Last received his training as a cadet at the Military Music Schools in Frankfurt am Main and Bückeburg. In 1946, at the age of 17 when he was still called Hans Last, he was asked to join Hans-Guenther Oesterreich’s Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra as a double-bass player, along with his brothers Werner and Robert, and he played in the Last-Becker Ensemble.
His brother Werner then launched his own career under the pseudonym of Kai Warner, and his brother Robert Last was the first percussionist of the James-Last-Band. In 1955, James Last joined the Radio Orchestra of the Northern German radio station in Hamburg. In the early 1950s, he won several “Jazz Polls” as a jazz double bass player.
In 1964, he was offered his own record deal with Polydor. This was the starting point of his instrumental music recordings with his orchestra James Last & His Orchestra, a big band with strings and choir added.
Some of the music he composes himself and some of it he rearranges.
His repertoire extends from swing to pop, but also includes folk songs and classical music. His 1965 album “Non Stop Dancing” marked the start of a unique career which made him one of the most successful musical artists in the world.
Over the course of his career he has received numerous awards such as the “Country Music Award“, the “Platin Stimmgabel” and “Echo” for his life’s work and even including the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany).
Following the completion of his European tour “James Last – Around the World at 80 Years” on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2009, Universal Music Entertainment honoured him with a “Lifetime Award” for over 80 million sound recordings sold.
His hometown of Bremen, Germany, awarded him the “Senatsmedaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft” (Senate Medal for Art and Science) in 2009 and appointed him as Honorary Senator by the University of the Arts in Bremen that same year. James Last’s most recent distinctions came on 24 May 2012 when he was presented in Berlin with GEMA’s German Music Author Award in recognition of his life’s work and on 8 April 2013 when he received a Golden Order of Merit for services rendered to the State of Vienna.
Especially in the 1970s James Last was celebrated as the “party king”. He created medleys by tying together brief renditions of popular songs with his characteristic dance beat. This party music had an audience ranging from rock music aficionados to traditional dance music lovers.
He also had many guest performers, among them Wencke Myhre, Freddy Quinn, Richard Clayderman, René Kollo, Helmut Zacharias, Edward Simoni, Fettes Brot and others. For Elvis Presley he composed the song “Fool”, which the King of Rock’n’Roll included on his first RCA record. On the occasion of his 75th birthday, the CD “They call me Hansi” was released in co-operation with RZA, Jan Delay, Herbert Grönemeyer, Tom Jones, Hayley Westenra, Luciano Pavarotti, Xavier Naidoo, Nina Hagen and Till Brönner.
Among his most successful compositions are “Games That Lovers Play” and “Happy Luxemburg”, but also the themes of German television series like “Der Landarzt” (The Country Doctor) or “Das Traumschiff” (The Dream Ship) and of the successful German music chart show “ZDF-Hitparade“ by Dieter Thomas Heck. He also penned the soundtracks for German films like “The Captain” (1971) featuring Heinz Rühman, as well as for “Morning’s at Seven” (1968) and “At the Height of the Moon”, two films based on the successful novels by Eric Malpass. For the series “Star Parade” with Rainer Holbe, broadcast on the second public German TV channel ZDF from 1968 to 1980, he not only composed the theme, but regularly appeared in the shows with his orchestra. His song “The Lonely Shepherd” was performed by the famous pan flute virtuoso Gheorghe Zamfir in 1977 and attained cult status 25 years later when it featured in the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill: Vol. 1“.
Waltraud, his wife of 42 years, passed away in 1997. As he himself said, what helped him overcome his grief were his faith, his music and his second wife Christine. Until 2015 James Last and Christine lived together in Florida and Hamburg.
James Last has given numerous tours on all continents. Since his first live tour in 1968 he has given approximately 2,500 concerts.
He had performed 91 (!) concerts in London’s venerable Royal Albert Hall alone! That could just possibly be a record-breaking number because James Last is the only non-British musician who has played this legendary hall so frequently.
“Music is my World” – the great European arena tour of 2011 bore the title of James Last’s personal motto in life. With his 2013 tour entitled ONE MORE TIME, this Grand Seigneur of good cheer once again confirmed how timeless, strong and present he and his music are:
In 2014 and announced that he would be going back on tour again in 2015.
“NON-STOP MUSIC” is the name of this new tour and with it, he is on track to achieving a unique milestone in German music history!
50 years after the release of his first LP „non stop dancing `65“ James Last declares that NON STOP MUSIC will be his final tour.
On june 9th James Last dies at the age of 86 in Florida peacefully in the circle of his family.
With „NON STOP MUSIC – live in concert 2015“ a unique chapter of German and international music-history was closed for ever. The grandiose concerts became his very personal „good bye“.
The unique and exceptional artist lived for music. James Last was the most successful German band leader of all times.
In him, the world lost a unique ambassador, whose expressive and all-encompassing language was music. A 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.