Chris Albertson

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Chris Albertson
Chris Albertson 2006.JPG
2006 photo
Background information
Birth nameChristiern Gunnar Albertson
Born (1931-10-18) October 18, 1931 (age 87)
OriginReykjavík, Iceland
Copenhagen, Denmark
GenresJazz and Blues
Occupation(s)Writer, historian, record producer
Years active1948–present

Christiern Gunnar Albertson (born October 18, 1931) is a New York City-based jazz journalist, writer and record producer.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Reykjavík and educated in Iceland, Denmark and England before studying commercial art in Copenhagen. In 1947, Albertson made a discovery which was to change his life when he happened upon a Bessie Smith recording on the Danish radio; it led to an abiding interest in jazz and blues music. On his home tape machine, Albertson recorded visiting British New Orleans revivalists Ken Colyer, Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan in 1953. These recordings were subsequently released on the Danish Storyville Records and British Tempo Records labels, and remain in the former's catalog.


In 1957, after two years as a disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio at Keflavík Air Base, in Iceland, Albertson migrated to the United States (naturalised 1963) initially working in commercial radio in Philadelphia, WCAU (a CBS affiliate) and WHAT-FM, a 24-hour jazz station. At these stations, he conducted a number of interviews, including a rare one with Lester Young, one of only two extant with the tenor saxophonist.[1]

In 1960–61 he was employed by Riverside Records' Bill Grauer as a producer. In this capacity, he arranged and recorded the last sessions of blues singer Ida Cox (whom he brought out of retirement)[2] and boogie woogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis,[3] and supervised the label's 'Living Legends' series of location recordings. The initial albums in this series were made in New Orleans and featured such early jazz musicians as pianist Sweet Emma Barrett,[4] clarinetist Louis Cottrell, Jr.,[5] trumpeters Percy Humphrey and Kid Thomas,[6] blues duo Billie and Dede Pierce, and trombonist Jim Robinson. He continued the series in Chicago, with performances by Lil Armstrong, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery,[7] and Earl Hines.[8]

Albertson subsequently worked as producer for Prestige Records, supervising sessions by, among others, guitarist/singer Lonnie Johnson,[9] whom he had pulled from obscurity while working in Philadelphia. He also founded his own production company, supervising sessions with Howard McGhee,[10] Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman,[11] Ray Bryant, and Elmer Snowden.[12]

In the mid-sixties, he worked at NYC radio station WNEW, leaving there for Pacifica Radio's NY station WBAI, where he eventually became General Manager. In 1967, Albertson worked for the BBC in London, advising them on how to adapt their radio programs for sale in North America.

In 1971, Albertson co-produced and hosted The Jazz Set, a weekly television program that was aired from coast to coast by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Public television and featured such guests as Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Randy Weston, Jimmy Heath, and Ray Bryant.

At this time, he was also producing reissues for Columbia Records, including the complete Bessie Smith LP sets. His work on these albums won Albertson two Grammy awards (one in 1971 in the Best Album Notes category for "The World's Greatest Blues Singer" and a Trustees Award), a Billboard Trendsetter Award and the Montreux Jazz Festival's Grand Prix du Disque.

His standard work, Bessie, a biography of Bessie Smith, first appeared in 1972, with a revised and expanded version published by Yale University Press in 2003.[13] The revised biography was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in the Classic of Blues Literature Hall of Fame category in May 2012. In 2015, HBO premiered a biopic, Bessie, starring Queen Latifah in the title role, but Albertson's book was not credited as its basis.

Albertson has written TV documentaries, including "The Story of Jazz"[14] and "My Castle's Rocking" (a bio-documentary on Alberta Hunter),[15] as well as articles and reviews for various publications, including Saturday Review and Down Beat. He was a contributing editor for Stereo Review magazine for twenty-eight years.

In recent years, Albertson—who lives in New York City—has been a prominent contributor to several jazz bulletin boards on the internet, and he is currently working on an autobiography.


  1. ^ Included in The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions – Verve box set 314 547 087-2 (disc 8)
  2. ^ Blues For Rampart Street – Riverside OJCCD-1758-2
  3. ^ The Blues Piano Artistry of Meade Lux Lewis – Riverside OJCCD-1759-2
  4. ^ Sweet Emma Barrett "The Bell Gal" and Her Dixieland Boys – Riverside OJCCD-1832-2
  5. ^ Bourbon Street – Riverside OJCCD-1836-2
  6. ^ Kid Thomas and His Algiers Stompers – Riverside OJCCD-1833-2
  7. ^ Piano, Vocal and Band Blues – Riverside OBCCD-525-2
  8. ^ A Monday Date – Riverside OJCCD-1740-2
  9. ^ Blues By Lonnie Johnson – Prestige OBCCD-502-2
  10. ^ Sharp Edge – Black Lion 6044552
  11. ^ Something To Remember You By – Black Lion BLCD-760153
  12. ^ Harlem Banjo – Riverside OJCCD-1756-2
  13. ^ Bessie – Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09902-9 and ISBN 0-300-10756-0
  14. ^ Masters of American Music DVD release – BMG 72333 80088-9
  15. ^ DVD release on V.I.E.W. Video 2331

External links[edit]