photo by Raymond Mallentjer







FMP






Okka Disk

 

A FIRESIDE CHAT WITH PETER BROTZMANN


I spent four years looking for, in fact scouring, record stores (f
uck 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.


FRED JUNG: Letís start from the beginning.

PETER 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.


FJ: When did you pick up the saxophone?

PETER 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.


FJ: Letís touch on your participation in the Fluxus Movement.

PETER 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.


FJ: Letís talk about your collaborations with Peter Kowald.

PETER 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.


FJ: Who made up the Global Unity Orchestra?

PETER 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.


FJ: Letís talk about the FMP label.

PETER 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?

PETER 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.


FJ: And you have had a long association with Han Bennink.

PETER 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.


FJ: Both Hamid Drake and William Parker are part of your Die Like a Dog Quartet. Interesting name.

PETER 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 the Quartet.


FJ: Letís touch on a landmark album of yours, Machine Gun.

PETER 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.


FJ: And of course, Nipples, which has just been re-released by Atavistic as part of John Corbettís Unheard Music Series.

PETER 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.


FJ: Lastly, you have a new album on Okka Disk, Stone/Water with your Chicago Tentet.

PETER 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.


FJ: Were you able to record any portion of the American tour?

PETER 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.


FJ: Why did you choose to form another large ensemble at this point in your career?

PETER 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.


FJ: Why did you choose musicians in Chicago, rather than New York?

PETER 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.


FJ: Should people be paying more attention to what is going on in Chicago?

PETER 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.


FJ: How is the European improvisational scene?

PETER 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 optimistic.


FJ: I know that you have somewhat of an introverted personality. Yet, traditionalists tend to see your music as chaotic.

PETER 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.


FJ: What do you wish to tell your audience?

PETER BROTZMANN: Now that is a question we should sit with maybe a couple bottles of wine and talk about (laughing).


FJ: Thatís a date.

PETER 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 them.


Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and in his spare time is a NASCAR driver. Comments?  Email Fred.