James Last (also known as "Hansi", born Hans Las) was a German composer and big band leader. His "happy music" made his numerous albums best-sellers in Germany and the United Kingdom. His composition "Happy Heart" became an international success in interpretations by Andy Williams and Petula Clark. According to British Hit Singles & Albums, he reportedly sold in excess of eighty million albums worldwide.
Last was born to Louis and Martha Last in Bremen, Germany.He was the younger brother of Robert Last and Werner Last (aka Kai Warner). His father was an official at the postal and public works department of the city of Bremen and Last grew up in the suburb of Sebaldsbrück. He began studying the piano at age 10, though he could play simple tunes such the folk song Hänschen klein when he was 9. His first music teacher felt he lacked any musical talent. Last started playing more actively with his second tutor and switched to the double bass as a teenager. His home city of Bremen was bombed heavily during World War II, and he ran messages to air defence command posts during the raids. He entered in the Bückeburg Military Music School of the German Wehrmacht at the age of 14 and learned to play brass, piano and the tuba.
After the end of the war in, he joined Hans Günther Oesterreich's Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra. In 1948, he became the leader of the Last-Becker Ensemble, which performed for seven years. He was voted as the best bassist in the country in a German jazz poll for 1950, 1951 and 1952. When the Last-Becker Ensemble disbanded, he became the in-house arranger for Polydor Records, as well as a number of European radio stations. During the next decade, he helped arrange hits for artists such as Helmut Zacharias, Freddy Quinn, Lolita, Alfred Hause and Caterina Valente.
Last first released albums in the U.S. under the titles The American Patrol on Warner Brothers around 1964. He also released a series of nine albums in a series called Classics Up To Date vols. 1–9 which served up arrangements of classical melodies with strings, rhythm and wordless chorus from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s. Last released an album, Non-Stop Dancing, in 1965, a recording of brief renditions of popular songs, all tied together by an insistent dance beat and crowd noises. It was a hit and helped make him a major European star. Over the next four decades, Last released over 190 records, including several more volumes of Non-Stop Dancing. On these records, he varied his formula by adding different songs from different countries and genres, as well as guest performers like Richard Clayderman and Astrud Gilberto. He also had his own successful television series in the 1970s with guests ABBA and Lynsey de Paul.
Though his concerts and albums were consistently successful, especially in the UK, where he had 52 hit albums between 1967 and 1986, which made him second only to Elvis Presley in charting records, he had relatively few hit singles. In the UK, his only chart singles were "The Seduction", the theme from American Gigolo (1980) composed by Giorgio Moroder, and "Biscaya" from the album Biscaya. In the US, where "The Seduction" became a Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 22 on the Adult Contemporary chart in May 1980, Last was somewhat more successful on the singles charts. In 2003, his song "Einsamer Hirte" (The Lonely Shepherd) which features the pan flute of Gheorghe Zamfir appeared on the soundtrack of the Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill: Vol. 1
He won numerous popular and professional awards, including Billboard magazine's Star of the Year trophy in 1976, and was honoured for lifetime achievement with the German ECHO prize in 1994. His song "Music from Across the Way" (recorded by Andy Williams in 1972) is a melody with a classical feeling and was a worldwide hit; it was the only other Last single apart from "The Seduction" to reach the U.S. Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 84 (and No. 18 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in late 1971. (His only other U.S. chart single was a double-sided entry featuring remakes of the Village Stompers' "Washington Square" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary", which reached No. 22 on the Adult Contemporary chart in early 1971.) Last was awarded the Carl Alan Award by Princess Margaret for being the leader of the most popular dance band of 1981.
Last has a large fan base in Europe and elsewhere. His trademark was big band arrangements of pop music hits; his series of party albums is equally well known. Over the course of his career, he sold well over 100 million albums.In the United States, Last's music was a staple of the mainly instrumental-based Beautiful Music radio format for years.
Songs composed by Last which achieved success in the US include "Happy Heart" and "Music From Across The Way", both recorded by Andy Williams, "Games That Lovers Play", recorded by Eddie Fisher, and "Fool", recorded by Elvis Presley.