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James Last: Tributes as big band leader and pioneer of 'happy sound' dies at 86

By Robert Dex

Published 11/06/2015

James Last conducts his big band
James Last conducts his big band

Big band leader James Last has died aged 86 at his home in the US, his manager said.

The German-born musician sold more than 80 million records worldwide and was a regular fixture on British TV for many years.

In a statement, his manager said Last passed away on Tuesday in Florida, "peacefully and in the presence of his family".

Last started his career in the ruins of post-war Germany.

His manager said he had died after a "short, severe illness".

She said: "In him, the world loses a unique ambassador whose expressive and all-encompassing language was music. We bid farewell to the man, friend and visionary, who by his impressive strength and openness, his professionalism, modesty and love of life served as a role model and as an inspiration for many generations worldwide."

Last, who had his first musical training as a military cadet during the Second World War, was famous for his big band arrangements of popular chart hits and also wrote film and television theme tunes.

He played a string of gigs at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year as part of what was billed as his farewell tour.

His trademark "happy sound" included a strong dance beat, crowd noise and laughter blended into the tunes.

Born in Bremen, Last was originally a piano player and after the Second World War he began a musical career that lasted some six decades.

He appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall earlier this year.

Last "lived for music and wrote musical history", said Semmel Concerts. "The world loses a unique ambassador whose strong and all-embracing language was music."

In the UK alone, he had 52 hit albums between 1967 and 1986, cementing him in the record books as the second-best-selling artist of all time, behind Elvis.

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