James Last - A biography
James Last was born on April 17, 1929 in the North German Bremen-Sebaldtsbrück as Hans Last (generally known as Hansi). After a daughter and three sons, Hansi was the youngest child of Martha and Louis Last, a gas reader at the local society. In his spare time Louis Last acted as an accordionist or drummer.
With eight years Hansi played the German folk song 'Hänschen klein' on the piano to the surprise of his parents. So they let him follow music lessons. From 1943 Hans took a musical education in the Military Academies of Frankfurt and later in Bückeburg near Hanover. His ultimate goal was to graduate as a 23-year-old classical conductor. After the piano, bassoon and flute studies, he became acquainted with the double bass. This became his main instrument and would determine the rest of his musical career. When the Academy in Bückeburg was closed in full time of war, this meant the end of classical training for Hansi.
As a young boy, he ended up in the circuit that heeded during the war evenings in American clubs in Bremen. Initially as a pianist, later as a bass player. With 16 years he signed his first contract as a professional musician. Hans learned about the innovative American Jazz and Big Band music from the American radio stations. What he heard on the radio during the day, he tried to play in the evening during the performances. Jazz became his favorite music.
With his brothers Robert (drums) and Werner (trombone / accordion) he arrived in 1946 at the newly founded orchestra of Radio Bremen. From then on, Hansi gained great professional knowledge at various bands and orchestras. With Robert and Werner and a friend, Karl Heinz Becker, he founded the Last-Becker Ensemble. Together they traveled through post-war Germany. Because of his exceptional talent, Hans was given the opportunity to lead his first orchestra at Radio Bremen. This became the 'Streicherorchester Hans Last'. In that period he was noticed by the Berlin violinist Helmut Zacharias, who asked him for his Jazz combo. Later on, Hans Last would tour Europe with Zacharias and his great orchestra. In addition, Hans Last became increasingly known as a talented arranger.
'Hans always wants to be the best and is a huge go-getter', his brother Werner once said in an interview. This was evident from the fact that from 1950 to 1953 he was named Best German Best Bassist by the German Jazzpoll three years after each other. This title brought Hansi into contact with the greats from the German music world. In the 1950s he remained mainly active as an arranger for German schlager interpreters such as Catharina Valente, Freddy (Quinn) etc. Conductors of large entertainment orchestras or smaller bands also appealed to his skills as composer and arranger.
In private, the 1950s were equally drastic for Hans Last. In 1955 he married the Bremen Waltraud Wiese (1931 - 1997). Since he got an indefinite contract with the NDR in Hamburg, Hansi and Waltraud settled in this musical city in 1956. In 1957 their daughter Catherina (Rina) was born and in November 1958 son Ronald (Ron) saw the light of day.
As most of the artists he worked for at Polydor (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, today Universal Records) were under contract, Hans Last came up with the question "If he could do something for them ?" For example, in 1963 Hans Last signed his first contract with Polydor. He recorded two albums under his name Hans Last and one under the pseudonym "Orchester Orlando". However, these productions did not satisfy him! Hansi wanted more and went looking for innovation.
In 1965 Waltraud and Hansi would celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary with a party. As often lacking the appropriate music ... Meanwhile, the following occurred. The rising pop music of, among others, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had a big impact on the youth. This caused more than ever a generation conflict. As a young musician, Hansi also underwent the new influences that would eventually bring him the necessary inspiration. It prompted him to the following thought: "Why do not make the music of young people danceable for the older generations? So it becomes unconscious more acceptable for the latter category. " The thought would eventually lead to the birth of the James Last Sound on a musical level, because Hansi told the following. "As a young boy I listened with my father to a radio program with a Danish channel, where they were broadcasting with a live audience and you heard music through the clattering of glasses and bags. Even as a child I experienced the special atmosphere in the broadcast The memory of these radio broadcasts is actually the basis of my party sound." Hansi had indeed found an original combination that would lead to his ideal party music. He would test it himself at the conscious party at his ten-year marriage. From current hits he made a selection and edited them in medley form per dance rhythm: foxtrott, slow, jive etc. With friends-musicians from the NDR Hamburg (including Günter Platzek, Jochen Ment and Detleff Surmann) he composed a Band. In contrast to the (Big) Bands that had been playing for years, Hansi provided a renewed line-up and he even changed the traditional arrangement of the musicians. The time-honored rhythm pattern in the arrangements was also renewed. During the party, Hansi recorded the event on a tape recorder. When the recording was listened to the next day, the result was astonishing. This was it: the new music and the atmosphere, made by the guests, the silences between the medleys filled with applause and cheers. There was the feeling of being in the middle of the festivities again. Hansi was convinced he had created the ideal party music and he was more enthusiastic than ever before with his recording for Polydor. Here they were at first rather reluctant to the party sounds. However, they believed in Hansi and gave him the opportunity to repeat the party in Studio Hamburg. The "Happy Party Sound" was born!
"Non Stop Dancing 1965" by the "James Last Band" It was a shock to Hansi himself when he first received . Beyond his knowledge, Polydor had changed the name Hans to James for the international market. But one thing was certain: the 'James Last Sound' was a fact. The sound was not limited to party music. Most imaginable music genres, from Jazz to classical and folk, were performed in an inimitable way by Hansi's enormous zeal and talent by the James Last Band & Orchestra with or without choir. A year after the release of Non Stop Dancing 1965, there were already sought-after gems such as Beat in Sweet, Classics Up To Date, Ännchen von Tharau, Trumpet à Gogo, Hammond à Gogo 2, Instrumentals Forever, Christmas Dancing, ... In addition, Hansi wrote in 1966 with Games That Lovers Play his first world hit. The golden success train would continue year after year in more than 160 original productions that were crowned with an infinite row of trophies. James Hansi Last has accomplished everything. But letting his music develop more and more, being creative and staying true to himself was one of the basic principles.
From 1969 the James Last orchestra went on tour. Large world tours and smaller European tours followed, and to this day with sold-out halls. The show grew over the years to an impressive spectacle of high level. Where and when? Enumerations are simply impossible for James Last!
On 17 April 1999, James-Last celebrated his 70th birthday. In December 1997, after 42 years of marriage, he lost his support Waltraud after years of fighting cancer. In June 1999 he married for the second time, with the 30 years younger Christine Grundner from Munich. Together they lived happily in West Palm Beach (Florida). Daughter Rina donated two grandsons to him. Despite his respectable age, Hans Last still remains active after 35 years of career.
To date, with his unique sound he collected more than 200 gold, 14 platinum plus countless other awards. Yet the most successful orchestra leader in the world can not be overwhelmed with such figures. "I just make music from my heart, music that I love myself, and when I see that millions of people love what I love to do, I can only be happy,", says the ever-humble Hansi Last. That is how he explains his success. Despite this enormous success, he remained the humble and affable Hansi from Bremen, with above all a "Happy Heart" for others.
Text: Jan Demin