Let me sing and I am happy

A short biography of Greetje Kauffeld

by: Klaas Koopman

De Bird AwardWhen she celebrated her 40th anniversary as a professional musician she was honoured with the Royal Knighthood of Ridder (Knight) in the Order of the Netherlands Lion and received the prestigious BIRD-AWARD during the famous North Sea Jazz Festival.

Music was Greetjes most loyal companion in her early years. Days on end she would listen to the radio or play Doris Day and Frank Sinatra records. “That’s how I learned to sing” she says, “by singing along with them”.

Sinatra and Day were excellent teachers. From the latter Kauffeld adopted the ability to come very close to her listeners, to endear and to move them. From the Voice she learned phrasing. She was so engrossed in all this that she mastered the pronunciation of the English language even before completing primary school. Lyrics were very important to her and still are.

Thirteen years old, Greetje appeared on radio for the very first time.

On February 1, 1957 she was contracted with THE SKYMASTERS, launching her professional career which soon turned international, due to her participation in the Festival de Canzone in Venice (Italy).

The Dutch delegation with Mieke Telkamp, Christine Spierenburg, Willy Alberti, Johnny Jordaan, Greetje and the Zaaiers Band led by Jos Cleber won first prize: the Golden Gondola.

As a result of this success famous German bandleader Werner Müller invited Greetje for a guest performance with his RIAS Big Band in Berlin.

Other musicians with whom she recorded for German radio, television and studios include Toots Thielemans, Caterina Valente, Paul Kuhn, Kurt Edelhagen, Sven Asmussen, Erwin Lehn, Horst Jankowski and Udo Jürgens.

In 1968 she decided to broaden her horizon and crossed the ocean to the United States.  She appeared in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and co-starred with jazz legends like Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Oscar Castro-Neves on Joey Bishops famous coast-to-coast TV-show.

Back in Holland, in 1969, she married producer Joop de Roo, who stimulated her to develop her career in a jazzier direction.  Through him she teamed up with giants like Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Thad Jones and Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen, who all contributed to her CD “Some Other Spring” in 1981.

Before that she had already recorded with - among others - Jerry van Rooijen / Rob Pronk (“And let the Music play”) and with a combo bearing her name (“He was a King Uncrowned ‑ a tribute to Clifford Brown”).

In 1970 and 1972 respectively, her daughter Nathalie and son Mark were born.  This new family situation caused Greetje to only work for radio, television and the record industry.

In 1986 she formed a unique trio, only consisting of her voice, guitar (Peter Nieuwerf) and saxophone (Ruud Brink and later Jan Menu).  This unusual combination and its musical results illustrate her willfulness, her guts and her justified self-confidence.

The albums “The Song is You” and “On my Way to You” (featuring only Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics) display how her ability to empathize with words and music is successfully pushed to its limits.

“To me each song is a story” she says.  “I live the lyrics that I sing; I let them enfold me, like an actor treats his lines”.  This strong identification with the lyrics she sings determines the character of her performance.  The resulting delivery, timing and phrasing create an intimate bond with her audience and an atmosphere of intense emotion, moving melancholy and tongue-in-cheek lightheartedness.  Even with large orchestras she manages to involve the audience in her performance - including her fellow musicians.

Noteworthy are two exceptional albums:

On “European Windows” (1992) she added to her Trio Ruud Ouwehand (bass) and Hans Dekker (drums). The repertoire on this CD was selected from exclusively European material, varying from Kurt Weill, Michel Legrand and Charlie Chaplin to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

“The Real Thing” (1994) teams her up with violinist Armando and Maarten van der Grinten (guitar) in duets with Humphrey Campbell.

On the occasion of her fortieth anniversary as an entertainer a gala-concert was produced in Vredenburg Music Center (Utrecht) with the Metropole Orchestra led by Jerry van Rooijen.  Albums were released with Jiggs Whighams RIAS Big Band and the Metropole Orchestra, guest-starring Stan Getz and Thad Jones.

In recent years Greetje Kauffeld has become an internationally even more sought after singer.  As a result she has had to give up teaching at the Zwolle and Hilversum conservatories.

In 2002 she once again accepted a teaching position, this time in Amsterdam.

A milestone from the new millennium was “The Award Winners”, a tour she made with renown Dutch actor Willem Nijholt and The Small Big Band of Johan Plomp, in which American, French, German and Dutch award-winners were performed.

Poster Concert 2004In the spring of 2003 she toured Germany with Paul Kuhn & The Best, a theater show on the occasion of his 75th birthday.

In 2004 Germany saw her in a show entitled “Lieder, Swing und alte Schlager - bekannt durch Film, Funk und Fernsehen” (Songs, Swing and Old Hits, famous from Film, Radio and TV) with Bibi Johns, Alice & Ellen Kessler, Chis Howland & the Götz Alsmann Band.

The SuperAudio CD “My shining Hour: Greetje Kauffeld salutes the Centenary of Harold Arlen with the Paul Kuhn Quintet” should be regarded as a new jewel in the crown of one of Hollands internationally best-known singers.

Towards the end of 2006 a voluminous biography was published in Germany entitled: “Was für Tage” ("What days...")by Ingo Schiweck.

All this however does not mean that her career has come to a close.

In December 2006 she toured with the German “Swingin’ Fireballs” Band, to mark the release of a Christmas double CD.

During the first three months of 2007 she was performing a series of concerts in the Jazz Impulse Series with the Cees Slinger Trio and Dig d’Diz.

Poster jubileumconcertAnd last, but definitely not least: on the 14th of January 2007 she has celebrated her Golden Anniversary with a spectacularly festive concert with The Metropole Orchestra conducted by Jörg-Achim Keller in the Spant ! Theater in Bussum.