James Last Biography
Last received his training as a cadet at the Military Music Schools in «Frankfurt am Main» Frankfurt on the Main and «Buckeburg». In 1946, at the age of 17 when he still called himself Hans Last, he was asked to join Hans-Guenther Oesterreich’s Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra as a double-bass player, along with his brothers Werner and Robert. Two years later he became the leader of the «Last-Becker Ensemble». His brother Werner then started his own career under the pseudonym of «Kai Warner», and his brother o «Robert Last» Robert Last was the first percussionist of the James-Last-Band. In 1955, James Last joined the North German Radio Orchestra in Hamburg. In the early 1950s, he won several jazz polls as a jazz double-bass player.
In 1964, he was offered his own contract by Polydor. This was the starting point of his instrumental music recordings with his orchestra James Last & His Orchestra, a big band with strings and choir added. Some of the music he composes himself and some of it he rearranges. His repertoire goes from «Swing (Musikrichtung)» wing to p «Popmusik» op, but also includes folksongs and classical music. The album „Non Stop Dancing“ marked the start of a career which made him one of the most successful musical artists in the world. Up until today he has sold over 80 million sound recordings.
Especially in the 1970s James Last was celebrated as the „party king“. He created medleys by tying together brief renditions of popular songs with an insistent, characteristic dance beat. This party music had an audience ranging from rock music aficionados to traditional dance music lovers.
He also had many guest performers, among them «Wencke Myhre», «Freddy Quinn», «Richard Clayderman», «Rene Kollo», «Helmut Zacharias», «Edward Simoni», «Fettes Brot» and others. For Elvis Presley he composed the song „Fool“, which the King of Rock?n Roll included in his first RCA record. On the occasion of his 75th birthday, the CD „They call me Hansi“ was released in co-operation with «Robert Diggs» RZA, «Jan Delay», «Herbert Gronemeyer», «Tom Jones», «Hayley Westenra», «Luciano Pavarotti», «Xavier Naidoo», «Nina Hagen» and «Till Bronner».
Among his most successful compositions are „Games That Lovers Play“ and „Happy Luxemburg“, but also the themes of German television series like „Der Landarzt“ (The Country Doctor) or „Das Traumschiff“ (The Dream Ship) and of the successful German music show «ZDF-Hitparade» by «Dieter Thomas Heck». He also penned the soundtracks for German films like „The Captain“ (1971) featuring Heinz Ruhman, as well as for «Morgens um sieben ist die Welt noch in Ordnung» Morning’s at Seven” (1968) and „At the Height of the Moon“, two films based on the successful novels by «Eric Malpass». For the series „Star Parade“ with Rainer Holbe, broadcast on the second public German TV channel from 1968 to 1980, he not only composed the theme, but regularly appeared in the shows with his orchestra. His song „The Lonely Shepherd“ was performed by the famous pan flute musician Gheorghe Zamfir in 1977 and received cult status 25 years later when it featured in the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s film «Kill Bill: Vol. 1″.
In 1997 his wife Waltraud died, who had been married to him for 42 years. As he himself said, what helped him overcome his grief were his faith, his music and his second wife Christine. Today, James Last and Christine live in «Florida» and Hamburg.
James Last went on numerous «Tournee» tours on all continents. Since his first live tour in 1968 he played far more than 2,000 concerts.
In April 2008 the DVD titled „James Last – Live At The Royal Albert Hall“ was released, a live recording of the band leader’s 85th concert at this venerable London venue. And to celebrate his 80th birthday the artist went on yet another tour with 23 concerts. Motto: „James Last – Around the World at 80 Years“. After this tour he was awarded Universal’s “Lifetime Award” for over 80 million sound recordings sold. His birthplace, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, awarded him the “Senatsmedaille” for Arts and Science, and in 2009 he became Honorary Senator at the University of the Arts in Bremen.
The «worker», who made a sound into a legend
93% of all Germans know James Last. His music is popular in 150 countries. Alongside numerous prizes such as the «Goldenen Europa», the «Goldenen Kamera» or the «Echo Life Award 1994″, to name but a few, so far the most successful bandleader of the world has collected 17 platinum and 206 gold discs.
Music is his life
The breakthrough in the music market bestowed upon the orchestra leader James Last in 1965 by the furious LP success Non Stop Dancing, the musical career which «Hansi» Last began, however, in 1939 with the first piano lesson. In Germany the Second World War was raging and the youngest son of the of the Bremen Family Last, his two elder brothers were already working in armaments factories – had been advised to study music so that he wouldn’t have to work in the factory.
To conduct opera, to lead a symphony orchestra – these were Hansi’s aims when he began his music studies at the Heeresmusikschule in Buckeburg in 1943, his favourite instrument was bass. However, he couldn’t completely tear himself away from the jazz and swing boom in post war Germany.
In 1946 he became – like his brothers Robert and Werner – a member of the newly formed dance Radio Bremen dance and entertainment orchestra. As a musician he from then on led a double life – as a successful orchestra musician on the one hand and on the other, as an excellent jazz bass player, who between 1950 and 1952 was nominated best bass player of the year by the German jazz poll.
Non Stop Dancing – the first James Last Orchestra LP production took the charts by storm in 1965. A new sound was created which immediately appealed to the audience. The recipe: lively, optimistic and melodious music, lined with a party atmosphere.
The fact that James Last is not only an extraordinarily successful but also an extraordinarily hardworking and diverse composer and arranger, is demonstrated in the subsequent years. In 1967 he had four LPs simultaneously in the first positions in the English hit parade, one award followed the other: 1969, 1970 and 1971 the German music poll named the band «most popular orchestra» of the year. In popularity, he was not inferior to the great French composer Paul Mauriat, who was known throughout the world. One tour followed the other, James Last is a celebrated guest on many continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand are on the tour programme. In between James Last finds the time to record up to twelve records per year, he arranges and composes in every free moment.
His sound is a legend
His hard work and his perfectionism pay off, Hansi is positively showered with awards and prizes: in 1978 he received the German award Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande from the then German federal president Walter Scheel, in 1979 the «Goldene Kamera» from the magazine «Hor Zu». He becomes a star of the national and international music scene, his sound becomes a legend, and he still has both feet on the ground.
Modesty is his hallmark, James Last is not a man of star airs and graces. He only feels privileged because he has always been able to do what he liked doing: making music. «I have always made music which I liked and then I realised that lots of people like what I like», he tries to explain his immense success. «My special talent, if you like, is to meet the heart of the audience.»
He does exactly that – including the hearts of other world stars. His composition «Games That Lovers Play» is recorded in 100 different version throughout the whole world by artists such as Conny Frabcis or Ray Conniff. And musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber calls Hansi’s Version of «Don?t Cry For Me Argentina» the best arrangement of his song «that was ever written.»
His success is unique
Other artists come and go – James Last also rides in the eighties on the wave of success. At the beginning of the nineties TV shows and galas are on the agenda, but German fans wait in vain for a Germany tour. It is not until 1997 that the «Bremen boy» returns from his chosen homeland of Florida to the big German venues and is effusively celebrated in 16 concerts in east and west. How close are joy and sorrow: the tour success is followed by a private blow of fate, in the same year his wife Waltraud dies, mother of both of his children, after a long illness.
1998 becomes both a recreational and productive year for James Last, one in which he regains his optimism. This positive attitude to life is what is reflected in his music and maybe in the phenomenon that makes James Last what he is: his concerts are huge parties, at which he searches for the closeness of his fans, the CD productions are huge «family meetings» with his musicians, with many of whom he has already worked for decades. His family, his friends in the orchestra, his fans – alongside the music they are the leading lights in the life of James Last.
His passion has remained young
He is still prepared to give all on the stage and in the studio even over the age of 70. And also to explore new musical paths, nonetheless remaining faithful to himself. Each concert programme features arrangements of current hits alongside his «classics». Hansi is enthusiastic about songs by Michael Jackson as well as those of Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana or Cher. The «Gentleman Of Music» does say stop at hip hop either, as the single «Ruf mich an», which he recorded in 1999 together with the German hip hoppers «Fettes Brot», shows.
He perceived the arrival of modern technology in artistic work without reservations. At the age of 60 he worked consistently in programmes and for composing and arranging has since swapped piano and manuscript paper for the computer. «He is a worker», say the members of the band.
He does not spend time thinking about retirement, a well filled appointments diary does not scare him – provided that he finds enough time alongside music for his wife Christine and for a further great passion, playing golf.