through my work for Arne
Bendiksen, the Norwegian distributor of the Sonet labels. Needless
to say, I am a devoted collector of jazz records, specializing in
the pre war styles and the New Orleans revival. As such, I have
known the Storyville label since I started collecting records in
1958, and seen Karl Emil’s name as producer on hundreds of records.
From that point on we had a continuous contact.
We met on several occasions in all three Scandinavian countries, and
when I København, I always stayed in his flat, bringing fresh fish,
airborne from Trondheim, Norway, cooked in the Hernæs manner. I even
cooked a traditional Norwegian dish called “Mutton in cabbage”. He
The first time I visited him in København, I generously got access
to his tape collection, and I had the privilege of being able to
make copies of his unreleased and more obscure recordings. Among
many fine sessions were the eight outstanding tracks by Arne
Birger’s Jazzsjak from 1965. In my humble opinion, some of the
finest classic style (read: Clarence Williams) jazz recordings done
anywhere throughout the Revival! They weren’t, however, commercial
enough for release, Karl Emil thought. Other interesting recordings
were those by Graham Stewart’s Seven from 1958 and 1960, the latter
including the excellent clarinettist Nick Cooper, some released on
vinyl extended play, and some unreleased.
I urged him to start releasing this rare material, but he felt the
market was gone, and the economy did not allow any uncertain
Then, during a visit at MIDEM, I think it must have been in 1997, I
asked him once more to think about the idea of making a series of
the finest and rarest revival material on hand. We agreed to take a
further look in the vaults, and this, once more brought me to
I wanted to make a historic series, with some chronology, presenting
artists like Bilk, Barber, Bue etc, adding rare material as bonus
tracks. After a bit of thinking, Karl Emil decided to re release the
old EP series, each CD in the combination of four well known bands,
adding rare and unreleased material to fill them up. I reluctantly
agreed, and the idea became a reality. Tapes had to be found and
cleaned, even some discs had to be copied (we both chose the late
John R. T. Davies for that job), and had to look for the finest EP
covers for scanning.
I have had a great time in the Knudsen vaults, making several trips
to København, and bringing fresh fish to our dinner table. We also
shared the same crazy interest in football (he had been a player,
and I used to be a referee in the 60’s and 70’s), so several
evenings were spent in front of the TV set, usually with Karl Emil
falling asleep several times during the matches!
Then, in 1999/2000, 16 compact discs with the finest of Danish and
some fine British (mostly recorded in Denmark) traditional jazz were
released. I am afraid the series had a too long pregnancy to become
a success, and Karl Emil was right:
The market for this kind of music is dying, as are a generation of
true jazz fans, interested in the New Orleans Revival. I do not know
how many discs having been sold to this very day, but believe may be
too few for the project to be economically worth the effort, which
is a great shame!
It was not easy to come close to “the inner side of Karl Emil”, but
I felt we had a fine friendship. He knew I was damn serious about my
interest in jazz, and that I had a good knowledge of what we were a
part of, and that is why he wanted me to come to København and to
stay in his flat. And may be he liked my cooking too!
Trondheim, February 25, 2007