photo by Raymond Mallentjer
CHAT WITH PETER BROTZMANN
I spent four years looking for, in fact scouring, record stores (fuck
you Tower Records), used record stores (thank you Amoeba) and various
shitty internet sites from New York to Boston to Los Angeles and Chicago
for a copy of Peter Brotzmannís Machine Gun. It was only a few months
ago that I was able to find a copy of my holy grail (thank you Berkeley).
Was it worth the wait? You better fucking believe it. It is, in my humble
opinion, the free jazz recording of my time. What luck that Brotzmann
is still as prolific as ever and I am able to witness first hand creativity
in the making. It is truly an honor for me to present such a man onto
our Roadshow babies. Enjoy folks, this one is a keeper. As always, I bring
it to you unedited and in his own words.
JUNG: Letís start from the beginning.
BROTZMANN: Since I was about twelve, thirteen, fourteen, I was running
through all kinds of early jazz styles, Dixieland, swing, and things like
that in a very amateuristic way, I think. Iím sure Iwas because my target
was being a painter and that is why I studied painting. Music always was
on my side, in a way, so I found more and more professional people to
work with. In all these early years, in the Sixties, it changed from kind
of the side thing to my main profession because I longed to know how to
play. Steve Lacy and Don Cherry were stopping by my place at that time
quite often. They all encouraged me to just go ahead and do it. And in
the middle Sixties, that was the time to say good-bye to graphics. I mean,
I still do the painting, but the graphics was earning my money for the
family. I quit that and went over to music.
When did you pick up the saxophone?
BROTZMANN: I had one quite early, a very bad, very old one. At that time,
I was playing in a semi-professional swing band of my hometown. I had
to have a saxophone and I am still quite happy about it.
Letís touch on your participation in the Fluxus Movement.
BROTZMANN: That was built up by an American guy. His name was George Maciunas
and some American artists out of the late Fifties and early Sixties like
Emmett Williams. Maciunas was working for the army at that time in Germany
and actually, the whole, real movement started for that reason, it started
in Germany in the late Fifties and early Sixties, I think as a very important
power in European and American art. It was including all kinds from just
normal paintings to prepared music things like Nam June Paik. Nam June
Paik is a video artist now days, but he started in my hometown. It spread
out all over Western Europe. I was still, at that time, a student at the
art school in Wuppertal. I was helping out and preparing and giving Nam
June Paik a hand and that was the time. Stockhausen was quite young at
the time and he was opening up his electronic studio in Cologne. So there
was a lot of exchange, not only on the jazz side, but it was from the
other side of art too, which was very important for me. On the other hand,
at that time, all the groups, the Coltrane groups, the Miles Davis groups,
Horace Silver, Art Blakey, they all toured regularly, not to forget Thelonious
Monk, solo and quartet. So as a young man, I had a chance to listen to
all that and some of them, meet them personally, which was another great
thing for me. I heard Miles Davis around that time with all his different
groups that he was working with and coming over to Europe and the first
Coltrane Quartet things in Europe and Albert Ayler and of course, not
to forget, Eric Dolphy and Minugs. All these big names and that was quite
avery, very powerful impression for me. And besides that, you nearly had
in every German radio station and we had a lot of big ones, we had some
kind of jazz big band there and they were doing quite very, very avant-garde
kind of music. So around my area, there was a lot to listen to and seeing
a lot of people, which affected me quite a lot.
Letís talk about your collaborations with Peter Kowald.
BROTZMANN: I went to study in Wuppertal when I was about eighteen. I was
looking around because at that time, most of the bands there played swing,
Dixieland. That was the time of Dixieland revival in Western Europe. So
I was looking for somebody else and so somebody told me about this very
young guy trying to play the bass and that was Peter Kowald. So we started
with various drummers in trios and quartets sometimes because being influenced
by Ornettte and Mingus and all the guys I mentioned before, we tried to
find out what would be our kind of thing. We worked the first ten years
I would say of both our careers. We worked quite intense together and
then, of course, Germany is not that big and at that time, it was just
the western part of it and Cologne was very near and all these other guys
like Gunter Hampel, Alex Schlippenbach, just to mention these two, were
living and working with their groups, so we had some exchange going on
and that was the reason to build up the first Global Unity Orchestra.
Who made up the Global Unity Orchestra?
BROTZMANN: It partly my trio at that time with Peter Kowald and Sven-Ake
Johansson, the Swedish drummer who lived in Wuppertal and then the other
hand was Alex Schlippenbach with Schoof and all the guys you find on the
first FMP Global Unity records.
Letís talk about the FMP label.
BROTZMANN: FMP was founded in the late Sixties, í69, I think. It was a
kind of corporation of musicians like Peter Kowald and myself and a little
later on Schlippenbach and Schoof. We founded it because there was no
record company, for example, ESP was in New York, which was interested
in this kind of music. We felt there was an audience, so we decided to
make a company ourselves. It has had, not in a money way, but in the ideologic
and artistic way, I would say it has been successful. It is not really
a musicianís corporation anymore because the whole thing was getting too
big and we couldnít control it and so we handed the business side over
FJ: What is the extent of your involvement with the label now?
BROTZMANN: Not as in the very early years where we could say that this
was our record label. Now, it just was getting too big and in a way, too
successful and we included more and more musicians from the States, from
Japan, and from everywhere in Europe. So we had to give a part of it over
to the man who was organizing it, but I still can decide what I want to
do with my kind of thing. It still belongs to me and the same for all
the other musicians.
And you have had a long association with Han Bennink.
BROTZMANN: Yeah, and I had always good connections via my art, good connections
to Holland and I met through a friend, I met Han Bennink and Willem Breuker
and we were setting up a trio in the middle Sixties. I met the Belgium
guys like Fred Van Hove and so we decided to build up that trio, which
we were working with for maybe fifteen years and then I was working as
a duo with Bennink. So we spent quite some time together and at the same
time, our connections or especially my connections with musicians from
the United States like I have said that Don Cherry was the main important
man for me, but others like Steve Lacy. We toured with Carla. I learned
to know Mr. Andrew Cyrille, while he was working with Cecil at that time
in Paris and so I met Cecil for the first time and Jimmy Lyons, all kind
of guys, because I was always fond of drummers anyway. This exchange,
especially the exchange with my American friends was always very important.
Both Hamid Drake and William Parker are part of your Die Like a Dog Quartet.
BROTZMANN: People, of course, are asking why this name. Some music paper
asked me about six, seven years ago, to write alittle article about Albert
Ayler and so I did and I ended it with ďdie like a dog.Ē Some promoter
saw that article and he put on ďDie Like a DogĒ on the poster and since
that time, people areusing it. We just finished a couple of things in
Europe and the East Coast and Mid-West. I had to change between two trumpet
players. At times, it is Roy Campbell and sometimes it is Toshinori Kondo,
who plays in Japan still and is busy with a lot of things and so sometimes,
he canít make it and I know Roy from my very early visit to New York.
We played together and there is no first or second. They both play with
Letís touch on a landmark album of yours, Machine Gun.
BROTZMANN: That of course was a wild time in Europe especially. There
was the studentís revolt and so on and for us as musicians, we couldnít
stand outside of that. We were quite involved and it affected the way
the music went too. It was really a time for getting rid of old-fashioned,
traditional jazz styles and start from a new point. Machine Gun was the
name that Don Cherry gave me as a nickname when he heard me the first
time. That is why the group was called like that.
And of course, Nipples, which has just been re-released by Atavistic as
part of John Corbettís Unheard Music Series.
BROTZMANN: Yeah, that was í69. That was one year after Machine Gun and
that was the time where all, especially the west European guys like, mostly
the English and the Dutch and the Germans came together for the first
time and worked out things together. German at that time was quite a good
scene for going to the radio stations and getting some gigs there. There
was a growing interest in this kind of music and Manfred Eicher, now the
producer of ECM, he was working at that time for another small contemporary
music label called Jazz By Post and he had enough influence to organize
for us to make a record on that label. So that is the short story of that.
Lastly, you have a new album on Okka Disk, Stone/Water with your Chicago
BROTZMANN: Yeah, we recorded it two years ago when we recorded the triple
album andI think it was kind of a successful thing. That was a recording
at the Victoriaville festival last year. Hopefully, now we have this tour
coming up in the States and I think next year we are able to work a couple
of festivals in Europe. I think everybody is keen on continuing to work
with the orchestra. I try my best and I have good comrades to work on
it. Nearly everybody in the band is thinking in a very collective way
about the orchestra, which makes work a lot easier and interesting.
Were you able to record any portion of the American tour?
BROTZMANN: No, there was no chance to record the New York one, but we
will record some of the concerts we are doing now and in the next two
weeks and we go into the studio after we are through here in Chicago and
play the last and finally concert on the fifth of July here, which will
be recorded too as far as I know.
Why did you choose to form another large ensemble at this point in your
BROTZMANN: It goes back to the Machine Gun group. I always like to find
out what kind of possibilities you have with an eight piece band or even
more. I was working in bands in Germany for some radio station with a
twenty piece band and things like that. Through all of this, I am busy
with the music. I have always had bands from eight to ten or twelve piece,
but you know, Fred, it is a money problem. It is so difficult to find
money. If I want to go on the road with my friends, I would like to be
able to pay them some decent money. It is very rare these days that you
can travel around, especially in this country, travel around with some
people and make a little money.
Why did you choose musicians in Chicago, rather than New York?
BROTZMANN: I know a lot of guys in New York and I have worked with really
a lot of New York guys. I have worked with William Parker for twenty years.
What is fascinating here in Chicago and I think is opposite to New York,
I think New York educates you to be a very selfish person and here in
Chicago, I found the situation is that everybody is working together,
trying to build up something. I find they are all great musicians. The
situation here in Chicago, together withOkka Disk, together with John
Corbett and his connections, there are a bunch ofreally good musicians.
I found that very fascinating.
Should people be paying more attention to what is going on in Chicago?
BROTZMANN: I think Europe already does. I think if you talk to music,
jazz fans in Europe, at the moment, the first place would be Chicago.
Iím quite sure that Chicago will get more and more attention here in the
States. It does already in Canada. At the moment, it is really incredible.
You can go every night somewhere and some place and listen to some mostly
reasonable music and you will see every night a good audience around here.
It is a little bit different from New York. I am very happy to say that
we have a chance to play at the Tonic in New York again. I like that place.
I think that place is able to change the scene and make it a little bit
more open and efficient too. It is always bad when you have the kind of
monopolistic situation that the Knitting Factory always was. If you talk
to musicians, nearly none of us like the Knitting Factory. The situation
now is a little bit better in New York with the Tonic and it is a very
nice place and good people. I think everybody likes to play there.
How is the European improvisational scene?
BROTZMANN: I actually am more informed about the things happening here
these days than I am informed of what is going on in Europe. It sounds
funny, but you know, Fred, in Europe, there is still some good work coming
out and still happening. Even with all the financial problems, I think
they will survive. If you look back at my last years, I am mostly working
with American musicians and maybe once in a while with some Japanese guys,
but you wonít find any German guys in my bands anymore. I donít know why
that is, but it is very simple, I have yet to find any German musicians
that I want to work with. I think, at the moment, it seems to be a lot
of younger guys and girls, they go to the electronics. I think that is
quite in fashion at the moment. I donít know how long that will go on,
but one thing I have to say about the German situation is that I miss
young people, young players coming out in Germany. I donít know so much
about the situation in France or in Scandinavia. I think the situation
in Scandinavia is much better. But especially in Germany, I have the feeling
there is nothing coming out and that is too bad. Wherever I go here, I
find a couple of young guys asking questions and are players themselves
and being very knowledgeable with whatís going on here and in Europe.
I think at the moment, I find the American situation is better. I am very
I know that you have somewhat of an introverted personality. Yet, traditionalists
tend to see your music as chaotic.
BROTZMANN: Yeah, that is the big misunderstanding that has been happening
since the beginning. The word free jazz was mostly used in Europe by European
writers and journalists and was of course the cause of a lot of misunderstanding.
Just like with Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington, you have to have
a kind of form to express what you want to give over to the people. You
have to be organized in yourself and you have to know what you are doing.
A human being is a strange thing. Of course, there are a lot of chaotic
things happening in your lives and you will find these things in music
too, but you use it as one sort of music, one form to get to some other
point. I think it doesnít matter if it is a duo music or twelve piece
band, it has to be organized. The way of organization will look different,
but it is a lot of organization necessary to bring that what you feel
or what you want to tell the people, to bring that over to them.
What do you wish to tell your audience?
BROTZMANN: Now that is a question we should sit with maybe a couple bottles
of wine and talk about (laughing).
Thatís a date.
BROTZMANN: To make it short, I have just one life and just in the last
few years, I saw so much is going on in this world and you have to experience
as a human being with you family, with your kids, with your wife, with
your friends. All that goes into the music too. All the anger, all of
what you read in the papers, all that you watch on TV, seeing what is
going on in the world, you have to find some way to work on that and for
me, the music is a good thing to tell people what I feel and what I think
about life. For twenty years, I have been living alone, but I raised up
two kids and I still have very good connections with my wife. Without
my wife, I wouldnít have been able to develop what I developed in those
early years. There was no money. There was nothing. There was less work.
Family is important and I never will forget that. My house was always
open for every musician passing by. This kind of thing builds up a certain
view of your life and the way you play. So all these little things are
very important. I try to tell that to the people and bring that over to
Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and in his spare time is a NASCAR
driver. Comments? Email