James Last, German-born big band leader, dies at 86

AP News
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Posted: Jun 10, 2015 10:48 AM
James Last, German-born big band leader, dies at 86

BERLIN (AP) — Big band leader James Last, whose style of light orchestral entertainment appealed to a wide audience in his native Germany and abroad, has died. He was 86.

Last died Tuesday at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, after a "short, serious illness," his management company said.

"He was an outstanding and important artist who lived for music and who wrote music history," Semmel Concerts said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday.

Born Hans Last in the north German city of Bremen in 1929, he decided to pursue a musical career in 1943, at a time when Nazi Germany was nearing total defeat. After World War II, Last played double bass in several orchestras before signing his first record deal with Polydor in 1964.

Known to his friends as "Hansi," he pioneered what became known as "Happy Sound" — crowd-pleasing renditions of swing, jazz and pop songs that Last had either rearranged or composed himself. Unusually for a German musician, Last was particularly popular in Britain and played one of his final concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall in April.

In the course of more than 50 years, Last produced over 100 records, including many chart hits. "The Lonely Shepherd," which Last composed for the pan flute in 1977, featured in Quentin Tarantino's film "Kill Bill: Vol. 1."

Semmel Concerts said a public memorial service would take place in Hamburg, Germany, in the coming weeks.