Svend Asmussen, an Early Master of Jazz Violin, Dies at 100
By PETER KEEPNEWSFEB. 10, 2017
Svend Asmussen, left, with Benny Goodman in 1950. Allan Moe/Scanpix Denmark, via Reuters
Svend Asmussen, a Danish jazz violinist whose collaborators over more than 70 years included Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, the Indian violinist L. Subramaniam and the bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman, died on Tuesday. He was 100.
Mr. Asmussen’s son Claus confirmed the death to The Associated Press. He did not say where his father died.
Mr. Asmussen was one of the first world-class jazz musicians from Scandinavia and one of the first jazz violinists of note. The jazz writer Doug Ramsey placed him among “the handful (or fewer) of violinists who in the 1930s proved their instrument capable of swing and emotional expression at the highest jazz level.”
Inspired by recordings of the American violinists Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith, Mr. Asmussen began leading a small group in Copenhagen in the mid-1930s. By the end of the decade his group was regularly opening for, and impressing, visiting American musicians like Fats Waller.
An ebullient performer, Mr. Asmussen was known for his onstage singing and clowning as well as his playing. He rarely performed outside Europe, but he did tour the United States in the late 1950s and early ’60s with the Swe-Danes, a vocal and instrumental trio with the Swedish vocalist Alice Babs and the Danish guitarist Ulrik Neumann.
Among his more celebrated recordings were two albums made in the 1960s that teamed him with other great jazz violinists: “Duke Ellington’s Jazz Violin Session,” with Stéphane Grappelli and Ray Nance, and “The Violin Summit,” with Grappelli, Smith and Jean-Luc Ponty. He also recorded with the pianist John Lewis and the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, as well as with Mr. Subramaniam, on the 1978 album “Garland,” and Mr. Grisman, on the 1987 album “Svingin’ With Svend.”
He continued performing and recording well into the 21st century.
Sven Harald Christian Asmussen was born in Copenhagen on Feb. 28, 1916, and began taking piano lessons at 5 before switching to violin. He attended dental school but, he said in a 1955 interview, did not have “the least interest in dentistry” and was playing music professionally before he was out of his teens.
Survivors include his wife, Ellen Bick Meier, and three children from his marriage to Annegrethe Thomassen, who died in 2000.