Taking a deep dive into Sahib Shihab's discography a couple of weeks ago, I came across an odd name. While 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.
But after doing a little research, I discovered that Pedro Biker was a Danish jazz drummer and singer. 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 in Danish Design, I was in shock. The band had a pure American swing feel and Biker was a superb relaxed lounge singer in the Frank D'Rone-Steve Lawrence tradition.
Still more research was needed. 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. During the war, Biker was in the Resistance. According to a contributor to Every Second Counts: True Stories from Israel by Richard Osterman:
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.
Biker likely escaped to Sweden as well. 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 famous 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. He soon began recording as a singer of American pop songs sung in Danish. But in 1963, Biker recorded the first of two English-language jazz albums in Copenhagen—Evergreens in Danish Design (Fontana). The band featured Allan Botschinsky (tp), Sahib Shihab (as, sop,fl), Bent Axen, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Bjarne Rostvold.
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 much 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).
Clearly, these albums were recorded for export to the U.K. and America, or for soldiers stationed abroad on American bases. The vocals are so good that if I played these albums for you and asked you who was singing, you never guess. Try it with your jazz know-it-all friends and see how they fare.
Biker died at age 48 in 1973.
JazzWax clips: Here's I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart from Evergreens in Danish Design (1963)...
Here's Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Wives and Lovers from The Song Is You (1966)...
Bonus: Here's Pedro Biker singing Winter Wonderland in Danish on Danish TV...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.