September 18th, 2011

News 27 (Laudatio)


Markus Müller

Peter Brötzmann:
Laudation on the occasion of the presentation of the Albert Mangelsdorff-Prize
(Deutscher Jazz Preis / German Jazz Prize) 2011

Peter Brötzmann, thank you for the opportunity to be able to speak here today, on the occasion of the presentation of the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Prize 2011 to you. I should also like to thank Jost Gebers, who first asked me if I could imagine taking this on.

I guess this is the way you have been doing this since 1969, Peter Brötzmann on stage, receiving all the awards and Jost Gebers doing all the work!

Peter Brötzmann doesn’t need any more prizes or accolades. But he deserves them. The prizes, anyway. Deserves in the truest sense of the word and if any prize exists which he has not yet received, I would like to ask the people in charge to quickly, or better still, immediately, even directly afterwards, come to the front and deal with it, there can only be one or two still left, Peter, then that will be over and done with.

It has taken its time. Time until prizes just seemed to roll into the house, one after the other, in the Obergrünewalder Strasse. Sure. It’s also a one-way street, after all.

In the beginning, there were no prizes. In the beginning, there was Peter Brötzmann, a young man from Remscheid, who wanted to get out of there, into the big city, to Wuppertal. For the younger members among us, this story takes place during the times before the so-called reunification. The FRG was smaller in those days and today, it seems to me as if the result of the decision to make the provinces, by which I mean Bonn, the capital was that there were a variety of interesting cultural centres and that people also used to visit them regularly. Cologne, for example, was considered the centre of the Continental European worlds of music and visual art. Continental Europe is bigger than the Rhineland and one actually thought one had left Paris behind. Wuppertal was many different things at that time, for example not far from Cologne and located on some of the main motorways.

So, at the end of the fifties, Brötzmann went to Wuppertal, to the Werkkunstschule (College for Arts and Crafts), started off with painting, studied design and graphic arts and, played music as a sideline. This was the start of, all in all, a rather unlikely journey. A journey which took Peter Brötzmann who, at the age of fourteen, had started learning the clarinet in Remscheid who later, as a self-taught musician, was to play there in Dixieland bands which then also became interested in Swing and Bebop, from Wuppertal out into the world, since the beginning of the sixties. And there he made himself heard in his very personal and unmistakable way. The fact that, at some point, also Bill Clinton listened to him and declared him to be one of the most important living saxophone players as far as he was concerned, well Peter, and now you even have to come to terms with that, as well.

I will try and comment on some selected stages of this journey, inevitably I will be responsible for leaving some things out and, for some of you present here maybe even more irritating, I shall say things which have probably been said many times before by those more qualified than me.

In those days in the early sixties, Wuppertal was also a town making art history. The gallery Parnaß, for example, in spring 1963, organised Nam June Paik‘s first solo exhibition with the title: Exposition of Music - Electronic Television and this exhibition turned out to be an international sensation, as well as a mighty scandal and there is a photo of the delivery of an ox’s head which subsequently greeted the visitors at the entrance of the exhibition. This is how the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) later described the scene:
“The photo from the records of the central archives shows the delivery of the ox’s head, prepared with ropes which was about to be mounted in the entrance area of gallery Parnaß The farmer in the middle of the picture is holding the long end of the rope in his hand. On his right, Nam June Paik is approaching, probably holding a knife, in order to cut the remaining piece of the rope. The artist Peter Brötzmann, at that time Nam June Paik’s assistant, is sitting on the stairs on the left; the man with the beret on his right is watching the proceedings sceptically, while the employees of the architect’s office Jährling in their white coats, on the other hand, seem to be thinking that this is all a joke.” 1)

That was Peter Brötzmann in 1963, an artist who also played music. And an artist who, as Nam June Paik’s assistant, was right at the centre of the most interesting processes taking place in the latest developments in art. Two years after this exhibition the famous 24-Hour-Happening followed and another two years later, Peter Brötzmann recorded his first very own record with his trio: For Adolphe Sax. The Peter Brötzmann Trio consisted of the late Peter Kowald (Deutscher Jazzpreis 1995) and Sven-Åke Johansson. Legend has it that Brötzmann and Kowald, after a gig in Brussels, got to know Sven-Åke Johansson, who was stranded there and was riding his drum kit through the park on his transporter trike, and invited him to come to Wuppertal. So Johansson rode his bike across all the borders, in part also on the motorways and became a ‘Wuppertaler’. 2) Together with those two, Brötzmann recorded For Adolphe Sax and put it out on his own label, BRÖ. A year later, 1968, Machine Gun followed - an octet in which the trio was augmented by Willem Breuker, Fred Van Hove, Evan Parker, Buschi Niebergall and Han Bennink. .With these two records, Brötzmann single-handedly extended the possibilities for self-organised work for European musicians. He was the one, completely on his own, who not only had the courage to play the kind of music he was playing, but also the courage to put it out it on his own label, at his own risk and at his own expense. Nobody else was doing this, all the other ‘fellow travellers’ were first recorded on labels such as Calig or SABA or Columbia etc. All other initiatives taking place around that time, the founding of the Instant Composers Pool in Holland in 1967 by Mengelberg, Bennink and Breuker or Incus in 1970, by Bailey, Oxley and Parker were collective initiatives.

So, in the period between 1963 and 1967, in close connection with the visual arts, with Fluxus and its aftermath, what was later to be known as European free improvised music came into being. A number of protagonists were involved, I’ve already mentioned some of them, the founding of the Globe Unity Orchestra in 1966 was another important event that came about through the combination of the Brötzmann Trio and the Manfred Schoof-Quintet. The Schoof-line-up: Dudek, von Schlippenbach, Niebergall and Liebezeit, incidentally the Cologne guys who had met, by the way, during their studies with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and were consequently more academically-minded, were those who had first laughed about Brötzmann and his playing. This only changed after Brötzmann had had a number of very successful gigs in Paris in 1966, playing with Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri, Karl Berger and Aldo Romano (that was the time of the two legendary Blue Note LPs Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisers) and word of his success got around. So Brötzmann, like many others, needed to make an international detour in order to get where he was going and be accepted at least within the group of his direct contemporaries. And in the time to follow, in Germany, there were the guys from Cologne, the guys from Wuppertal and the guys from Berlin (Jost Gebers, Rüdiger Carl, among others) who through FMP became some of the driving forces in the young free improvising music scene. The first Total Music Meeting took place in Berlin in 1968, in 1969 the first Workshop Freie Musik, also in Berlin. Both of them including Brötzmann. On the initiative of Peter Brötzmann, Jost Gebers founded the company Free Music Production, later shortened to FMP, in 1969. After a lot of persuasion and commitment, FMP was expanded into a collective in 1972, with Brötzmann, Jost Gebers, Peter Kowald, Detlef Schönenberg and Alexander von Schlippenbach collaborating until spring 1976, from then on Gebers was solely responsible. Naturally FMP has been influenced by Brötzmann in many ways, not least through his design of the covers, posters and flyers and his unbelievably simple yet brilliant, innovative handcrafted hand-made graphics, aspects of his work which are, in my opinion, still underestimated. From my point of view, FMP has also always been a community of survivors, it created a model of how to publish music and how to present music in those days and on one’s own terms and here the model has lasted longer and been more successful than anywhere else. This also needs to be mentioned because it is a part of Brötzmann’s legacy, that he first of all had the courage to do it all by himself, by founding his own label BRÖ and then showed solidarity with the idea of the FMP-organisation with its pillars of support ie record production, the concerts and the festival organisation respectively, over many, many years.

Today, when we congratulate a seventy year old citizen of ‘world’-music on winning the German Jazz Prize, this life and this career, also in view of the fact that 1963 is quite a while ago and that we know that for over 15 years now Brötzmann has been successful in sending something as economically and organisationally complex/complicated as a Chicago Tentet around the world, well then this life and this career seem to be a story of success, a beautiful trip on a very pleasant steam boat, from Wuppertal several times around the world.

In actual fact this story is anything but a straight forward run of successes. And the fact that Brötzmann was initially berated by his colleagues was only the tip of the iceberg. It would not be appropriate here to speak of the challenges as being of biblical proportions but it is important to ascertain that in 1967, and I am now using the recording year of For Adolphe Sax as a turning point, it was questionable as to what extent white central Europeans would be able to substantially contribute to Afro-American Jazz, what value Improvisation had in itself and what its recording and publication on records would represent, (as late as 1988 Peter Niklas Wilson wrote about the FMP production Transition by Becker, Sclavis and Lindberg, that it qualifies as showing that improvised music can also be convincing as music worth preserving on record), what self-determination of musicians was supposed to be, what dissolution of artistic limits means and how it is supposed to be evaluated.

On top of everything else, this whole internal musical discussion had to deal with the general climate of what remained of the sour-faced fascism, and the petty-bourgeois narrow mindedness of the sixties is a particularly strange foil for the events in Wuppertal during those decisive early sixties.
Criticism of this new kind of music repeatedly focused on Brötzmann himself. Well-known is the thoroughly caustic description, meant in dead earnest, of the atmosphere during the performance of the Globe Unity Orchestra on the Berlin Jazz Days 1966: “a cauldron with Peter Brötzmann playing the part of the devil incarnate.” 3) Apart from Brötzmann, maybe only Rainer Werner Fassbinder has, to the same extent, experienced the indiscreet charm of the Bourgeois anger in such an unfiltrated form. This fixation which could not be argued away very quickly got extended into the so-called ‘Kaputtspiel’ phase and to some extent, even today, Brötzmann is still dismissed under this banner. In this context I will also not spare you the fact that, in the course of the unforgettable discussions in connection with the first German Jazz Prize, Albert Mangelsdorff-Prize in 1994, the suggestion of Peter Brötzmann, and if my memory as a former member of the jury serves me correctly the suggestion at that time came from Manfred Schoof, was very, very quickly swept off the table as ‘out of the question’. In any case, back then, mea maxima culpa, and only writing this laudation has caused me to recheck my diaries I, as well as a kind of ‘Realo-minded’-brakeman thought: “Well, it would be the right thing to do, but is it appropriate to push for this right at the start?”

This is in no way supposed to qualify my joy and support for the decision made at that time to honour Alexander von Schlippenbach, please don’t get me wrong. In 1994, however, Peter Brötzmann as prize winner was not doable. The fact, however, that he received the sponsorship award of the Wuppertal Von-der-Heydt Prize as early as 1971 demonstrates that his work has always been contested and controversial but that the struggle, even in the early days, sometimes ended in his favour.

The immediate trigger of the aggressive-obsessive rejection of Peter Brötzmann has to be rooted in a particular aspect of his playing. Those who have never heard it may be scared out of their minds by the mere directness of the very very very physical experience of the aesthetics of the scream which Brötzmann developed in the tradition of the American saxophone players from Illinois Jacquet, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler to Pharoah Sanders. This Brötzen (doing a Brötzmann), as it is know today, is one of the last shocks to bourgeois perceptual habits and conventions. It is easy to imagine even today how in the world of ‘Ekel Alfred’ (‘Alf Garnett’) or the distinguished Jazz fans, jaws dropped when, instead of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the sound of Peter Brötzmann’s alto sax appeared. In fact Brötzmann, since 1968, has actually continued to integrate other elements into his playing. From the Rock’n’Roll-Riffs, which surface like an extraordinary white whale in Machine Gun, to the birdcalls in Schwarzwaldfahrt. The honed-down tone sequences and staccato runs at breakneck speed, which caused Don Cherry to call Brötzmann Machine Gun, were contrasted from a very early stage with existentially romantic lyrical runs and extreme reduction in the dynamic level. In his case, the quality of the intensity, which Brötzmann wants to be sure to achieve, also for quieter passages, can indeed be traced across an unusual bandwidth of very different kinds of music.

With BRÖ and later with FMP, Brötzmann from very early on worked on the idea of self-determined record productions. Both for himself and for others. And Brötzmann has always made music far beyond his own limits. He has permanently crossed the borders between European and American, between improvised and composed music. And he has deliberately invited other musicians from different countries to join him. In the early years Kowald and Brötzmann had a clear arrangement to these ends, Kowald was responsible for England, Brötzmann for Holland and then they cast out their nets and pulled the catch in to Wuppertal. And the particular quality of his playing was quickly recognised by many of his colleagues. Brötzmann was on the recording of Maurizio Kagel’s new sounding composition Ein Aufnahmezustand I in 1969, at the beginning of the seventies he put out three LPs of his trio with Albert Mangelsdorff, who even then had already been invited to play at Newport in 1958 for the first time - one of the few European players of international standing. At the end of 1971 he had taken part in a production of Don Cherry and Krzysztof Penderecki for Donaueschingen. In 1979 and 1980 he made two recordings with the South Africans Louis Moholo and Harry Miller, in which Brötzmann developed an entirely new melodic kind of continuity, his improvisations, as Ekkehard Jost so aptly put it, becoming more “songful”. In 1981, there was the recording he did with Michael Nyman, in 1985, at the Total Music Meeting, Brötzmann performed with Hugh Davies, the English live-electronics musician he had known (along with Michel Waisvisz) at the latest since the Workshop Freie Musik 1979, a collaboration, as he said himself, he would have liked to have continued. In 1986, there was the first production with Cecil Taylor. 1986 was also the year when Last Exit took off, the first and only Supergroup of improvised music. While the rest of the world was bitching about the mega producer Bill Laswell, Brötzmann founded an ensemble with him, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Sonny Sharrock, producing electro-acoustic whirlwinds and setting standards to the present day. Brötzmann had, and more than many, an extraordinary integrating potential and this as well as the unswerving self-confidence of being able to also hold his own in the most different realms of sound. After the experience of Last Exit, the radical electrification continued, in a duo together with his son and electric-guitar player Caspar and the first Peter Brötzmann Tentet, the März Combo which played on the occasion of Brötzmann‘s 50th birthday in Wuppertal, amongst other places. He himself sees this unusual experiment as less than successful. Alongside the guitar players Caspar Brötzmann and Nicky Skopelitis there were, for example, Larry Stabbins (who had been in the pop charts with Working Week in the eighties) and Werner Lüdi who had returned to the Free Music scene after a break of 20 years. I, personally, have some very good memories and friends of mine saw it as a kind of awakening at that time. Also, for personal reasons, the early nineties were a trying time for Brötzmann: “I was drinking too much at that time”, as the present day ‘on-the-wagon’ Mr. Brötzmann puts it. 4)

All this is 20 years ago now and the two most important projects Peter Brötzmann has realised since then, in my opinion are, firstly: Die Like a Dog, the quartet in homage to Albert Ayler with Toshinori Kondo, Hamid Drake and William Parker. The most important quartet of the nineties. When Brötzmann plays bass clarinet alongside Drake’s tablas, it has more to do with Johnny Hodges and Jimmy Giuffre, meaning a controlled lyrical way of playing than with a primal scream. And this extraordinary ‘sweetness’ in Brötzmann‘s playing which can regularly be found on his solo recordings, as well, since 1976 is even more accentuated by Kondo’s distortion effects on the trumpet.

And secondly, since 1997, meaning for nearly 15 years now, there is the ChicagoTentet and since that time, Brötzmann is a star in the States, as well, and on the initiative of John Corbett, early recordings such as Nipples were not only reissued but have also been sold in their thousands. The tentet is an ever evolving body of sound which, in the beginning was very strongly based on composed structures and which in the meantime with its own self-confident dynamic generates itself auto-poetically. At the same time, interestingly, the Wuppertal experience from the sixties seems to have paid off in this Chicago Tentet also and right up to the kind of conditions under which recordings are made. A transatlantic collective has developed and the American fellow musicians of the new generation have very successfully turned Chicago into the Wuppertal of their time.

Some of you present today may have seen the concerts in Wuppertal in April this year, unfortunately not me, but from what I heard, the sparks must have been flying.

When you’re still onstage at 70, it’s inevitable that some of the other musicians present are not always born in the same year. The players in Sonore, a current trio with Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark are almost 30 years younger, the fellow musicians in Full Blast, a fantastic band Peter Brötzmann has been also playing with since 2004 which we are going to hear after this speech, co-players Michael Wertmüller on drums and Marino Pliakas on bass, are nearly 30 years younger, as well. And with Full Blast, no doubt about it, the name says it all, I, as it happens, have heard concerts where Full Blast exploits the entire bandwidth of dynamics in a very striking manner, while keeping up the tension. Because, as Peter Brötzmann says, “the tension has to be there and then it’s just got to get going”. 5)

Peter Brötzmann has expressed on reed instruments all the best things you can say about the soul and sociology of the central European of the 20th and 21st century. He has done it with his heart, with wit, a lot of wit, with tender kindness and a certain insistence. For me, referring back to a classic John Zorn title, it only remains to proclaim:

Jazz Snob: Eat Shit!

Peter Brötzmann, Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln, (Half a dog can’t piss)
Thank you for making this so forcibly clear to us over the past 46 years!

1) Schamanen in Wuppertal und ein Verstoß gegen das Kadavergesetz,
in FAZ, Kunstmarkt Spezial, 27. 10. 2005, zitiert nach:
(Shamans in Wuppertal and the violations of the laws pertaining to the handling and disposal of animal carcasses as quoted from the FAZ:
2) Peter Brötzmann in an interview with the author, 29. 06. 2011, unpublished.
3) Thomas Loewner: Peter Brötzmann, in: Jazz Klassiker, Stuttgart 2005, p. 660.
4) Conversation with the author, see above
5) Conversation with the author, see above

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

Markus Müller 

Fotos: Dagmar Gebers (2011)