Monday, July 28, 2014

Helge Jacobsen - A Danish Jazz Guitar Pioneer

Helge Jacobsen
(Photo copied from music sheet)
Helge Wilhelm Jacobsen (1916-1987) was a Danish jazz guitarist, vocalist and bandleader, who had his main career as a musician from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. He started his professional career as a guitarist with Svend Asmussen (1937-41), then joined the orquestra of Borge Roger Henrichsen (1941-45) and thereafter lead his own groups until the mid-1950. He recorded with various Danish bands during his career, besides Asmussen and Roger Henrichsen he also participated in recordings with Leo Mathiesen, Cecil Aagaard, Kai Ewans, Peter Rasmussen a.o.. He further took part as a studio backing guitarist in recordings of various vocalists in the 1940s, i.e. Kordt Sisters, Ingerlise Rune, Raquel Rastenni a.o., and he also recorded some sides under his own name. From the mid 1950s he gradually concentrated on art painting and worked as a guitar tutor.

Helge Jacobsen (source: YouTube)
In Danish Jazz reference literature Helge Jacobsen is only left little space, however, he is considered a pioneer of the electric jazz guitar in Denmark, as he was the first guitarist to use an amplified guitar on stage and in recordings from around 1940. He has several solos on electric guitar with Roger Henrichsen's orquestra and you can also find some with Asmussen, Mathiesen and Rasmussen. Anyway, as it was often a common practise at the dawn of the amplified/electric guitar in jazz, like other guitarists Helge Jacobsen switched between acoustic and amplified guitar. Paradoxically, as a pioneer of the electric/amplified guitar his only two solo recording sessions under his own name in the 1940s were played on the acoustic jazz guitar. He recorded a session in 1940 with a trio contributing solo guitar work and vocal on two sides, one of them a version of I Can't Give You Anything But Love, the other side had a version of Little Coquette - both sides showing off great chord style and single string guitar in addition to his vocal and a competent rhythm combo backing. The next time Helge Jacobsen recorded solo guitar under his own name was in November 1944, and this session is in focus here.

Part of  printed music sheet (JL collection)
When I cleared some boxes recently, I found some sheet music which I acquired long ago. Among them were transcripts of Helge Jacobsen's two original compositions, Fantasy i A and Improvisation from November 1944 and released on sheet by Kleinert's Music Publishers, 1945. Transcripts were made by Hemming Hartman, a colleague of Helge Jacobsen, who participated as a bassist in the recording of the two titles. The recordings were made in Copenhagen on 26. November, 1944 and released by the Odeon label on a 78 rpm shellack disc ( Odeon D 923, mx Kpo 4366-1 and Kpo 4367-1) according to Danish jazz discograpical info, while Tom Lord's discography states the year as 1943 without precise date. The Danish discogaphical info probably is the correct listing, if you take the year of release of the sheet music in account. On both sides of the Odeon disc Helge Jacobsen (solo guitar) is accompanied by a rhythm combo composed of Jorn Grauengaard (rhythm guitar), Hemming Hartmann (double bass) and Erik Frederiksen (drums). Unfortunately, the disc has never been re-issued on LP or CD, but YouTube has the audio from the original disc in two videos. Here is first Helge Jacobsen's Fantasi i A

The flip-side of Odeon D 923 had the recording of Helge Jacobsen's Improvisation, also uploaded at YouTube and inserted here

These two examples of Helge Jacobsen's guitar work are essential and show a remarkable and mature mastering of both chord style and single string guitar. His style of playing is not so easy to put in one of the usual categories, however, some sequences in  Improvisation remind me of Albert Casey (- the guitarist with Fats Waller) and the chord style progressions seem to be inspired by the Swedish chord style guitarist Folke Eriksberg (- known from the Svenska Hotkvintetten, a popular Swedish string swing ensemble making several recordings from late 1930s until 1942). Whatever label you would like to put on Jacobsen's guitar style, in my ears it's first and foremost his own, probably developed from listening to records of the swing orquestras available at the time and from exchanging ideas with other musicians on the job and in rehearsals. It's a pity that a record label not yet has taken the initiative to release a selection of Helge Jacobsen's work as a guitarist before his name and contribution to the Golden Age of Jazz in Denmark are forever lost in oblivion. He definitly ranks at the same level as other Scandinavian fellow instrumentalists like Robert Normann, Sven Stiberg and Folke Eriksberg - pioneers of the jazz guitar in Scandinavia. And we are still some fans of swing jazz guitar, who are well aware of the fact that Helge Jacobsen participated as a rhythm guitarist in the famous Danish Jamsession recording December 1938 featuring Oscar Alemán and Svend Asmussen a.o.

Among Scandinavian pioneers of the jazz guitar the Danish guitarist, vocalist and band leader Helge Jacobsen is an almost forgotten figure whose contributions to the swing guitar output of the 1940s' Golden Age of Jazz in Denmark are underrepresented compared to  contemporary re-issue productions of fellow instrumentalists of that period. To correct this injustice this blog entry introduces two essential recordings by Helge Jacobsen under his own name - two essential guitar recordings of the 1940s and excellent examples of Helge Jacobsen's consept of the swing idiom.

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