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Trygve Hernæs & Ben Webster -
Photo 1970, Ben visit Trondheim.

Trygve Hernæs

  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 loved it!
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 projects.
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 København.
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
Trygve Hernæs