peter brötzmann


Peter Brötzmann | Photo: Gérard Rouy

fmp0080.jpgFOR ADOLPHE SAXE FMP 0080

Peter Brötzmann / tenor and baritone saxes, Peter Kowald / bass, Sven Ake Johansson /drums.

Recorded by Günter Schütte in June 1967 in Wuppertal. Produced by Peter Brötzmann. SIDE A: 1. For Adolphe Sax (19:13) SIDE B: 1. Sanity (4:43) 2. Morning glory (16:07) All compositions by Peter Brötzmann. Cover: Design by Peter Brötzmann. Photographs by Ute Klophaus. Remark: Reissued on CD by Atavistic(UMS/ALP230CD) plus bonus track.

fmp0090.jpgMACHINE GUN FMP 0090

Peter Brötzmann / tenor and baritone saxes, Willem Breuker / tenor sax, Evan Parker / tenor sax, Fred Van Hove / piano, Buschi Niebergall / bass, Peter Kowald / bass, Sven Ake Johansson /drums, Han Bennink / drums.

Recorded by Günther Zipelius in May 1968 at the Lila Eule in Bremen.Produced by Peter Brötzmann. SIDE A: 1. Machine Gun (Brötzmann) 17:13 SIDE B: 1. Responsible [for Jan Van de Ven] (Van Hove) 8:12 2. Music for Han Bennink 1 (Breuker) 11:22 Soloists A: Parker, Van Hove, Breuker, Brötzmann Soloists B1: Brötzmann, Van Hove, Parker, Breuker Soloists B2: Johansson, Bennink, Brötzmann, Breuker, Van Hove. Cover: Design by Peter Brötzmann. Photographs by Paul-Gerhard Deker. Remark: Released on CD by FMP (FMP CD 24) plus 2 alternate takes.

fmp0020.jpg“BALLS” FMP 0020

Peter Brötzmann / tenor sax, Fred Van Hove / piano, Han Bennink / drums.

Recorded by Wolfgang Bukatz on August 17th,1970 in Berlin. Supervision by Hans-Dieter Frankenberg. Produced by Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1. Balls (Brötzmann) 14:33, 2. Garten – für Angelika (Brötzmann) 6:13 SIDE B: 1. Filet Americain (Van Hove) 8:17, 2. De daag Waarop…. (Bennink) 11:14 Cover: Design by Peter Brötzmann. Photographs by Wolfgang Wilke. Remark: Reissued on CD by Atavistic (UMS/ALP233CD).


Peter Brötzmann / clarinet, alto,tenor, baritone, and bass saxes, Fred Van Hove / celeste, piano, Han Bennink / drums, khene, rhythm-box, self-made clarinet, gachi, oe-oe, voice, tins, homemade junk, elong, dhung, kaffir piano, dhung-dkar.

Recorded by Dietram Köster on February 25th,1973 in Bremen. Supervision by Peter Schulze. Produced by Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1. For Donaueschingen ever (Bennink) 3:40 2. Konzert für 2 Klarinetten (Brötzmann) 4:07 3. Nr. 7 (Brötzmann) 3:20 4. Wir haben uns folgendes überlegt (Van Hove) 2:56 5. Paukenhänschen im Blaubeerwald (Bennink) 5:56 6. Nr. 9 (Brötzmann) 1:35 SIDE B: 1. Gere bij (Van Hove) 5:25 2. Nr. 4 (Brötzmann) 4:45 3. Nr. 6 (Brötzmann) 5:33 4. Donaueschingen for ever (Bennink) 2:27 Cover: Design by Peter Brötzmann. Photographs by Krista Brötzmann and Dagmar Gebers. Remark: Reissued on CD by Atavistic (UMS/ALP244CD)

fmp0180.jpgOUTSPAN NO. 1 FMP 0180

Peter Brötzmann / alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, Fred Van Hove / piano, Han Bennink / drums, self-made clarinet, homemade junk, voice, etc., Albert Mangelsdorff / trombone.

Recorded live by Jürgen Lindenau on April 14th & 15th,1974 during the Workshop Freie Musik at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Produced by Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1. Serienze Serie (Van Hove) 16:16 2. Boogie für Fred (Brötzmann) 6:29 SIDE B: 1. Der Spaziergang (Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink/Mangelsdorff) 2:26 2. Outspan 1 (Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink/Mangelsdorff) 18:15 Cover: Artwork and design by Peter Brötzmann.

fmp0230.jpgTSCHÜS FMP0230

Peter Brötzmann / alto, tenor, and bass saxes, clarinet, vocal, Fred Van Hove / piano, akkordeon, Han Bennink / drums, cymbals, schwirrholz, akkordeon, clarinets, floor, walls, megaphone, etc.

Recorded by Jost Gebers on Sunday afternoon September 14th,1975 at the Quartier Latin in Berlin. A 6 is recorded live by Jost Gebers on September 13th,1975 at the Quartier Latin in Berlin. Produced by Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1. Two birds in a feather – to Bobby Few (Brötzmann) 4:03 2. Ein bischen Jazzbesen (Bennink/Van Hove) 2:17 3. Claptrap (Brötzmann) 5:15 4. Lotteduflotte (Bennink) 1:55 5. Töfftöff (Bennink) 2:00 6. Zigan, Zigan (Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink) 4:54 SIDE B: 1. Petit blues fourré – pur G.R. de Lille (Van Hove) 3:33 2. R.W.SCH (Brötzmann) 4:25 3. 2 B-Klarinetten (Brötzmann) 3:03 4. Bierhaus Wendel (Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink) 6:20 5. Tschüs (composition by Walter Kubiczek, lyrics by Dieter Lietz) 1:26 Cover: Design by Peter Brötzmann. Photographs by Peter Brötzmann and Kurt Staudt.

fmp0360.jpgBRÖTZMANN / SOLO FMP 0360

Peter Brötzmann / alto, tenor and bass saxes, clarinets, piano on one track.

Recorded by Jost Gebers in May 1976 in Berlin. Produced by Peter Brötzmann and Jost Gebers. SIDE A: 1. Brunches (0:25) 2. Two birds in a feather (4:20) 3. Piece for two clarinets (4:08) 4. Wolke in Hosen (0:22) 5. Der Grieche (5:05) 6. Blue balls (4:30) 7. Scrambag (5:50) SIDE B: 1. Piece for two clarinets (3:25) 2. Humpty dumpty (5:52) 3. Jack-in-the-box (1:50) 4. Twee(D)dldum (9:55) 5. Eine kleine Marschmusik (3:00) All compositions by Peter Brötzmann. Cover: Artwork & design by Peter Brötzmann.

fmpcd064.jpg(In his notes to Die Like A Dog, FMP CD 64, 1993, Peter Brötzmann writes of his relationship to Albert Ayler: “We both tried to do similar or almost identical things at the same point in time, each independently and without knowing anything about the other – each of us within his own culture.” This review, written in 1977, assumed from recorded documentation – For Adolphe Saxe in particular – more of a direct influence of Ayler’s music on Brötzmann’s. I believe the review stands as a partial comparative analysis of the players’ respective musical approaches. – Henry Kuntz, 2007)

Aside from Peter Brötzmann’s early and obvious involvement with the music of Albert Ayler, his work as a whole can be seen as a direct application of many of the structural and formal implications of Ayler’s work, though taken from a radically different aesthetic stance. It can be seen as the gradual movement from a heavy-handed, soloistically inclined and pointed music towards one with no real point, able to shift contexts and viewpoints virtually at will.

On For Adolphe Saxe, Brötzmann is still very much under Ayler’s spell itself – utilizing, however, Ayler-like ideas in a non-thematic framework. It’s a highly agitated “energy” music, every bit as intense as anything Ayler did, and it largely succeeds on those terms. It doesn’t really go beyond Ayler in any aesthetic sense, yet in starting from the non-thematic framework – these may well have been totally improvised pieces – Brötzmann has almost, if not quite, freed the music to stand on its own, outside of the load of thematic associations built up by Ayler. Yet the aesthetic/thematic aspects of Ayler’s work and his manner of dealing with them defined his/our predicament, both personally and musically. And though Brötzmann here – in divorcing those aspects from it – has begun to show a way beyond that predicament, it hasn’t quite been grasped.

His playing itself is extremely Ayler-influenced, though even on this record he manages to convey something of a sense of himself, pushing and driving the music in his own particularly coarse and high-strung manner. Johansson, meanwhile, plays the role of a strong-armed Sunny Murray – floating freely, but in a barrage of sound – while bassist Kowald keeps up a shifting counterpoint, offering some fantastically fluent (and harmonically and timbrally advanced) bowed work.

Machine Gun, featuring the Brötzmann Octet, is the first of several important European recordings of large group improvisation to be made at about the same time (1968-70), the others being Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP 0010), Alexander von Schlippenbach’s The Living Music (FMP 0100), Just Music (ECM 1002), and Groupcomposing (ICP 006).


The piece “Machine Gun” comprises all of side one of Brötzmann’s record and, while perhaps the most brazen of any of the music referred to above, it is also the most mechanical and structurally conscious of any of them (Just Music and Groupcomposing being the least so). It is very much music with a point, the point being a political one (calculated to shock), and it is extremely energy oriented, though it is mainly built around individual soloists. Of the three saxophonists, Evan Parker is the most studied, Brötzmann the most purely cathartic, and Willem Breuker the most scorchingly eloquent. Breuker, in fact, can be heard blazing whole new areas of sound – hear, as well, his 1967 date with Han Bennink, New Acoustic Swing Duo (ICP 001) – areas he would later (seemingly) abandon, and which in retrospect seem to have been picked up on by Evan Parker.


Peter Brötzmann | Photo: Gérard Rouy

The compositions on the album’s reverse side, by Breuker and Fred Van Hove, actually flow better than the title track and deal with a wider range of ideas. Of the two, Breuker’s is the more sophisticated, showing compositional balance, an interest in dynamic contrast and in textural/sound differentiation. Brötzmann’s solos on these pieces (the first on baritone sax) are especially good. He’s very much his own player now – Ayler is only an inspiration – the saxophone itself, with every sound available to it, being its own justification for what he plays. For him, the instrument has nearly transcended the idea of being an “instrument” and has become simply a sound producer.

Brötzmann’s next recording, Nipples (Calig-Verlag CAL 30604, recorded 1969), presents his first highly individualistic music, though its energy-conscious aesthetic still generally reflects the principles around which Machine Gun was built.


“Balls” is the first instance of Brötzmann’s art coming into its own. It begins to bring together a whole range of disparate musical ideas and elements, and while not foregoing the intensity of the period prior to this, that is no longer the point of the music, only a point of reference in an open-ended, overlapping collage of colors, shapes, styles, and textures. It’s a music that begins to strain musical contexts (an idea heard of late in offerings by the Globe Unity Orchestra and also taken up in somewhat different guise by certain of the younger English musicians on Teatime, Incus 15), and presents an expansive avant-garde extravaganza which, by implication, might accept anything under its roof – including, especially in the later recordings reviewed, quite a great deal of humor.

The relationship of this to Albert Ayler’s music – though it sounds considerably different – is that it is the first direct (taken, as it were, on Ayler’s own terms) and large scale acceptance of the depth of structural and formal possibilities suggested by his work (and beyond simple spatial/temporal differentiation among those playing), possibilities implied by Ayler’s constantly shifting frames of reference, his openess to extremes – made all the more blatant by his insistent, if often ambiguous, thematicism – and his willingness to let those co-exist within any single aesthetic moment. Yet while for Ayler his music was always a very serious music – even the humor was “serious” humor – exuding the anguish of the inability to effect an existential (or spiritual) reconciliation of the disparities of his art (life), for Brötzmann this is not so much a problem, only a matter of recognition.


Peter Brötzmann | Chantenay-Villedieu, France 1984. Photo: Gérard Rouy

So Brötzmann has not only drawn out and extended Ayler’s particular structural contributions – accepting the extremities and the openess to swift, cataclysmic change – but he has widened them onto the whole stage of life (the process itself becoming more open, less intentional) and has altered their sense profoundly. So Ayler’s tragic sense becomes Brötzmann’s comic sense; Ayler’s (open) resignation, Brötzmann’s acceptance – the acceptance being one of flow (non-attachment), however, rather than of submission.

“Balls” is the first movement of Brötzmann’s music – or what has now become the music of Brötzmann / Van Hove / Bennink – in this direction, the main difference between it and the later records being a difference in what is emphasized about it. That would be something like the difference between a music primarily concerned with textural/rhythmic/timbral and temporal differentiation with assorted stylistic allusions and one with greater melodic (or motivic) and stylistic diversification with the textural/rhythmic/tlmbral and temporal elements flowing from that.

“Balls” and the Free Music Market LPs (Elements, Couscous, The EndFMP 0030, 0040, 0050 – reviewed above) document the first – and probably more far reaching – period of this music, with the latter three albums being the most important. In many ways, the music on “Balls” is just as good, but the looseness and spontaneity generated by the live recording situation is only partially heard here.

Han Bennink’s importance to the outcome of this music has to be emphasized. His all-encompassing, swashbuckling rhythmic approach almost singlehandedly defines its shape, density, flow, and overall emotional sense at any given moment. His work is a total textural and tonal assault, working in areas (and with instruments) not generally thought of as percussive, extending both the range of sound (often for its own sake) and the way of moving with it – i.e., in long, protracted, and pitch-conscious areas as well as in those more traditonally identifiable as rhythmic-percussive. While Brötzmann mainly explores the extreme harmonic, timbral, and pitch characteristics of his horn, Van Hove provides coloring, stylistic variation, and a fair amount of rhythmic tension, depending on what direction his lines happen to be moving in.

The comparison may not be quite right, but Van Hove’s playing reminds me in part of the role Call Cobbs attempted to play with Albert Ayler. (And if Cobbs is to be criticized for that role, he has to be criticized for his apparent lack of self-consciousness about it – his inability to open it up – rather than for what he was actually playing. For if Ayler could bring themes into his music such as were referred to by LeRoi Jones as “coonish, churchified, chuckle tunes,” there’s no reason why, in a music as full of extremes as his, he couldn’t have Cobbs playing alongside of him in a largely blues and gospel inflected style.) Van Hove, however, as fits the nature of Brötzmann’s music, brings to that role an open rather than a limited (”down home”) eclecticism – one that reaches to include the musics of the world yet is wrapped within his own inimitable style. At its best, say, on the introduction to “Gere Bij” (based on a slant of the theme “Over There”) on Brötzmann / Van Hove / Bennink (FMP 13), he jars and opens the sensibilities with his skillful and humorous blend of pop, classical, and avant-garde motifs – all in the space of a few bars of music – and then goes chasing after Brotzmann as in a slapstick comedy. Reflecting on his work, it would be interesting to know just what influence over the years Van Hove has had on Brötzmann and Bennink, for the group’s later music comes more and more to incorporate precisely those kinds of broad, humorous, and melodically inclined stylistic options with which he has always been the most involved.


Peter Brötzmann | Albert Mangelsdorff | Gand, Belgium 1972. Photo: Gérard Rouy

Between the trio’s later work and the Free Music Market LPs, FMP 13 forms something of a link. It is still largely involved in the discovery of more strictly “musical” extensions, but also becoming more self-consciously eclectic (though still formally original) and humorous. The importance of the music is its conciseness. There’s not a single track over six minutes long, yet it still manages to cover as extensive an amount of ground (and more so) as any of the longer pieces on the earlier or later records. Its flow is organic, even with all its internal disorder, and it moves easily in and out of phase and context with itself, never becoming merely “sectional” in its development. As self-enclosed aesthetic entities, these pieces are even better than some of the longer ones, yet the longer ones allow for a greater overall spontaneity and formal flexibility. On “Nr. 4” and “Nr. 6,” there are also some particularly good and intense solos by Brötzmann (the latter on baritone sax) – blurring registers and harmonic differences and simultaneously bringing together various intervallic points of reference.

Outspan 1 and Outspan 2 (# 2 reviewed above) show the group entering almost completely into the stylistic divergence and eclectic incongruity that was only a part of their music before. Number 2 seems to me to be the looser and better of these two, as it captures the group plunging headlong into the spirit of fun, abandon, and general amused merriment that this approach allows. Outspan 1 tows a more middle ground. There are splashes of energy, of comic relief, sometimes colored with somber-toned underpinnings by Van Hove. Yet it lacks the full-fledged intensity of the Free Music Market LPs, or the rollicking wit of Outspan 2, and it fails to approach the developmental complexity of FMP 13. Still, there’s some solid, hardy, and not inconsequential music – as, for example, Brötzmann blasting away on baritone sax on “Boogie für Fred,” or the free collective improvisation that rages midway through “Outspan 1” itself, or the absorbing (chordal) trombone work of Albert Mangelsdorff.


Alexander von Schlippenbach | Peter Brötzmann | Peter Kowald | Wuppertal, Germany 1976. Photo: Gérard Rouy

Again – though it sounds entirely different – I have to mention the relationship of this to Albert Ayler’s music: namely, the frequent juxtaposition (at times seemingly unrelated) of melodic/thematic elements with sections of free improvisation – similar in structure if not in intent to the Ayler of Bells, Spirits Rejoice and, partially, Live In Greenwich Village.

Tschüs is a curious album in that a good part of the time it attempts to isolate some of the music’s textural/timbral/formal and stylistic elements (like FMP 13, it is made up of a number of shorter tracks) and to allow them to stand on their own. In a way, this is alright, since they are usually fairly disassociated from each other anyway. Yet, aesthetically speaking, things begin to sound a bit closed in, and there is more the sense of musical effect – though it is certainly still musical – for its own sake than, say, to effect developmental surprise or some amount of structural open-endedness. There’s a hint, too, that the group may be at some sort of impasse. Having largely eclipsed at a certain point development along vertical lines (the areas most associated with sound exploration, rhythmic sophistication, and more complex textural interaction) in favor of a mostly fragmented stylistic jumble – a music as much dependent at times on associational references in the minds of its listeners as on any strictly musical factors – the question arises as to how long such development can continue without becoming simply “old hat.” Either more and more references will have to be taken in, it seems, or else the music will have to begin to open up in other ways; or what seems more likely, to effect some healthy reconciliation between stylistic fragmentation and vertical expansion. It would be easy enough to do, given what the group has already done, and Tschüs – though certainly no artistic failure – suggests that now may be the time to do it.

brot.jpgBrötzmann’s solo album continues along the lines put forth on Tschus and the two Outspans, offering pieces (two for two clarinets, played simultaneously) of mainly textural/timbral exploration, one short (25 seconds) energy piece, one march piece, and other half-humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and/or melodic compositions which break down into more and more disassociated and free playing. It would be easy to say there’s nothing that startling here, yet Brötzmann’s playing has an excitedly fine edge to it and is fairly exuberant throughout. It’s also a first opportunity to hear him in this context.[Photo: Gérard Rouy]

If you haven’t heard Brötzmann previously, I’d recommend starting with the Free Music Market LPs – Elements (FMP 0030), Couscous (FMP 0040), The End (FMP 0050) (one or all of these) – then going to FMP 13 or to Outspan 2; after that, perhaps hearing “Balls” or Outspan 1 or the solo album; then getting to Machine Gun, For Adolphe Saxe, or Tschüs.

To emphasize, as I have, the structural relationship of this music to that of Albert Ayler has been in no sense an attempt to diminish its impact. It’s some of the finest music of this decade, able to stand completely on its own. but it seemed important to indicate the musical precedents for its approach. It has helped me, for one, to hear and look more closely at the music of Ayler and Brötzmann both.

Henry Kuntz, 1977


selected Peter Brötzmann recordings on FMP (Free Music Production)


Peter Brötzmann biography:

Peter Brötzmann (born March 6, 1941) is a German free jazz saxophonist and clarinetist.

Brötzmann is among the most important European free jazz musicians. His rough, lyrical timbre is easily recognized on his many recordings.

He studied painting in Wuppertal and was involved with the Fluxus movement, but grew dissatisfied with art galleries and exhibitions. He has not abandoned his art training, however: Brötzmann has designed most of his own album covers. He first taught himself to play various clarinets, then saxophones; he is also known for playing the tárogató. Among his first musical partnerships was that with double bassist Peter Kowald.

For Adolphe Sax, Brötzmann’s first recording, was released in 1967 and featured Kowald and drummer Sven-Ake Johansson.

1968 saw the release of Machine Gun, an octet recording often listed among the most notable free jazz albums. One critic has written Machine Gun offers “a heavy-impact sonic assault so aggressive it still knocks listeners back on their heels decades later.” The logistical difficulties of touring with an octet resulted in Brötzmann eventually slimming the group to a trio with Han Bennink and Fred Van Hove.

In the 1980s, Brötzmann flirted with heavy metal and noise rock, including a stint in Last Exit.

Brötzmann has remained active, touring and recording regularly. He has released over thirty albums as a bandleader, and has appeared on dozens more. His “Die Like A Dog Quartet” (with Toshinori Kondo, William Parker and Hamid Drake) is loosely inspired by saxophonist Albert Ayler, a prime influence on Brötzmann’s music. Since 1997 he has toured and recorded regularly with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (initially an Octet).

Brötzmann has since recorded or performed with many musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Bill Laswell, Frank Wright, William Parker, Willem Breuker, Willem van Manen, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Conny Bauer and Brötzmann’s son, Caspar Brötzmann, a notable guitarist in his own right.


A very special, full-color 48-page perfectbound Gallery Edition Book+CD: “FLYSWATTER”, commemorating Peter Brötzmann’s first-ever exhibition of visual art, featuring his works on paper from 1959-1964 at the Art Institute of Chicago this coming March 7-23, 2003. Includes essays, interviews, unseen photos, and Enhanced-CD includes 2 tracks of music (1965, quartet), an interview (1965) and three films (1963/4). Everything is previously unpublished / unavailable. Peter Brötzmann is best know as one of the founders of European improvised music and one of the most powerful and original jazz saxophonists of the post-60’s era, but in fact began his creative life as a painter and even established ties with members of the Fluxus movement, primarily Nam June Paik. With a burgeoning career in music, Brötzmann’s artwork has been kept a private activity over the years, with infrequent exhibitions and graphic design work done for album covers and posters. In late 2002, the first major retrospective of Brötzmann’s visual art was finally mounted at Ystads Konstmuseum in Sweden.

Curated by John Corbett, in collaboration with the artist, the first North American exhibition of Brötzmann’s visual art, THE INEXPLICABLE FLYSWATTER, follows up on the Swedish retrospective, focusing on a set of pieces that were left out of that show. The primary subject of the exhibition is a set of over 50 works on paper (paintings, collages, lithographs) created over a four year period, more than half of which focus on a common, peculiar image: the flyswatter.

This 48-page four-color catalog contains nearly 50 reproductions of Brötzmann’s work, including most of the pieces in the exhibition, as well as a dozen previously unseen photographs from the period, which include images of Brötzmann demonstrating some of Paik’s installation pieces in 1963. An in-depth essay by Corbett sets the context for Brötzmann’s work and explores the transitional period of the early ’60s, when Brötzmann shitfted his focus from being a visual artist to being a musician. Two interviews with Brötzmann are included, one from 2002 (concerning the relationship between his art and his music) and an incredibly rare archival interview from 1965 (concerning his music).

An audio version of the early interview is included in the catalog, along with two previously unknown quartet musical recordings (also featuring bassist Peter Kowald in his earliest recording yet released), predating the earliest Brötzmann music yet publicly available by two years. The percolating rhythm section brings out a heretofore unheard postbop aspect of young Brötzmann. The package’s enhanced CD features three films, as well, all from the early ’60s, shot and edited by early Brötzmann colleague Manfred Montwé. Two of these short silent films feature Brötzmann’s trio in ’64, with beautiful hand coloring and distortion of the film by Montwé, while the other film is an incredibly important, previously unknown document of a major Fluxus festival in Amsterdam in 1963, which features Brötzmann alongside Fluxus founder George Maciunas, Emmett Williams, Tomas Schmit and others.

buy this book here…

Peter Brötzmann interviewed by Ken Vandermark on April 20, 2001

Ken Vandermark: Peter, at one point you were telling me that in the early part of your playing, when you were working as a visual artist and playing music, you were having a difficult time getting some kind of acceptance from your peers in Europe at the beginning. And you mentioned to me that Carla Bley and Don Cherry were two people who recognized strength in your work. Can you talk about that period at all?

Peter Brötzmann: Sure, sure, I’d like to. In the mid 60’s, I think it was ’66 to be correct, Carla was touring with a group called Jazz Realities. That was Steve Lacy, Carla, I think at that time it was Kent Carter on bass, and Alda Romano on the drums. Around my hometown Wuppertal, at that time, I went to art school. We had a lot of really well organized jazz clubs, and the radio Cologne, the WDR, was not far away. And so, at that time, we had a lot of really great musicians down there from Europe and from the states. It was a very active scene. Carla showed up with this . . . quartet it was at that time I think. I took my alto and I was just sitting in without even asking. That was not really a nice thing for them [laughs], but I must say it was quite a wild session then and I think Steve Lacy liked it most.

A year later, I got a phone call from Carla asking if I and Peter Kowald, my bass player in the very early years—and more than a bass player, he was really a good comrade in these heavy times—would join the next year’s band. The ’67 year. So of course we said yes and somebody planned a kind of European tour. But it turned out it was so badly organized that everything went wrong. Stockholm to Rome and things like that [laughs], all in rotten cars! I mean, it really was a bit too much. And Carla brought the baby she just had with her so we organized a baby sitter, which all the guys liked very much [laughs]. So some more complications arrived, but we did the job. And I must say I still like Carla’s piano playing. I like the way she is putting her tunes and her pieces together. And I must say I still have a lot of respect, even if she, at the end, was not very content with the result of that. She mentioned it later in some of the interviews about that time.
The whole tour ended in Berlin. I remember that quite well. It was the time of the Berlin jazz festival, and our group got to play at this very famous art gallery. And the only guys who showed up for that last concert were Kowald and I because the rest were in such a desperate condition that they just didn’t show up [laughs]. So that was that experience. But I learned a lot from that.

Another person that you mentioned before, Don Cherry, was an even bigger help and really a good friend because, as you must know, in these middle ‘60s, Kowald and I tried to play some music nobody wanted to listen to, especially not the musicians around. That was the end of hard-bop time. There were all the quartets and quintets like Gunter Hampel, Manfred Schoof, [Alexander Von] Schlippenbach, to mention a couple of names. They played hard-bop more or less. And so what we tried to do was already a very free form kind of thing and even the handling of the instruments was really not happening in the usual way . . . because we didn’t know better [laughs], or we really had some other things in our minds. So Don always encouraged us very much. The good thing was that he was living in southern Sweden and the work was more or less in Germany at the old radio stations at that time, setting up concerts, and recording sessions and things like that. So on the way to Cologne or on the way to Baden-Baden where made the program, he passed by at my place and stayed a couple of nights with the family. We developed quite a nice friendship. And that helped me and our kind of music quite a lot because the others stopped laughing about us. They started to take us seriously. I remember one concert in Cologne at the radio station. Schlippenbach’s quintet was playing with Gerd Dudek, Manfred Schoof, Jaki Liebezeit, and Buschie Niebergall, and my trio at that time of course was Kowald and . . . who was the drummer . . . I think Mani Neumeier, a Swiss guy who played with Irene Schweizer at that time. Don Cherry was in town. I think he played in some other place with Dexter Gordon. He showed up and didn’t tell us before, but when the trio played, Don was sitting in. And instead of sitting in with the more advanced guys he was sitting in with us. So all these little kinds of things helped my reputation a little bit [laughs]. After these kinds of things went over Schoof, Schlippenbach and the others started to cooperate with our trio, and that was more or less the basis of the Globe Unity. To mention some other guys, Lee Konitz was a good help in these early times. He always said, “Brotzmann keep going, keep going. Don’t listen to the others. Just do your thing.” You can understand, as a very young and inexperienced guy everybody was nearly laughing about, this helps you a lot. So I’m very thankful.

Ken Vandermark: Yes, well that’s why I was curious about that. It seems a lot of people who forge ahead on their own path many times find support from people. Like the thing with Lee Konitz, I didn’t know about that, and I think if you mention Lee Konitz and your name side by side, like me, people would be surprised that Lee Konitz would hear things in your music. But it makes sense because you’re both people who have kind of gone on your own paths and pursued the music very seriously. Getting that kind of recognition from musicians like that is very inspiring. It’s 11:30, you’re listening to WNUR, I’m Ken Vandermark here in the studio with Peter Brotzmann who’s in town this weekend performing at the 5th Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. He played an amazing set last night with Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, and William Parker. He will be back at the Empty Bottle tonight playing in a duo with Hamid Drake for the first time in a little while in Chicago anyway, right?

Peter Brötzmann: That’s true. I mean, we started our duo here in Chicago . . . it might be 10 years ago, something like that. In between, I think we just played it once here. I didn’t know that I would play with Hamid at the . . . what was that place called?

Ken Vandermark: Southend Music Works?

Peter Brötzmann: Right. I was supposed to play with the East German piano player Ulrich Gumpert. That was before the reunion of the two Germanies and they didn’t let him out! So I was standing there asking around, “Isn’t there any player around I could do a duo with?” I called my New York friends and they said there is this drummer playing in Europe with Pierre Dorge, the Danish guitar player and his band, try him. And we tried. I think we played a two hour duo thing the first night and I think both of us had the feeling, “okay that could work.” Since that time, we’ve played quite a lot together. I’m looking forward to tonight, playing a nice duo, hopefully, again with Hamid.

Ken Vandermark: We were talking earlier about the beginning of your career in Europe. You mentioned some of the stuff overlapping in the fact that you’re a visual artist as well as a musician and the importance of being aware of other art forms and other things besides music to sort of have impact on what you’re doing as a musician. Is that something that was common in that period? With musicians was there an awareness of that? Was it an important part of the action at that time?

Peter Brötzmann: It’s of course hard to explain the difference, I mean, it’s nearly forty years ago. Especially in that time, it was quite a situation in Europe. I mean, here, the US had the Vietnam War going on, you had all the race things coming up, and in Europe it was the students’ revolution, which was not only about students. It was really a revolution in all fields of creative life and we had the feeling and the meaning and the illusion that we would be able to change the world to some better place, which, as I said, was an illusion. But it was really a hot, steaming time, and in all the fields of life, daily life too, politics, in the arts, anywhere. Stockhausen, in Cologne, installed his electronic studio that he ran with Mary Bauermeister, his first wife. They ran a little theatre in Cologne which was called Theater am Dom, which means “Theater near the Cathedral” where I saw [John] Cage, David Tudor, and Stockhausen perform with Mary Bauermeister. I met for the first time a very important person in my life, Nam June Paik.

If you wanted, you got a lot of information about all kinds of arts, which nowadays I don’t see happening so much. There was a lot of exchange between different ‘musics’ and musicians. I mean, I was asked to play with a lot of later famous German rock bands and we had connections to Danish rock bands.

Anyway, we had important connections to the other European countries at that time like Holland and England. Peter Kowald was responsible more for the connections to the English guys like Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, Johnny Stevens, and Evan Parker, just to mention some of them, and the South African guys Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi [Feza], and Louis Moholo . . . who seems to be the only one that’s left. And because I already had contacts through my painting business, I was more responsible for the contacts to Holland. I met Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink and a little later Willem Breuker. So there was an exchange of ideas, a lot of traveling around, a lot of playing around everywhere. But I must say, it happened mostly in Germany because we have this handful of German radio stations. At the time, you really could work there. The people gave you studios. They gave you . . . a little money, which is very important of course too [laughs]. So I could sometimes invite people from really all over Europe.

A big scene was going on in the studios in Baden-Baden radio with the big jazz journalist, writer, and leading artistic promoter of the Berlin Jazz Fest at that time. He made a lot of things possible inviting, for example, Don Cherry to set up everything from duos to large ensembles. I was able to put together 10-piece bands, 11-piece bands. Once I remember I had a 20-piece band for a TV show, which . . . is nowadays impossible [laughs]. Nobody can think of such a thing. This music was played on the radios and even TV. That was a time really cooking and, as I said, it was the first contacts we had to the American guys traveling through. A really big exchange was happening. You had that jam-session character in the clubs, which is gone now, I think. It’s a shame, but that’s how it goes at the moment. To develop my personal style of playing, I used my contacts to the other arts, to the other, as we call it in Europe, ‘contemporary’ or ‘serious’ music [laughs]. All the famous painters are my age and I know them all from that time, which helped me to get rid of certain rules that jazz music still had at that time. We could develop our own thing and get rid of certain things we thought we didn’t need anymore. We’re coming back of course . . . but at the time it was necessary to get rid of them.

Ken Vandermark: Can you give an example of what you mean to sidestep the jazz conventions? An example of something you might do?

Peter Brötzmann: At that time, all the great, big American groups like Miles Davis, [John] Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, [Charles] Mingus, and Ornette [Coleman’s] early groups all toured in Europe. And I think they were more avant-garde, at the time, than most of the European musicians who still hung around the Horace Silver-Art Blakey style, so for me it was really very important to listen especially to Dolphy. I had the luck and the honor to spend all night long with him when he played in the Mingus band in my hometown when we organized a concert there. It helped me really step further on talking to those guys and listening to all of that fantastic music. But at the same time, I remember concerts with Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Kenny Clark, Oscar Pettiford, for example, which made a big impression of course. Nowadays, I think for younger people, it’s easy to get informed by the internet and all that new technology, but we had the chance to have the live scene over there. And that was more than a big help. That really was something. To add to that, at the same time, I was still very busy with my painting, and we had a very interesting, very avant-garde gallery in town, which had the first exhibitions of Nam June Paik and Josef Bois, and a lot of the guys you heard of later. And I had the chance to work for Nam June Paik because he stayed in town for several months and had a long exhibition there. Since I was still a student at the art school I had the chance to work with him and repair his funny installations everyday for that night! [laughs]. So I learned a lot from this guy. I didn’t realize it at that time, but looking back, I think he and Don Cherry were my ‘teachers’ in a way. I learned a lot from them.

Ken Vandermark: Well, it’s interesting, that you mentioned Hawkins and Pettiford and Kenny Clark, people who are definitely attached to an earlier school of approaching improvised music than the one that we’re talking about right now, but there’s something in your playing that has always stuck me as being very connected to that earlier period, the period of the really great tenors: Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, people how played with incredible personality and distinction. I have a piece here cued up that I wanted to play for you, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It’s Hawkins doing Picasso, I think the earliest solo saxophone piece that, at least, I’m aware of. Maybe we can talk a little bit about your solo music after listening to it and if there’s any correlation between what he was doing at that time and your music. So this is Coleman Hawkins’ solo piece Picasso.

That was Coleman Hawkins’ and the classic Picasso. Peter, do you have any thoughts about his playing? Has it had any impact on you other than the fact that he was a great tenor player? Is there more to it than that for you? I remember talking with you and listening to some of the early Armstrong and Sidney Bechet stuff and it was clear how much you love that music.

Peter Brötzmann: Yes, I mean, the first saxophone player that really impressed me a lot was Sidney Bechet. I had a chance to listen to him twice I think. Two times he came to my town with some French group. But he himself was really something. I’m not such a fan of soprano saxophone myself and it’s not my tool anyway, but Sidney Bechet really impressed me a lot. And the second one was Hawkins. People sometimes ask me, “why don’t you mention Lester Young so much?” I love Lester a lot, but I feel my personality more connected to Hawkins than to Lester Young. I don’t know if I learned something from his playing, but listening to him was always a great inspiration and I think I liked his tone best of all the tenor players. I still do.

Ken Vandermark: It’s something to reckon with [laughs]. I was going to ask you about something that’s almost opposite in a way. Many times people talk about your music referencing Albert Ayler and I know you talked about how you were on that path before you ever even heard his music. Also, you knew Frank Wright fairly well I think, from what you told me before. The music that you’re working on seems connected to approaches that they had to the instrument, to the music, but in Europe there’s a distinctly different approach to the saxophone maybe referencing extended techniques and some kind of concept of that extended playing. I’ve got a piece here with Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis playing together. We’ll give it a listen and I was curious if you could comment a little bit on that because it’s just a different thing. And it’s different from what your approach to the horn. I wanted to see if there’s anything in it that may be interesting to talk about. This is Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis from Duets: Dithyrambisch on FMP and we’re going to listen to the piece “Trane and the Rive Gauche”, obviously a take on [Jimmy] Guiffre’s “Trane and the River.”

Okay, that was Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis off of the Duets: Dithyrambisch record and while that was on, we were talking a little bit, Peter, about the idea of technique. To me, the issue is connected to ideas about conventional technique, things that, as you said, you can learn, versus ideas about technique as tools necessary to express experience. Many times it seems like Thelonious Monk or Pee Wee Russell or Albert Ayler or Frank Wright or maybe even yourself get criticized for having bad technique, when in fact, it seems to me, you’re working with technique very outside the convention or conventional knowledge. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about this issue at all.

Peter Brötzmann:Yes of course, because all throughout my career I was confronted with that question. “Hey you don’t have any technique at all,” from the beginning on and it still is happening. Maybe these people are right, I don’t have very much of the conventional technique. Like, for example, our friends we just have heard, Louis Sclavis and Evan Parker. I never had a teacher for the horn, so I experienced everything myself, and I think that’s what the interesting part in the arts, whatever arts it is, is about. And if you look at people like Frank Wright or Albert Ayler, they didn’t have much technique in the sense of modern time’s saxophone playing. They had roots somewhere in the blues, in gospel, in their own peoples’ music and they tried to work with that. I think that’s a much more interesting and much more important part of being creative in a way. I don’t think, for example, Thelonious Monk had great technique, but for me, he’s one of the greatest piano players of all times, if not the greatest! So technique doesn’t mean anything. If you listen to very early blues recordings, I mean where the guy didn’t even have strings on the guitar, what he was doing with that one string that was left, maybe what he was telling you, that was the essence of his life. And, I’ll tell you, the older I’m getting, the more this matter is my interest, to get us as close as possible to what is it about. And you don’t need technique for that. You need certain tools to express what you want to say, and if you don’t have the tools, you have to work on them until they are there and then you can say what you want to say. And it’s happened all my life and I think it’s happening in everybody’s life, in a way. I’m lucky to have started very early to discover that, and I’m still far away from my target, but I’m on my way. We will see.

Ken Vandermark: Alright, well, thanks for talking about that because I think that’s one of the big misunderstandings in improvised music, jazz, whatever you want to call it, that difference between the Marsalis approach to technique and things that you can be taught and you can learn, as you said, and really trying to express who you are through the experience.

Peter Brötzmann: Yes. That’s why I have the feeling that the whole range of jazz music is getting a little poor. Most of the guys coming from the colleges, from Berkely and other schools–it’s the same in Europe, maybe schools here are better, I don’t know–form a certain kind of musician: they know everything up and on the horn, up and on harmonics, scales and everything, but nobody, or very seldom is there a guy, who is able to teach them what to do with it and what to do with their life and what it is about. I think we need many more of these kinds of people than we need all the nice, skilled teachers.

Ken Vandermark:[laughs] Well you can’t teach life, you know. That’s what everyone, as an individual, has to grapple with. That’s the toughest one maybe. Talking about personalities and individualities, I know that throughout your entire career you’ve been interested in working with larger bands. Right now you’ve got the tentet, but you’ve had . . .

Peter Brötzmann: You should say we’ve got the tentet . . .

Ken Vandermark: Okay, okay, thank you for including the rest of us too in that because . . .

Peter Brötzmann: No, the tentet’s got us!

Ken Vandermark:[laughs] That may be true! I think that based on your history that’s something you’ve been interested in. There are obvious reasons, for example, having a larger palette of sounds, but is there anything in particular about large groups that you keep coming back to them. Why would that be?

Peter Brötzmann: I think there are a couple of reasons. I think one reason for all kinds of music, and especially jazz music, is I see a very strong social function in working the way we do. If it’s a small group from duo to quartet to quintet, I think the social connections between one another are very important. That doesn’t mean that we all agree all the time to everything, and everybody has his own way of life of course, but the way we work together, we hopefully talk together too. I mean, we have to be open for everything. If we talk about politics, art, or girls, or music we have to be honest to each other. I think that’s one point. In the smaller groups, you develop your own style. You develop sounds. You have an idea about how it should sound. And then, of course, it’s always a big experience to have not only one horn, but to have four saxophones and maybe a couple of trombones around and what you can do with that sound is always a great, great pleasure to find out. Being on the road with the tentet, for example, and since I played with Machine Gun, in ’68, I always tried to put bands together, mostly ten, eleven piece bands. It’s a question of money of course. Nowadays you can’t go on the road with twenty people. Nobody’s going to pay for that if you don’t have friends at the Lincoln Center . . . [both chuckle]. But, you know, there’s always chances. I’m so happy that the tentet started here in Chicago. In between, we have played a lot . . . not a lot, always can be more, should be more . . . but we have chances, possibilities in Europe, we might have chances here in the country, in Canada, wherever they want us we go.

And it’s nice, because as you travel and work with these people you learn to know them very well. Not only music-wise. You learn the human being, which is, for me, always a part of jazz music too. I think all the great bands, whatever they did to each other, necessarily had that connection. I could never sit in a big band just coming to work and going home. That I can’t imagine. I never could.

Ken Vandermark: Speaking of groups together for a long time and speaking of personalities, one thing about the tentet that I love so much is that it’s a group of individuals. Everyone in the band has very distinct playing approaches and ideas, and that, for me, connects that group very much to Ellington’s band even though musically, aesthetically there are differences there without question. I never talked to you about Duke Ellington, and I was wondering if there is anything in his music or his approach to leading a group that you’ve been inspired by?

Peter Brötzmann: Always, always, but of course all you can do as a normal, hard-working musician is listen and look at how Ellington organized his band and how he handled his people. I think in both ways he did a fantastic job. So you can learn from that. I think we are far away from the great master Mr. Ellington, but we are on our way to getting our stuff together and if we have more chances to work on the music and chances to travel, that will make us come closer and closer to the ideal situation. You know, these bands like Ellington, Count Basie, just to name two of them, were stuck together for weeks, months in a lousy bus, driving from town to town. So of course you want to kill each other, but on the other hand, you learn to respect the other in all his manners [laughs] he carries around with him. I think we need that experience and that is a good experience for the music too because it makes you open and respect the other person and the other human being.

Ken Vandermark: And that’s a beautiful thing. We’re going to close out now because the news is going to be coming on in a few minutes, Peter, and we’re going to finish off with actually something by Duke Ellington. I obviously set you up for the track [laughs]. This is from Suite Thursday with much of the music composed by Billy Strayhorn. We’re going to listen to the last movement of the suite. Peter, it’s been really great to have you here this morning. Thanks for getting up, well, you got up earlier. Thanks for coming by.

Peter Brötzmann: I thank you for the chance.

Ken Vandermark: Just to remind everybody, Peter will be playing tonight in a duo with Hamid Drake at the Empty Bottle festival and will be playing at noon Saturday, tomorrow, at the Cultural Center, in a solo concert. So both of those are a must and it’s free which is totally staggering. So Peter Brotzmann solo in a beautiful hall at the Cultural Center tomorrow, I think that’s 78 East Randolph. Thanks for listening and hope to see you tonight and tomorrow. This is Duke Ellington from Suite Thursday, Lay-By. Thank you very much Peter.

Peter Brötzmann: Thank you.

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