Pedro Biker: Evergreens in Danish Design (1963) Fontana/Universal jp

Selection: Everything Happens to Me (standard)

.  .  .

Artists

Sahib Shihab, baritone sax; Allan Botschinsky, trumpet; Bent Axen, piano; Niels-Henning Pedersen, bass; Bjarne Rostvold, drums; Pedro Biker, vocals; recorded in Denmark, 1963.

Plagiarism Alert! Marc Myers (JazzWax) picks up the story – his original research. Links  come and go, I take no credit, I reproduce it here with respect to JazzWax, simply to preserve it. Marc takes up the story:

“Taking a deep dive into saxophonist Sahib Shihab’s discography a couple of weeks ago, I came across an odd name. During the period when Shihab lived in Denmark in the 1960s, he recorded two albums in Copenhagen backing a singer named Pedro Biker. Pedro Biker? At first, I thought the name might be a pseudonym for a famous American singer who was in Denmark on tour and wanted to sit in with expatriate jazz musicians. I also assumed the pseudonym was a brand of Danish pipe tobacco or coffee.

But after doing a little research, I discovered that Pedro Biker was a Danish jazz drummer and singer. So I acquired the two albums he recorded with Shahib from a friend—Evergreens in Danish Design and The Song Is You. From the opening track of Evergreens, I was in shock. The band had a pure American swing feel and Biker was a rather superb and relaxed lounge singer in the Frank D’Rone-Steve Lawrence tradition.

Still more research was needed since there’s so little about Biker online. Born in Portugal in 1925, Biker moved to Denmark as a child with his family at the absolute wrong time—just as Germany was preparing to invade Russia and Europe. Biker’s professional drumming career began at age 18 in 1943 in the Bent Fabricius-Bjerre Orchestra, but it may have been a cover. According to a contributor to Every Second Counts: True Stories from Israel by Richard Osterman, Biker was in the Resistance:

We were among the first Danish Jews who came to Sweden. When, during the German occupation, the situation in Denmark became critical in September 1943…I met one of my friends in the Resistance movement on a street in Copenhagen. Pedro Biker said to me, “You and your family must leave your home immediately and find refuge or else you will be in grave danger.” Pedro was a drummer in a jazz band, and I knew that what he told me was serious and something I had to take note of.

Hitler ordered the roundup and deportation of Danish Jews in October 1943. Biker likely escaped to Sweden as well at some point. After the war, his first recording in 1945 was in Stockholm with the Kjeld Bonfils Orkester. The band was notable for several musicians who, a few years later, became prominent jazz artists: Rolf Ericson (tp), Sven Hedberg (tb), Ake “Stan” Hasselgard (cl), Kjeld Bonfils (p) Sven Stiberg (g), Simon Brehm (b) and Biker (d).

Not until the late 1950s was Biker’s singing voice discovered accidentally on the radio. Soon he began recording as a singer of American pop songs sung in Danish. But in 1963, Biker recorded the first of two English-language jazz-pop albums in Copenhagen—Evergreens in Danish Design (Fontana). The backing ensemble featured Allan Botschinsky (tp), Sahib Shihab (as, sop,fl), Bent Axen (p), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (b) and Bjarne Rostvold (d).

The second English-language album, The Song Is You, was recorded in Copenhagen in 1966 for Sonet. It too was an album of American songs. But this time the band was larger and arranged by Kenny Drew: Sahib Shihab (as) Kenny Drew (p) Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (b) and Alex Riel (d), featuring Palle Mikkelborg (tp), Allan Botschinsky (flhrn), Bent Jaedig and Uffe Karskov (ts), Bent Nielsen (bar), Bjarne Rostvold (bgo) and Dave Sternbach (fhr) on different tracks.

Clearly, these albums were recorded for export to the U.K. and America, or for soldiers stationed abroad on American bases. Biker’s vocals are so good and jazz flavored that if I played these albums for you and asked who was singing, you’d certainly be stumped unless you already knew. Try it with your jazz know-it-all friends and see how they fare.”

Marc Meyers

Biker died in 1973, at age 48, much too young.

Music

Songs feature on every track, just a few instrumental sections tucked away inside. Biker is a smooth vocalist, and his pronunciation is flawless European/ American English, all the more remarkable for someone whose native tongue is Danish. The song title of the selection in Danish is “alt sker for mig”, which probably doesn’t rhyme with anything.  Everyone can sing “I Did It My Way“, whatever their language, and no matter how much they have had to drink..

I picked the track Everything Happens to Me not for it’s profound lyrics but because it has slightly more Shihab  content than the other tracks. Nevertheless, here is the song,  a standard written in 1940 by Tom Adair (lyrics) and Matt Dennis (music), first recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra.

I make a date for golf, and you can bet your life it rains
I try to give a party, and the guy upstairs complains
I guess I’ll go through life, just catching colds and missing trains
Everything happens to me
 
I never miss a thing. I’ve had the measles and the mumps
And every time I play an ace, my partner always trumps
I guess I’m just a fool, who never looks before he jumps
Everything happens to me
 
At first, my heart thought you could break this jinx for me
That love would turn the trick to end despair
But now I just can’t fool this head that thinks for me
I’ve mortgaged all my castles in the air
 
I’ve telegraphed and phoned and sent an air mail special too
Your answer was goodbye and there was even postage due
I fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you
Everything happens to me
 
Blues guitarist  Albert King sang it in a more economical way  “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”  in  Born Under a Bad Sign  (Booker T Jones)
 
Charlie Parker included it in Parker With Strings (1949) – sadly I can’t be doing with with string arrangements.  Chet Baker also delivered it in vocals, in  Chet Baker Sings (Riverside,1958), in a highly sought after album – which I also have not pursued, which looks like the model adopted by Biker – boy next door romantic – but that beige roll-neck! Still, the pink chair is great!
 

For me the tune resonates most without words, the the perfect expression of Bill Evans Trio. It makes me ask, in what way do lyrics add to music? Personally, I find they impose a distracting narrative, draw you away from the composition and performance, but that’s notorious anti-vocals LJC. 
 
Here is the Evans Trio 64 edition, some what stiff, which I have somewhere on vinyl, for now on Youtube:
 

Or a much warmer live set of the same tune, on a Bill Evans album with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker, partially recorded at the Shelly Manne’s club in Hollywood, California in May 1963 (but not released until 1983 on the Milestone label). Now this is beautiful.
 

 

The version I probably like most is Monk’s  adversarial interpretation on Alone In San Francisco, (song also covered on his Solo Monk album). Monk’s tricksy timing and playful melodic divergences introduces an element of suspense and surprise into what might have been just a bland standard. Got to love Monk.

Other versions have been recorded by Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Art Pepper, and many more, and countless popular singers, take your pick. Vocal, or instrumental?

Vinyl: UCJU-9061

Reissue (2006 – Japan) of Fontana TL 687.528 (1963 – Denmark only ) mono

“Pedro Biker featuring Sahib Shihab , limited edition 2006 Japanese issue of the ultra rare 1963 8-track mono LP, originally a Danish-only release by the European jazz vocalist, in a set of English-sung standards”.

Japanese Insert

The back cover design faithfully replicates the Danish original.Collector’s Corner

1963 original Fontana release in Denmark only.

Other than for reasons of scarcity, I cannot see why the original Danish Biker LP should be valuable. Scarcity is an odd metric, often a proxy for lack of sales – likely it did not sell, even in Denmark, but who knows.

On the other hand you may be a new fan of Pedro Biker! And want to expand your Biker collection! How about this gem, the cover tells a story: Thunderbirds Are Go!   Village People  (raise your hands,YMCA) so camp.

Or if you want to start a Biker collection in small doses, his singles might fit the bill:

The Collector Confessional

                                     Truthfully, have you ever regretted winning an album on Ebay? I have. I had no idea who Pedro Biker was, I assumed some kind of jazz motorcyclist. Sahib Shihab is my favourite bari, and his Danish mates NHOP and Bent Axen are great. I bid for it. Delighted to win the auction, delight was short-lived. On the turntable, I was horrified by what I heard.

Every track is a vocal  standard. Not a single instrumental track, just a tiny sliver of Shihab on some tracks. Let the buyer beware. Sahib is definitely on the recording, but a “SAHIB SHIHAB!” record it is not.

Danish Evergreens counts inadvertently as one of only two vocal albums in my collection. The other, (no, not Johnny Hartman, I know he has a following), is a Billie Holiday album, which I played only once.  Choice was based on from my philosophy “How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it?”. With just a small casualty rate, that philosophy has served me well.  I recommended it is restricted to music: a few things you don’t want to try even once.

It is often fun to start with a post, without knowing where it will lead you. This one had quite a few unexpected turns, great. Have you ever regretted winning an album on Ebay? Tell all, it’s good therapy – for the rest of us. “Laughter is the best medicine” (while you wait for the vaccine).

UPDATE October 30, 2020

Harry M has Sahib Shihab and NHOP in his sights

Sahib Shihab at Jazz Expo, 1969 – photocredit Harry M

NHOP in conversation with Clark Terry and Oscar Petersen , Pablo Reception, Montreux 1975, Photo-credit Harry M

5 thoughts on “Pedro Biker: Evergreens in Danish Design (1963) Fontana/Universal jp

  1. Well, well. About lyrics I have a very nice story. In the fifties, Lester Young was playing in a club in Paris, with french musicians. Mainly standards. About one of these, he said to the piano player: “Do you know this tune has lyrics?”. The reply was: “No, I didn’t”. And Lester: “One can hear it”.

    • Nice story, and more than a grain of truth there. Once you have the lyrics firmly implanted in your head, as I had in order to write this piece, I found myself listening to the instrumental covers of the tune in a different way. Both I and say Bill Evans have that same lyric running in our heads, in parallel to Evans interpretation. You notice the way Bill Evans tip-toes around the lyric, and yes, the words are there, though not sung. Unexpected insight, thank you, I’ll pay more attention to standards in future. (Everything happens to LJC!)

  2. I didn’t start off this read expecting to leave a comment. As an American collector/listener, seeking out obscure European performers and recordings has been and probably always will be a step beyond. That said, I have made efforts to hear some of the Euro greats like Tubby Hayes and Lars Gullin, both of whom I love. (btw, it is interesting that Sahib Shihab is your favorite bari player. I’ve never really rated him on any horn. Good, but nowhere near great. You inspire me to give a closer listen.)

    Your question about lyrics is a good one. I am one who cares very little about lyrics. How the words sound certainly matters. The singing matters. The meaning of the words, though, make very little difference to me. I think for this reason, my wife can sing along with every popular song from the 80s/90s and I’d struggle to sing you a Beatles tune I’ve heard 300 times. In jazz, I am content to know the standards only by their melodies. Frankly, I don’t care to know the words to Star Eyes. Or On Green Dolphin Street. Or Stardust. To me, the words only impede the beautiful and very personal impressions that the music makes

    Anyway, you haven’t brought up the question of jazz vocalists as jazz musicians and I won’t start a ramble on the subject here. I’ll just mention that I have found it a surprisingly fraught topic. On a jazz board years ago the very mention that I don’t like the sound of Billie Holiday’s voice or regard any singers as I do Dizzy, Parker, Coltrane and on, drew some of the most savage, hair-on-fire reactions I have ever seen. Billie Holiday is the jazz sacred cow? I kind of get it but I kind of don’t.

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