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The Man that Brought Free Jazz to Germany

by admin on April 24, 2017

Albert Manglesdorff was born in Germany in 1928 and began to play and love jazz and a young age. During this time in Germany jazz was not welcome or safe to play or listen to, especially for a 12 year old. While he didn’t mention much about jazz to his family, his older brother Emil became a well-known jazz musician until he was drafted. By the time he got back in 1949, Albert was already following in his footsteps— outgrowing them really. When he started to play people assumed he would play violin like his uncle, but instead he rose to fame as a guitarist, before trading to the trombone after a while. “The trombone had been on my mind quite a time already when I played the guitar” he says in an interview for All About Jazz in 2003. He found a trombone for “ a few packs of cigarettes” and engaged a teacher, Fritz Stahr, in 1947. Stahr could see the dedication in Albert and gave him weekly lessons for 2 to 3 hours because Mangelsdorff was always eager and prepared. He starred on a radio show for a number of years but wasn’t given the opportunity to play jazz, so he would go out to the local club Jazzkeller every night to play and listen to real jazz.

Finally in 1958 he was brought to America by the International Youth Band to represent Germany. This was not only a huge honor but it gained him a lot of publicity and really started his career. Shortly after the Youth band he founded his first quintet which became the highlight of his career—lasting almost a decade. This collaboration with Heinz Sauer, a renowned saxophonist, played a huge role in the development of jazz in Germany.

Their success owed in large part to their strong belief in individualism; they played how they liked to play and did “their” thing—some might say this ethos was the essence of jazz in that day and still is now. The quintet went their own way, keeping their tunes individual and avoiding copying music or rhythms. This was one of the groups of musicians that really showed Germany what modern jazz could be. By the end of the 60’s Albert learned about Free Jazz and gravitated towards it. This change felt very natural to him; as he said, “Free jazz was actually a logical result of what jazz had been so far – the very primitive improvising on a melody – then the changes got more and more complex. It was logical to me that it [free improvising] would come, even though I thought it had to come out of my own development.”

During this time he gathered a new quartet to whom he introduced free jazz. The group incorporated it into their music until 1978 when they went their separate ways. Free playing was such a passion of his that in 1971 he released his first solo album playing free jazz trombone. Throughout his life he played with many renowned artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, John Tchicai and huge influence Lee Konitz. While many of his albums involve more than just free jazz, he was basically at the very heart of free jazz in Germany.

I believe that much of Mangelsdorff’s drive can be attributed to his suffocated childhood and his travels to America. As a child he was not allowed to listen to jazz much less play it; there was little freedom. As he grew older and traveled to America he saw jazz as an elevated art form. So he brought this concept back to Germany and attempted to share some of its authentic feeling, and it worked. The German people loved him. His innovation was to bring a sense of acceptance not only of jazz but also of uniqueness and individuality that wasn’t really something of the time in Germany. Germany, surprisingly even for the 60’s, embraced that. Which led to Mangelsdorff becoming one of the most influential jazz musicians in Germany’s history.

by Hope Meinhardt

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph Flais April 25, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Loved listening to his album as I read the article. I was expecting something very unconventional, especially considering how restrained he was as a musician in his younger days, but was pleasantly surprised and heard very bluesy elements to his playing. The idea of free jazz in a place like Germany is very intriguing and I would definitely read more about it.

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Connor Law April 25, 2017 at 1:12 pm

This is a quality article about the trombone giant, with a focus on his development in free jazz. I never knew that he played guitar before trombone, which was interesting. It was also nice to see some reasoning for his draw to free jazz.

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Kyle Muench April 25, 2017 at 11:57 am

It’s interesting to look at the origins of free jazz. It’s even more interesting to look at the origins of free jazz within an individual’s life and struggles. Mangelsdorff’s arc of style is fascinating to read about, and clearly set the bar for German free jazz

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