Singer Andre Hazes, one of the Netherlands best-loved singers of popular song, died today aged 53. I was never much into his style of music but over the years I’ve learned to respect him for his professionalism and the care and enthusiasm he put into his work. He was easily the best at what he did. About a year ago I saw part of a TV broadcast of one of his gala concerts, and was impressed by how perfect everything was. At the time, the singer was suffering from hearing problems, and his phrasing had become jerky as a result, but the (huge) band was dead on and the crowd was nuts throughout the 3 or 4 songs that I saw.
Hazes, 53, was rushed home from holiday in Spain in a serious condition. He was admitted to intensive care suffering from a high fever and pneumonia. He died of a heart attack at about 9.30am on Thursday, his family confirmed.
Hazes was a diabetic and battled with alcoholism for several years. He was born in the Pijp district of Amsterdam in 1951.
The popular singer was discovered by a television presenter some eight years after his birth when he was singing at the city’s Albert Cuyp market to earn money to buy his mother a present. Hazes’ family was very poor as a child.
He had several hits in the 1970s and 1980s and despite a turbulent career — due in part to his alcohol addiction — he has always been much loved by the Dutch public.
Update: The Dutch media went completely nuts over Hazes’ death. This got a bit annoying, but at least the massive airplay of his hits allowed me to listen to them a bit more closely and assess the man’s strengths and weaknesses as a singer/songwriter:
Tunes: good, memorable. If you’re Dutch, you can probably at least hum along with most of them even if you haven’t heard them in many years.
Lyrics: hit and miss. Hazes would never revise a lyric after the first draft, and it shows in bad syntax and clumsy turns of phrase. However, this approach allowed for a directness that more thoughtful writing wouldn’t have had. When he was on form, he could really get an idea or emotion across. When he was not, his lyrics would barely make sense at all, but still have hooks allowing people to remember and sing along.
Vocal performance: Outstanding. Singing his ballads with drive and passion, Hazes could get complex emotions across even in simple tunes and words. “Zeg Maar Niets Meer”, for example, alternates between resignation and triumph, the voice permanently at the edge of breaking.
Production/arrangements: mixed. Many of his records sound cheaply made, and the female harmony vocals are an annoying cliché. The Ray Charles-inspired, bluesy touches on many of his records, on the other hand, rescue the Dutch-style levensliederen from sounding too much like German schlagers which is a blessing and sets Hazes’ work apart from other performers working in the genre.