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Half a Century on Stage - Free Jazz Legend Peter Brötzmann celebrates his 70th Birthday

Updated on September 1, 2012
Peter Brtzmann 2010
Peter Brtzmann 2010

"Maybe in '66 or '68 we had the idea of changing the world a little bit with the music or the arts, but that is a thing of impossibility. What you can do is convince a person from time to time to think differently about things" (Peter Brötzmann)

"If it comes out of the tradition or the real meaning of the music, if somebody would call me a jazz musician, that make me a little proud." (Peter Brötzmann)

Free Jazz in Europe - The 1960s

The late 1950s/early 1960s saw the beginning of the Free Jazz movement in the United States. Musicians like Sun Ra or Ornette Coleman were looking for new ways to express their musical ideas, the music was liberated from conventional thinking. Some years later a similar movement started in Europe and in some other parts of the world. But this time there was a difference. Until then European musicians had copied more or less the styles which came from America, this time they developed methods independently of any obvious influence from their American counterparts. One of the pioneers of this "New Thing" was the German saxophonist/clarinetist Peter Brötzmann.

LP/CD covers designed by Peter Brötzmann

Peter Brötzmann - A Biography

Born in Remscheid/Germany on March 6th, 1941, Brötzmann’s early interest focussed on painting before his dissatisfaction there led him to music. He taught himself to play clarinet and went on to master the complete range of reed instruments. He experienced his first real jazz concert when he saw American jazz musician Sidney Bechet while still in school at Wuppertal, and it made a lasting impression.

In 1962 he met bassist Peter Kowald, another musician who had similar ideas, in Wuppertal to set up a partnership which saw them, together with various drummers, playing everything from Mingus to Coleman via Stockhausen and Cage. In the mid 1960s, he played with American musicians such as Don Cherry and Steve Lacy. In 1966 Brötzmann was one of the founding members of the Globe Unity Orchestra, one of the first Free Jazz Big Bands, led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, in 1967 his first recording For Adolphe Sax with Kowald and Sven Ake Johansson on drums was released, 1968 saw the release of Machine Gun, an octet recording often listed among the most notable free jazz albums. In the late 1960s he started to work in a trio with pianist Fred van Hove from Belgium and Dutch drummer/percussionist Han Bennink, sometimes with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff as a guest musician, a cooperation which lasted until the mid 1970s and is well documented on eight recordings. In 1969 he was one of the founding members of the Free Music Production (FMP), a musicians cooperative which played an important role in the documentation of the activities of its members and which organized workshops and festivals. Later he played regularly in a duo with Han Bennink or in a trio with Bennink and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg. From the late 1970s Brötzmann worked with another trio with bassist Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo who both came from South Africa, a cooperation which came to an end with the death of Harry Miller in 1983. In the late 1980s Brötzmann became a member of Last Exit with Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson, a band which was influenced by powerful rock elements. Other important groups of the 1990s were the Die Like a Dog Quartet with Japanese trumpet player Toshinori Kondo and bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake from the United States, a tribute to Albert Ayler, and a band called Ruf der Heimat.

Since the late 1960s Peter Brötzmann has led a number of large improvising ensembles like the Machine Gun Octet. In 1981 he formed another large band, the Alarm Orchestra, in the early 1990s the März Combo. Since the late 1990s he works with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, a band which is still existing. He also performs as a soloist.

During his career he toured in almost every European country, he worked regularly in America and Japan. One of the most important things for him is to perform with like-minded musicians. In recent years he became more and more interested in cooperating with musicians from other cultural backgrounds like artists from Arab countries and from China.

“Brötzmann, the tenor sax player, one of the greatest alive.” - Bill Clinton, when asked by the Oxford American to name a musician people would be surprised he listened to.

Happy Birthday Peter!


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, delightful, and shared. I had fun imagining movie scenes to go with the music.

    • raciniwa profile image


      6 years ago from Naga City, Cebu

      great hub...sorry, i'm not familiar with the name...i was not yet born at that time...thanks for sharing...

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      7 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      Well done review -- three cheers for musicians. Thanks

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I like jazz music. Thanks for writing this. I really entertained with all informations here. Well done, my friend. Take care!

    • crystolite profile image


      7 years ago from Houston TX

      Good hub,thanks for sharing.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Nice review of Broetzman. I'm a big jazz enthusiast.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Cheers for the music!


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