James Last

A big band leader who has spent his career transforming pop hits into easy listening, orchestral show tunes, James Last sold over 70 million records to become a huge star in Europe. Raised in Bremen, Germany, he learned to play piano as a 10-year-old, training in military music schools in Frankfurt before being inspired by the American jazz and swing music that he first heard with the end of World War 2. He made his name as leader and bass player of the acclaimed Last-Becker Ensemble, before becoming an arranger for Polydor Records and releasing his debut album Non-Stop Dancing (1956). Incorporating polkas, classical, bebop and rock sounds, he defined his work as "happy music" and crafted lively, melodic, upbeat instrumentals that cut through the gloom of the post-war years and resulted in 52 hit albums in the UK between 1967 and 1986. Only Elvis Presley has had more charted records in Britain, but it was his composition Happy Heart for which he became most famed when it was recorded by both Andy Williams and Petula Clark in 1969. Still performing and recording into his 80s, Last's music has also featured in many films, including American Gigolo, Shallow Grave and Kill Bill Vol.1.

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