Bert Kaempfert: An Appreciation


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One cannot discuss popular 1960s trumpeters Al Hirt and Herb Alpert without mention of Bert Kaempfert.


Kaempfert was a German songwriter, arranger, bandleader, and producer. He was unique in that he sustained notable success in the US pop music market — considered a unique feat for someone from a non-English country.

The casual ear will identify that much of Kaempfert’s music featured lead trumpet. In fact, his principal lead trumpeter, Manfred "Fred" Moch, and Herb actually played in similar styles.

Consistent with many 1960s non-rock "pop"artists, Kaempfert’s US commercial peak was 1960-67; nevertheless, he enjoyed continuous relative success in Europe and elsewhere up to his unexpected passing in 1980. Like Herb and Jumbo, his music was too good to be lumped in with the myriad of "easy listening" outfits of the day. I'm unsure about the 1960s, but I read that in the mid '70s Kaempfert led an actual band, which was clearly influenced by Basie (who wasn’t?).

The most distinguishing feature of Kaempfert’s arrangements were his bass parts, typically recognized as his "signature sound", which, typically called for two simultaneous basses: double bass, and Fender or the Danelecro 6-string bass — both of which were plucked (with a plecktrum) and quickly dampened to quell string resonance.


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I've had Kaempfert's music in the back of my consciousness for decades, but only recently did I get a download of one of his albums--A Swingin' Safari. I was watching a live gig by The Mavericks and, knowing how the band often mixed up their playlist with some unexpected cover versions (with choices from any part of the musical spectrum), I hunted down this tune after hearing it as the second part of a three-tune sequence, knowing it wasn't one of their self-penned songs. They totally capture the spirit of Kaempfert's version while infusing it with their own vast influences.

And as it worked out, the album also had "Wimoweh," which of course is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the third song in the Mavericks' sequence. (The first, if you backtrack on the video by a couple of minutes, is one of their tunes...and given how they put their own signature on anything they cover, the audience probably wouldn't have cared who wrote it!)


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My history with Bert Kaempfert goes back to the early 1960s. Back then, as we Herb Alpert fans know, TV game shows often appropriated popular instrumentals as their theme songs. I guess in those days it was cheaper and easier to license an instrumental tune than it was to hire someone to write a dedicated theme for a show that might only be on for a few weeks.

The show that picked a Bert Kaempfert song was the old 1960's version of THE MATCH GAME. It aired at 4 PM weekdays and Gene Rayburn was the host. The game was more simplistic without too many of the double entendres that were prevalent in the 1970s version. The theme song was "A Swingin' Safari", the very same song that Rudy posted above.

Well, that theme was unknown to me at the time, but I really loved the way it sounded. On one episode of the show, Gene Rayburn was asked what the theme was, and he gave the title as "A Swingin' Safari", and noted that the version they used was by a "German band."

As a teen in school most of the time, I didn't get to do much in the way of record shopping, so I urged my parents, that if they could find "A Swingin' Safari", that I'd really like to have the record. They never found any singles, but did come home with this:


Billy Vaughn did an almost exact-sounding replica of the Kaempfert version, and it was close enough for me at the time - but in the back of my head, I knew that there was a "German band" out there with the real MATCH GAME theme.

It wasn't until years later when I learned that the "German band" was Bert Kaempfert, the composer of the song. By then, CDs were the thing and I sought out a Bert Kaempfert compilation with the song on it. I came home with this:


Turns out that this mastering got the seal of approval from Steve Hoffman, but I bought it for the Safari song - and a few others.

Again we'll go back to the 60s, and the birth of a UHF TV station in Philly, channel 48. Over their legal ID, and whenever they were timing up to the next program without an ad, they'd put up their logo and play "That Happy Feeling" by Bert Kaempfert.

Meanwhile, they had a Cadillac dealer advertising on their station, and for the background music of his commercials, the station played "Afrikaan Beat", yet another Kaempfert track.

Now I didn't know any of these songs were all on the same Bert Kaempfert album, and was happy to rediscover them on that VERY BEST OF compilation. Later on though, I did find a re-issue of Kaempfert's A SWINGIN' SAFARI album and added it - along with the Billy Vaughn US knock-off album. Both offer great memories.



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My Bert Kaempfert experience began with of all things Music from a TV test pattern in 1978 the song was "Hold back the dawn" ( although I didn't know the particular song or artist until I started collecting the albums and later CDs starting in the mid 80s the aforementioned song became permanently etched in my being like many others Kaempfert's music was different from Herb and Al Hirt as all 3 had their own unique styles which to me fit my musical menus quite nicely was sorry to hear he passed in 1980 I didn't know of that until later but at least he continued recording and performing until the end and I still enjoy a little of the Bert Kaempfert sound now and again.


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I'm glad that other people appreciate the great sounds of Bert Kaempfert. His sound was truly unique with the lead trumpet and electric and acoustic bass combo. Nobody else sounded like nor could copy Bert's sound. Here is his "Wonderland by Night" that went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1961.



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Here is an excellent biography of Bert in Wikipedia. He wrote so many famous songs such as "Strangers in the Night"--Sinatra's #1 hit in 1966, and "Moon over Naples" which Al Martino made a hit as "Spanish Eyes", and "Danke Schoen" which was Wayne Newton's signature song. He knew how to write good hits.



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There is a biography of Bert Kaempfert that came out about ten years ago written by Mark Boetccher. It is only in German, but he (Bert) is quoted in this book when meeting Herb in L.A. that Herb is thanking him for making "the trumpet popular again"....

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