When other record producers and A&R executives at the labels of the day had turned them down, it was Bert Kaempfert who gave a group known as "The Beat Brothers" their first chance to record a single. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best recorded "Ain't She Sweet" and "Cry for a Shadow" for Polydor, under Kaempfert's management, in early 1961. The record was not a great seller, but Kaempfert gets the credit for embracing "the Liverpool sound" when it was still ahead of its time. And he'll be remembered as the recording executive who gave the band that would soon be called "The Beatles" their first shot at recording, although Kaempfert's own sound of music was far across the spectrum of musical genres from the rock and roll style of the "British Invasion."

This claim to fame in the rock genre was a far cry from the swinging but dated instrumental recordings that made Kaempfert immensely famous in the early '60s. When "Wonderland by Night," an instrumental only slightly more musically interesting than any of Lawrence Welk's saccharine tunes, hit the charts big in 1961, Kaempfert became an overnight success worldwide. By the time "A Swingin' Safari," "Afrikan Beat," "Blue Midnight," and "Happy Trumpeter" were released as singles, Kaempfert became a household name. To his advantage, his work with his orchestra, populated with the most in-demand European musicians of the time, never included a vocalist, therefore sales of records in myriad non-English speaking countries were not an issue.

His career was not without controversy, though. The sources used for this writing offer different stories about whether or not it was Kaempfert or composer Ivo Robic who penned the song "Strangers In The Night," Frank Sinatra's biggest hit before "New York, New York." The song "Strangers In The Night" first appeared in the score to the movie A Man Could Get Killed in 1965, under Kaempfert's name. Kaempfert shared a Golden Globe award in 1969 with the lyricists, Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder.

The Child Prodigy

Berthold "Fip" Kaempfert was born in Hamburg, Germany in October of 1923. The Kaempfert household was comfortable but not well-off. At age six, what could have been a catastrophe ended up launching his musical career. A taxicab injured the boy - and after finding of fault the cab company's insurance carrier paid out a whopping 500 deutschmarks as settlement. With this, Berthold's mother purchased a piano, and the boy eagerly practiced and studied with a local music school. (The Songwriters Hall of Fame website embellishes the story of his musical start by saying that he was picking out tunes on the family's parlor piano as soon as he could walk; an untruth.)

A prodigy, he graduated the Hamburg School of Music at age 16. He'd mastered the piano prior to his graduation, but went on to study the saxophone, clarinet and accordion. He appeared with pre-war Germany's Hans Busch Orchestra as an instrumentalist, as well as delving into arranging and composing music. The Busch organization toured not only Germany but other European countries as well. The young Kaempfert was handsome in a boyish sort of way — a Leonardo diCaprio look-alike.

A Musician, Even in Wartime

In the early 1940's Kaempfert was drafted into the German Navy. During his service, however, his role in the navy was nearly exclusively working in military bands. The two websites that exist which are supported by his estate are silent about his naval service; but also about the fact that by 1945, Kaempfert was for several months a P.O.W. in a Danish camp, preferring to use the derogatory term "internment." Ever the musician, he organized a band at the camp comprised entirely of his fellow POWs.

The King of Easy Listening

One of the skills Kaempfert had that set him apart from his peers was a special sound, "happy music," he called it. The compositions nearly always featuring a skilled trumpeter in the foreground (ironically, Kaempfert couldn't play the trumpet). More importantly, the time-keeping was innovative and infectious. Judicious use of percussion made the music "sing" without being overwhelming. Often, a snare drum and a pair of brushes were all that were used by the combo drummer (in front of the orchestra). Finally, Kaempfert revolutionized the use of the upright bass, instructing his bassists to pluck the strings and then mute the note immediately, so instead of the long, booming bass tones usually heard in the genre, one heard an infectious, simple "dry-cracking" bass tone that was far more modern. This technique is used today by electric bass guitarists in the funk and soul genre, occasionally with a slightly different twist than simply muting the note, but nonetheless, here again is evidence of Kaempfert's pioneering of musical technique.

His competition, Henry Mancini, Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, Paul Mauriat, James Last, The 101 Strings and even Lawrence Welk, among others, never achieved the consistency of sound nor the upbeat, bouncy style that Kaempfert did.

Over the years, Kaempfert's genre has taken on different monikers. In the '50s and '60s it was big-band pop; by the '70s, the genre was dying out and was called in the radio business "Beautiful Music." In the '80s and beyond, the genre, depending upon whom is discussing it, is called "Easy Listening," "Lounge," or just plain cheese. The 'cheese' part may be correct, but Kaempfert's melodies have stood the test of time and have been given some peculiar but adoring covers over the years.

INSTRUMENTALISTS OF NOTE UTILIZED BY THE KAEMPFERT ORGANIZATION: TRUMPETS: Charly Tabor, Werner Gutterer, Manfred Moch, Heinz Habermann, Dieter Kock, Leif Uvemark, Bob Lanese, Rick Kiefer, Lennart Axelsson, Ack van Rooyen, Greg Bowen, Laurence Flam, Derek Watkins, Hakan Nyquist; TROMBONES: Konrad Bogdan (bass), Gnter Fuhlisch, Detlef Surmann, Georges Delagaye, Nick Hauck, Wolfgang Ahlers, Ole Holmquist; REEDS: Emil Wurster, Willi Surmann (father of trombonist Detlef), Karl-Hermann Ler, Jochen Ment (also known as bandleader Jo Ment), Harald Ende, Herb Geller, Ferdinand Povel; GUITAR: Ladi Geisler, Karlheinz Kaestel, Bernd Steffanowski, Helmuth Franke, Peter Hesslein, Big Jim Sullivan; ELECTRIC BASS: Ladi Geisler, Benny Bendorff; DRUMS & PERCUSSION: Robert Last (brother of James), Rolf Ahrens, Barry Roy Reeves, Terry Jenkins, Wolfgang Schlter, Herbert Bornhold; KEYBOARDS: Gunter Platzek, Peter Hecht.

A Man As Charming as His Music

By all accounts, Kaempfert was a likeable, easy-going, genuinely happy person all of his life. He married his wife Hannelore in 1946 after a year's courtship. The couple had two children, Doris in 1951 and Marion in 1956. All of his promotional photos show an impeccably dressed, conservatively-coiffed, downright dashing looking gentleman.

During the 1950s, he and his collaborators were charting very well on the German popular music lists. "Mitternachts-Blues" (Midnight Blues) lingered for weeks on the German charts, topping out at number 6.

Around this time Elvis Presley was stationed in Germany to serve his country in the Army. The Presley organization took great pains to prevent interruption of his career, so while serving, Presley also was filming a movie (G.I. Blues) in Germany. Kaempfert was tapped to score some of the music. The brilliant use of what was originally a folk tune provided Presley with "Wooden Heart," a hit for Presley and also for singer Joe Dowell. His success working with Americans set his sights on the U.S. market.

Kaempfert and his wife traveled to New York, where he sought out the help of entertainment genius Milt Gabler. Gabler's collaboration with Kaempfert as a lyricist and manager enriched them both. Music that had been popular in Germany was re-released on albums of "mood music" under English titles and shook the popular music community to its roots. The smooth, "happy" background music had people all over the country tapping their toes and snapping their fingers. Record after record came off the presses of the Decca label, with whom Kaempfert was to enjoy a long-term relationship.

Back in Germany, Kaempfert heard a group of young men from Liverpool, England called "The Beat Brothers" in a small nightclub, and signed them with Polydor. The Beatles had been born! The Liverpool sound was way ahead of its time, so years would go by until the group received notice from both U.K. and American producers.

At arguably the height of his popularity in America, Kaempfert was invited by fellow mood-music mogul Jackie Gleason to appear on The Jackie Gleason Show Christmas week of 1967. The program earned the highest ratings in the history of the program.

The "Happy Music" is Silenced Too Early

Although listeners may not know the titles of the tunes, nearly everyone has heard Kaempfert-composed background music in elevators, supermarkets, dentists' offices and other such venues. Tunes like "Strangers in the Night," "Spanish Eyes," "Happy Trumpet," "L.O.V.E.," (Nat "King" Cole made it famous) "I Can't Help Remembering You" (Dean Martin made this one his own) and "The World We Knew (Over and Over)" (another Sinatra hit) were popular hits that came back as instrumentals on countless Kaempfert albums, including two Greatest Hits collections and another entitled Singles, released posthumously. Kaempfert's own composition, "A Swingin' Safari" became notorious for its use as background music for countless travelogue-type presentations on film and in the form of slide projections by professionals but more often amateurs.

By the late '70s, Kaempfert was as busy as ever. His pastime was spending time on his fishing boat off of Mallorca, Spain. He'd performed four encore performances for a London audience in 1980, and announced to his fans that he "had no more scores, and my musicians are thirsty." He went back to Mallorca to write more music, but was felled by a fatal stroke on June 21st, 1980. His ashes were scattered over the Florida Everglades (at his request; he'd found quiet and peace there late in life) a year later.

He was inducted posthumously into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1993. Other awards included two gold singles in Germany, one U.S. gold single, and seven gold albums. He earned 22 BMI song awards, including one for the most performed song of the BMI repertoire in 1966 ("Strangers in the Night"). By the time of his passing, 150 million of his records had been sold.

Kaempfert's music has popped up in television commercials from time to time, most recently for ING Insurance ("A Swingin' Safari" - performed by Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra) and for the Chrysler PT Cruiser car ("L.O.V.E." by the group Fisher - also used on the soundtrack of How to Lose a Man in Ten Days). Many years ago, Channel 5 (WFOX) in New York City used Kaempfert's "Happy Trumpet" for a segue from the evening news into commercials.

This writeup received not one but two rather assertive responses asking that I remove certain portions for which I had no source at hand to cite. Additionally, I was less than objective regarding Kaempfert's military service during World War II. He served in the German navy. The entirety of his service was spent making music; not in combat. I was accusative and made an assertion that was based on faulty logic, and for this I apologize. It was, however, enlightening to know that Kaempfert has fans who're this enthusiastic. I'm gonna leave this writeup as it stands now, absent controversial issues. Now perhaps we can go out and buy the superb CD "The Best of Bert Kaempfert" which was reissued not too long ago. If "beautiful music" is your bag (it is mine, sometimes), the album's the best of the genre. If you're into something else, it's like going on a musical picnic; there's a little something there for just about everyone.

A Personal, Cultural Observation

Anecdotal and experiential observations on the part of the writer led me to a rather unscientific conclusion. Kaempfert was perhaps a hero to the many Americans of German heritage who felt strong ties to that heritage. During Kaempfert's heyday, "German Clubs" had popped up all over the country, more so in the east than anywhere else. (Of course, many towns had their Italian Clubs, Polish Clubs, etc., I don't want to single out the Germans for running clubs with ethnic exclusivity of some sort.)

The German Clubs were a haven for those who'd survived the economic catastrophe that was post-World War II Germany, and escaped it, seeking to find a better life in the U.S. Of course, there were older members who'd come over long before the war, but the German Club I remember being taken to as a young man transcended age, and focused on the Germans' love of good food, good drink, and stories of the "old country," more often than not seen through rose colored glasses. It was at the German Club, and at house parties held by its members, that I recall hearing the original German versions of Kaempfert's albums, (dismissed by the oldsters as being "too modern") but played, and danced to, nonetheless. Men and women alike would sing along with the words to songs which had lyrics. I long for that time; when being of German heritage was a strong source of pride and of joy. Now, we were, of course, sweeping under the carpet any mention of the Germany of Hitler; and the denial, in retrospect, was in no way psychologically useful nor healthy.

My first culinary teacher was a man named Klaus Hattasch, who'd escaped the famine of post-war Germany and made a great life for himself in the U.S., owning restaurants (The Horse and Hound Inn in South Salem, New York; and La Bagatelle in Greenwich, Connecticut). I was only 15 years old when I met him, but after only 3 years considered him a mentor. He told me of the shame and struggle of living under the Allied occupation, and of literally starving at one point in his life, before he could scrape up enough funds to seek his fortune. Kaempfert was mentioned as a hero of his, and Kaempfert's music was often played on the huge reel-to-reel tape recorder at the Horse and Hound which provided background music for dining. Kaempfert's music (even the song and album titles) epitomized for all listeners "the good life," and perhaps the soft spot in my heart for Kaempfert's music is because it was playing when I tasted my first great Grand Cru Bordeaux; when I first tried Escargot — it had subliminally become the soundtrack to my transformation from a hamburger-hungry kid to a gourmet.

As the "Beautiful Music" radio stations died out, I felt Kaempfert's music dying with them. Today, the Lounge movement has revived interest in this composer, perhaps more interested in the kitsch value of the music than its musical integrity. Whenever I hear some of Kaempfert's instrumental works, I think about Germany, my twice-removed cousins there, and recall the lovely way of life even my humble grandmother enjoyed; a way of life which is hard to describe, but distinctly German. For lack of a better phrase, I'll paraphrase: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow may be different."

UPDATE: SharQ suggested that I link all of the recordings. I am doing so (but not adding them to the "New Writeups" list). This will enable me to give a track list, chart information, alternative performer information and liner notes descriptions (where applicable) for each one. Spiregrain made the brilliant suggestion that I add a piece about how Kaempfert's music endures via its use in TV and radio, mostly advertisements. That's taking no small bit of research on my part but will be published here soon.

Selected Discography

(U.S. Issues only)

  • April In Portugal, DL-78881 (1959)
  • Wonderland By Night, Decca DL-74101 (1960)
  • The Wonderland Of Bert Kaempfert, Decca DL-74117 (1960)
  • Dancing In Wonderland, Decca DL-74161 (1960)
  • With A Sound In My Heart DL-74228 (1961)
  • Lights Out, Sweet Dreams, Decca DL-74265 (1961)
  • Afrikaan Beat, Decca DL-74273 (1962)
  • That Happy Feeling, Decca DL-74305 (1962)
  • Living It Up, Decca DL-74374 (1962)
  • Christmas Wonderland, Decca DL-74441 (1963)
  • That Latin Feeling, Decca DL-74490 (1963)
  • Blue Midnight, Decca DL-74569 (1964)
  • The Magic Music Of Far Away Places, Decca DL-74616 (1964)
  • Three O'Clock In The Morning, Decca DL-74670 (1965)
  • Bye Bye Blues, Decca DL-74693 (1965)
  • A Man Could Get Killed, Decca DL-74750 (1966)
  • Strangers In The Night, Decca DL-74795 (1966)
  • Bert Kaempfert's Greatest Hits, Decca DL-74810 (1966)
  • Hold Me, Decca DL-74810 (1967)
  • Bert Kaempfert's Best, Decca DL-734485 (1967)
  • The World We Knew, Decca DL-74925 (1967)
  • Love That Bert Kaempfert, Decca DL-74986 (1967)
  • The Best Of Bert Kaempfert DXSB-7200 (1968)
  • My Way Of Life, Decca DL-75059 (1968)
  • Warm And Wonderful, Decca DL-75189 (1969)
  • Traces Of Love, Decca DL-75140 (1969)
  • The Kaempfert Touch, Decca DL-75175 (2/70)
  • Free And Easy, Decca DL-75234 (7/70)
  • Orange Colored Sky, Decca DL-75256 (2/71)
  • Bert Kaempfert Now!, Decca DL-75305 (9/71)
  • 6 Plus 6, Decca DL-75322 (5/72)
  • Bert Kaempfert's Best, Decca DL-75367 (10/72)
  • Fabulous Fifties, MCA-314 (4/73)
  • To The Good Life, MCA-368 (10/73)
  • The Most Beautiful Girl, MCA-402 (3/74)
  • Gallery, MCA-447 (11/74)
  • Live In London, Polydor 825144-2 (1974)
  • Golden Memories, MCA-466 (4/75)
  • Moon Over Miami, MCA-489 (9/75)
  • Kaempfert '76, Polydor 2310456 (5/76)
  • The Best Of Bert Kaempfert, MCA2-4100 (10/76)
  • Safari Swings Again, Polydor 2310494 (1977)
  • Tropical Sunrise, Polydor 2310562 (1977)
  • Bert Kaempfert Swing, Polydor 2310592 (1978)
  • Keep On Dancing, Polydor 2310625 (1979)
  • Bert Kaempfert In Concert, Polydor 2310657 (1980)
  • The Best Of Bert Kaempfert, MFCD-795 (1988)


  • The Bert Kaempfert Orchestra (Tony Fisher and Marion Kaempfert): http://www.bertkaempfert.co.uk/indexmain.htm (Accessed 4/23/07)
  • Discogs.com: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Bert+Kaempfert+&+His+Orchestra?anv=Bert+Kaempfert+And+His+Orchestra (Accessed 4/23/07)
  • IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0434475/ (Accessed 4/23/07)
  • Songwriters' Hall of Fame: http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/exhibit_home_page.asp?exhibitId=222 (Accessed 4/23/07)
  • European Big Bands Database: http://nfo.net/euro/ek.html (Accessed 4/25/07)
  • Bert Kaempfert Good Life Music: http://www.kaempfert.de/index_int.html (Accessed 4/23/07)
  • Space Age Pop: http://www.spaceagepop.com/kaempfer.htm (Accessed 4/23/07)

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