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albertsolo

 

Several summers in the early sixties found me driving thousands of miles on American expressways, heading for the Newport Jazz Festival – as though it were some Mecca. Perhaps it was. Certainly I could hear, in just one afternoon, a heterogeneous hodgepodge of music, music in those days I so dearly loved; hour after hour in the sunshine, red nose blistering, stomach rumbling into burps from the excessive intake of that dreadful gassy American beer that made Milwaukee famous. Newport was a legend, had been confirmed as such by Bert Stern’s film – Jazz On A Summer’s Day, and on the occasion of my visits I was scarcely ever dissapointed.

What’s so important about this one, this Sunday afternoon, July 4th – that special day for Americans – is the program, a miracle compared to what’s available these days: pianist Denny Zeitlin with Charlie Haden his bassist; Wynton Kelly trio’d by Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, extending their set with the addition of Wes Montgomery; Stan Getz with Gary Burton and Steve Swallow, an introduction to the fabulous South African pianist Dollar Brand, and if that was not enough for one afternoon I’m about to be introduced to Albert Mangelsdorff. The beginning of a beautiful, albeit long-distance, friendship.

“That would be 1965?, Albert said, “with Attila Zoller, Lee Konitz, Joe Chambers and Larry Ridley. I was invited that year because I had won the Down Beat Critics Poll in the trombone category as a musician deserving wider recognition. That was the appearance at Newport I enjoyed the most – I could really stretch out there.”

He was wearing a very nice light grey suit with a small chalk stripe in it. Albert, as I would discover over the years, always an elegant gentleman.

•••••••••

1973

Just when the jazz world is beginning to accept certain saxophonists – most notably Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell – of being capable of sustaining unaccompanied improvised music on a non-chordal instrument, along comes Albert Mangelsdorff with a solo trombone record [Trombirds]. If one had to choose a jazz trombonist to perform in this context the obvious choice would have to be him. Looking back over history, at least on record, he has been the most consistently creative musician able to escape the bebop trickery of the J.J. Johnson school. Even in his early groups with his constant companion Heinz Sauer, on through his recorded history, it’s apparent that he is basically a loose, funky player.

For the most part the music I’m hearing is paced at medium tempos and moves along with an easy gait, but lest I give the impression that this is simplistic music I should point out that the sound techniques employed make most trombonists sound ordinary. There’s a great deal of humour in his music. Amidst this humour is the virtuosity of the multiple tonguing techniques, the mouth/verbal sounds employed, the phenomenal range, the fat boisterous tone and the beautiful loping swing that he consistently maintains.

•••••••••

albertalone

May 12th, 1976

On my 38th birthday I travelled to Montreal for a concert taking place at the Morris Pollack Concert Hall. The event – Solo Now – featured Albert Mangelsdorff, vibist Gunter Hampel, percussionist Pierre Favre and pianist Joachim Kuhn.

The concert had been set up in an interesting way. Two soloists and a duet before the intermission. Two soloists and a quartet to conclude.

The second half of the concert opened with Albert’s astounding solo trombone artistry. The recording of his solo work has so many actions taking place that it made it almost seem suspect, perhaps it’s multi-tracked, but once you witness him live you realize that the recordings do not do him justice. The five solo pieces, four original and Duke’s “Mood Indigo”, brought to the audience a master musician filled with exuberant joyfulness. What a marvellous way to celebrate my birthday.

•••••••••

May 27-30, 1977

A year later I find myself in Moers, Germany, attending another festival. There are all the folk, knapsack-on-your-back, dust, cola called Afri-Cola, beer tents, sleeping tents, and when it rained – which it did – the youthful audience removed all their clothes, placed them in the plastic garbage bags they had been sitting on, and sat naked in the rain.

Moers is a small town situated close to the Dutch border, half an hour by train from another place you have never heard of. Small cobbled streets, a pedestrian only walkway for a mile or so, good to tourists, with this one difference from any other promotional brochure.

albertandgeorge


One of the marvellous
things about this festival is the combinations of players that were introduced. It seems unlikely that a trombone workshop in America, or anyplace else for that matter, would be Albert Mangelsdorff, Gunter Christmann, George Lewis and Paul Rutherford, who individually must be the four premier trombonists that are publicly known in this period. The trombone is such a pliable instrument, capable of unique possibilities, its sliding pitch, wide range of sound, and raucous tradition, can be utilized to present a myriad of orchestral ideas. Of course in the hands of such virtuosi this is exactly what occurred.

Today is trombone day. If only Albert didn’t have to rush off for a workshop in Tennessee. I find myself so in love with the trombone.

•••••••••

1979

Sitting on the train, returning to Toronto, feeling tired and just a little sad, outside of my aching bones it has been a perfect occasion. A time of travelling together, me and Albert, with the purpose of being a friend, an assistant perhaps, or maybe just travelling.

It’s not always, if ever, possible to assimilate improvised music in one sitting, a concert, in such a singular way, becomes just a memory quite quickly, the music itself not being the memory. But the occasion.

In this time it’s tapes and lps that allow us the possibility of repeated listening, but only to the same performance, only to the same sound and order, providing us a more intimate look at this singular act.

To travel with a performance is not this, for although the titles of the tunes are the same, it is not possible for an improviser of the stature of Albert Mangelsdorff to repeat, verbatim, his art. Its shapes, in accordance with the environment in which they are created, personal developments based on an original idea, the soloist in perfect accord with an instrument having no limitations save the performer’s self. A jazz musician as he would insist.

I regret I cannot conjure up the season. Likely fall. The tour started in Toronto at the Music Gallery, continued to the Théâtre de l’Île in Gatineau, on to a University in Quebec City where there was a student demonstration causing the official concert to be cancelled. Albert decided to play at the Student Union cafeteria to an enthusiastic crowd of cultural rebels. Our travels together ended at the Rising Sun in Montreal.

•••••••••

albertrisingsun

 

Night clubs, relying on the intimacy of low light, often close to darkness, don’t fare well in daylight, the black painted walls and muted coloured lighting no longer absorbing the scruffy surroundings. On the wall adjacent to our white table-clothed table, at which we sit enjoying our coffee, hangs a gigantic garish painting across which, in two foot high letters, Pharoah Sanders’ name is flamboyantly splashed. On the afternoon preceding Albert’s solo trombone performance, Doudou Boicel, the owner of the Rising Sun, has given us access to the empty club – too soon for the punters to come hang out – so Albert can warm up, prepare his evening program and I can conduct an interview for future publication in Coda Magazine (Issue 271).

He has been touring North America for the preceding three weeks under the auspices of the Goethe Institute. Albert has been touring for the Goethe Institute on and off since 1965. I’m curious as to their intention, sending out such a unique performer usually appreciated by a partisan audience.

“Well, the purpose of the Goethe Institute is to offer all kinds of German cultural events. They give German lessons, they have libraries, art exhibitions, lectures, and classical music. So why not jazz? It doesn’t have anything to do with the German communities in these countries. Not at all. It is for the people in each respective country, not the German people in these countries.

“In the United States on this tour I played in a variety of places, concert halls, club-like places, like this one here, or like the Kitchen in New York City, which is not really a club, it is more a concert hall. And there were universities. In San Francisco I played in a bank; actually it was a concert hall located in a bank and the bank did part of the promotion. The reception to my music was really very very good. I must say that all over the acceptance of the people was very very nice.”

Over the past thirty years that Albert had been a musician, most of this time had been on the road, without which he wouldn’t have been able to play his music. When asked if a studio scene, similar to New York and Los Angeles, existed in Germany, and was he interested in this, he responded by telling me that the scene was not very different and that once, for a period of almost two years, he had been a member of the Radio Dance Band in his home town of Frankfurt, but found it impossible to keep on playing jazz and doing that as well, that it influenced one’s taste. Interfered with his creative thinking.

When asked if he came from a musical family, he replied…

“Yes, three of my uncles were violin players and my grandfather — whom I never met, he died early — was also a musician, so becoming a musician was not very unusual in my family. However, when I expressed my wish to become a musician my parents told me it was not possible because my brother was already studying music at that time. If it hadn’t been for one of my uncles, I don’t know how I would have made it.

“I didn’t have much formal training, but I had about a year and a half of violin lessons from my uncle, although that’s not much for violin. And I was self-taught on guitar. I had about one year of trombone lessons. There were several reasons that I came to the trombone. The instrument always appealed to me very much. J.J. Johnson, and even before I knew of him, Bill Harris, who had a very expressive way of playing the instrument. I liked that. And there weren’t many trombone players around, not only in Germany, but even in jazz as a whole. But when I started I wasn’t so sure. I had these lessons, then I gave them up and didn’t touch the instrument for weeks, sometimes for months. I thought I couldn’t make it. I was already a professional musician then, playing the guitar, mostly in swing bands.

“When I first heard jazz music I was so struck by it. I knew that this was something I wanted to do. This was around 1942, I was about 12 or 13 at this time. It was very difficult to hear this music in Germany at that time. There were very few records, which were passed around among all the jazz friends, people who were dedicated to the music. The second world war was almost at its climax and it was almost impossible to get records.

“There was a certain group of people thought about music. To these people jazz music not only meant swinging music but it also meant freedom, it was a symbol to us of freedom. When the Americans finally took over we thought there would be jazz all over (laughter). That was kind of a disappointment, but still at least it could be heard. I made lots of American friends but it took me quite some time to find a jazz friend among them.

“While the Nazis were in power people who were connected to the music were very much under suspicion. For instance my brother Emil once disappeared. We didn’t hear from him for four weeks. Finally he came home and he had been put in prison by the Gestapo because of his activities as a jazz musician, as a jazz lover.”

albertmpensive
It seemed to me unusual, when something is so suppressed, that by the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s there were a great number of German jazz musicians.

“There were already some during the war. And after the war, many more came up. There were lots of possibilities for musicians in Germany at that time because of the American Occupation Army. They had clubs in every unit where musicians could play. Of course you could not play jazz at most of the clubs, there were only certain places where jazz could be played. At that time the American forces still had segregation. They had white units and black units. And we always tried to play at the black units. At this time I played with my first real jazz group, the Joe Klimm combo in 1950. In the three years that we played there were perhaps just a few months where we played at white clubs. The rest of the time it was at black clubs where we could play our music. I mean jazz music, bebop music.

“We were in the Lee Konitz, Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh bag at that time, but still with this music we were accepted by black listeners. And we didn’t only play that style, we also played a lot of real bebop music. We had a lot of Charlie Parker in our repertoire.

“I joined Hans Koller in 1953. Hans Koller only occasionally played in these clubs. At about that same time the American Army had started integration inside of its forces, and so it was much more difficult to play in the American clubs and still play the music you wanted. After 1954 we only played in American places occasionally, we tried to make our way in German society.

“There were many musicians with the American Army, all these army bands. Both white and black, and there were lots of jam sessions in these clubs where we played, as well as in the German clubs. In Frankfurt for instance there was the Jazz Cellar, which still exists, where jam sessions took place. It was founded in 1952, and I still play there sometimes. So from the beginning I’ve played with American musicians, a little later on with some who became quite well-known, such as Cedar Walton, Nathan Davis, Don Menza, Leo Wright, Don Ellis, Lex Humphries the drummer, and many more. We all played together all the time. Around the mid-fifties, ‘53, ‘54, jazz night clubs started happening in Germany. Besides the Jazz Cellar there were the Boheme clubs, several of them: one in Koln, one in Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Wuppertal, so there was a whole chain of places where you could play. I played in some of them with Hans Koller. There was one in Hamburg, too, the Beret Club. But I didn’t play in these clubs so much. I mainly stayed in Frankfurt and, well, starved actually. But from 1954 on I started to become relatively well-known, because the first gig I played with Hans Koller was opposite Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

“Actually ever since I’ve played I’ve always played with Americans, off and on. All of those people who came to do concerts from the early ‘50s on, all the Jazz at the Philharmonic players. We would all get together at the Jazz Cellar and have jam sessions.

“The first engagement I had outside of Germany was about 1956 or ‘57. We went to Austria (laughter), which is like next door. They even speak German, it is almost like home. But the first big thing in that sense was my participation in the Newport International Band at the Newport Festival in ‘58. It was a big band made up of European musicians, got together especially to play at Newport. It was very exciting, we were in the United States for six weeks. And even played in TV shows besides playing at the Newport Festival, and then we went to Brussels, to play in the American pavilion at the World’s Fair! Actually, at Newport we were very well received. This whole thing started a crisis which headed me into a different direction, this ‘58 Newport thing. Here I saw how important it is to be original. I got to see what jazz really was about. In being original, in having to swing the maximum, all these things. We heard Miles with Cannonball and Coltrane and Bill Evans. We heard them a lot. That really changed my whole approach.

“Until then, having played with local players who were friends, but who led us into a musical direction which wasn’t it. It wasn’t where to go, it was rhythmically too soft, not aggressive enough. Not funky, not expressive enough. This trip to America really changed my whole approach to music. I heard many Americans play and also got to play with many of them at jam sessions. At Newport, every night after the concerts there would be jam sessions. Also in New York there were jam sessions arranged for us, to get together with American musicians. We all got new horns, which was another reason for changing. I had a very beat up horn and the Conn Company presented me with a new one. It was the first time I’d ever had a real horn, a really good instrument.

“All these things came together at that time, and when I got back I started a new band. We had an offer to become the jazz ensemble for the radio station in Frankfurt. Which doesn’t mean much because it wasn’t very much money, but at least it was a guarantee to pay the rent. We had to do three recordings every month, which we still do.

“In the sixties I started to play with new players. The drummer was a guy who I still think is the greatest European drummer ever. His name is Hartwig Bartz. But he had some bad luck, was on the needle and he really got out of the scene. The bass player was Peter Trunk, who was a really strong player. So at that time, the early sixties, this rhythm section was very very strong. In fact I had the feeling I wasn’t up to their level yet (laughter). I really learned a lot from these guys, they gave me a big push.

“We had the Danish tenor player, Bent Jaedig, and a French piano player, Pierre Fancine, so it was two horns and three rhythm, the standard quintet. But I always composed my own music. This was an area where I had to really force these people, because they wanted to play straight bebop, and it took me some time to convince them that it would be better to play our own compositions. So it got to where we were playing about 90% original material.

“When they left me I found players who had a similar approach – drummer Ralf Hubner and bassist Gunter Lenz – whom I played with for twelve years after that, and I still sometimes play with them. And saxophonist Heinz Sauer of course, he joined the band in ‘62. When Pierre Fancine left the group I didn’t replace him with a piano player, I replaced him with a saxophone player – Gunther Kronberg.”

Albert has become “famous” for his ability to produce a number of sounds at the same time, a system called multi-phonics. He does this by singing notes that are harmonically pitched with what he is playing on the trombone. It appears as though five or six notes are being produced simultaneously.

“Sometimes these overtones, plus sung note, played note, they add up to really full sounding chords. Whatever they are. I haven’t taken the time to sit down at the piano and find out every note there is, I don’t do it that way. I just do it by blowing and singing. There’s something going through the breath. Ever since I started this in my first enthusiasm, when I started trying different things I told Joe Berendt, ‘Man, this sounds so beautiful! It sounds like so many notes, I don’t know, maybe seven’. He’s a journalist and he sure took it up. Even since then, even over here, I’ve found this in some of the press. I did say this, but I never meant it this way, I’m not claiming I can play seven notes at one time on the trombone, I’d like to set this thing straight. But of course, they are functional chords, most of them. All things are possible, once somebody has the ability to use it freely. But my solo music is jazzy, funky, it is not so much “avant garde” as some of the music I play with groups; different music, different expressions.”

Does he teach these techniques I wonder.

“I have an improvisation class at the Frankfurt Conservatory, which I can hardly really take care of, but I have a very good player to do it for me. I don’t teach trombone there, just jazz improvisation. Some of the students are classical players, some of them are amateurs, some of them are just dedicated to jazz. Some of them are trombone players, and occasionally I might give them some advice, but I’m not really teaching trombone.”

In the middle and early sixties, particularly in Holland and Germany, a whole new music occurred. The first records that I hear are around 1965 or so.

“There was Manfred Schoof and Alex von Schlippenbach. In my group we started changing then too, and it began in the early sixties with Manfred and Gunter Hampel and others. I think it was inspired originally by what Ornette Coleman had started, and late Coltrane, Cecil Taylor… I wasn’t part of it in the beginning. I already had a band and we had a certain concept which was very free, actually, too. Always in my groups the music was very open and anybody could play as long as he wanted, as much as he wanted, we never had any restrictions in that sense. From the early sixties on the music included a lot of free parts, just open, playing no more changes. So we did that too, but not as strictly as people like Manfred and Alex were doing at that time, but they came from different sources anyway. People like Alex had studied composition with modern composers, I think they got to the music from a different point than us old jazz players did.

“I’ve participated a lot where contemporary composers write music for jazz musicians, or for jazz musicians with classical orchestras and all those kinds of things, and I’ve always had the feeling I was being used — that jazz musicians are being used to make the music for somebody else who really doesn’t care about jazz, ultimately. Now I’m at the point where I’ve decided I really don’t want to do these things any more, because I’ve always been frustrated by that kind of music and also by being used. Because the composer writes a composition for jazz band and orchestra, and of course if you use jazz players you use them because they improvise, because they can fill in a lot of time. So we are filling in, say, fifty, eighty percent of the composition, and this man gets all the credit for it. And we’ve composed for him, when we improvise we do compose. And composer’s royalties are another part of this whole business, this man gets all the royalties for composing a work which might last ten minutes, but because of the jazz musicians in there it’s now thirty minutes. And he gets royalties for what they call “serious music”, whereas usually jazz musicians when they get royalties for their compositions are classified as “entertainment” or even “dance music”. So I don’t feel I have to deal with that. I feel myself even now in competition to that music. I think that jazz music is the most valid contemporary music and we shouldn’t fool around with that sort of thing, even using clichés of so-called contemporary composed music, of which there are a lot even in so-called “free jazz”.

“I’d even say that I have more feeling for rock music than I have for contemporary serious music, because in rock music there is still emotion, there is swing, some elements are similar to jazz, the sources are the same, rhythm and blues and so on.”

That last night in The Rising Sun – the small audience being so inattentive – Albert said that maybe he should go out and play while standing on his head. It was a bar so it was a little weird. He felt that he didn’t have to present himself to an audience, that his music is what he presented.

“Well I meant it in a slightly different sense. There is so much involved in playing solo, but I don’t want to be judged by how hard it is, I want to be judged by what comes out of the instrument. There is a lot involved emotionally, and I know when I play well, and if I don’t get the response that I feel this involvement requests, then I have a feeling that I haven’t done enough.

“That’s what I mean when I joke that next time I’ll do it standing on my head, because the music seems not to be enough for people if they aren’t responding.”

•••••••••

1998

November in Berlin, the JazzFest is under the musical directorship of Albert. We only manage to spend a short time together, he busy and me not really paying attention to the details. I would never see him again. He passed into the spirit world July 25, 2005 in his home town of Frankfurt.

Never let it end…

mangelsdorrfcd

End Notes:
Trombirds is now available as part of 2 CD set “Albert Mangelsdorff – Solo”, MPS 06025 1779743, which also includes “Tromboneliness” and “Solo”.
In 1977 Sackville Recordings issued “Tromboneliness” in Canada.
Trilogue, has been removed from YouTube. Try Birds Of Underground @
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcL0bH_Yen4