The Book Cooks
Excerpt from
European Echoes: Jazz Experimentalism
in Germany, 1950-1975

Harald Kisiedu
(Wolke Verlag; Hofheim am Taunus, Germany)


Of major significance to both Manfred Schoof and Alexander von Schlippenbach was a series of critically important recordings made by Ornette Coleman for Atlantic Records between 1959 and 1961, including The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, and Free Jazz, which as Schlippenbach has remarked, “back then, stoned as the crows, we listened to endlessly.” (1) By the early 1960s, Coleman’s groundbreaking innovations had received ample coverage in German jazz periodicals. Coleman’s extended 1959–1960 residencies at the Five Spot Café in New York were covered at length by critics Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Eric T. Vogel, and they singled out the saxophonist as the most important voice to emerge from the jazz avant-garde. For instance, in a 1960 Jazz Podium review of Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, Vogel asserted that on his Atlantic debut the saxophonist “revealed himself as the new, great jazz talent.” (2) Accordingly, in a 1963 article, Teddy H. Leyh referred to Coleman, “as perhaps the most important” enunciator of new forms “at least as far as the dramatic intensity of his message is concerned.” (3) Furthermore, in a 1962 article, Rainer Blome reviewed Coleman’s previously recorded output in its entirety, emphasizing the great commercial success of his early Atlantic albums. (4) At the same time, Jazz Podium provided space for detractors of Coleman’s who weighed in on what they viewed as the new music’s eminently dangerous trajectory. For instance, in a 1960 article, Kurt-G. Mühle objected to Coleman’s perceived “abandonment of any harmonic patterns in jazz.” (5) Deeply concerned about the wider implication of Coleman’s innovations on jazz fans, Mühle surmised that “music not based on fundamental principles” could lead to Coleman supporters’ regarding “other mundane systems as meaningless and redundant, even as obstructive.” (6) As Mühle stated in no uncertain terms: “Ornette Coleman’s notes involve the danger of serving as a musical bridge into nihilism.” (7)

For Schlippenbach and Schoof, the methods, concepts, and practices associated with Coleman’s ensembles, however, became nothing less than a catalyst for the emergence of their own musical ideas. As Schlippenbach has elaborated in terms of Coleman’s landmark Atlantic recordings:

We listened to it, and then we discovered rather quickly that especially with Ornette Coleman on his old Atlantic recordings, even if, formally, it sometimes still moved within these cycles, it was concerned at most only to a limited extent with the conventional harmony that lay underneath the standards, but not in any real sense. That was already a new way of dealing with things more freely. And, of course, that took us away automatically from the imitation of those standard chord changes, and it provided us with more space for our own ideas. Before that, we had tried to keep within the jazz cliché as best as we could. We kept the pulse, the rhythms, but we were able to move more freely and got completely different ideas. For starters, there were those short themes that Coleman did. We also tried to invent them ourselves. We always called it lighting the fuse. Moving on from a strong motive, a movement, a tempo, or whatever, therefore, a theme in the old sense but not implicitly bound by a particular style in the old sense necessarily. (8)

For Schoof, his examination of the formative principles associated with the various groups led by Coleman for his Atlantic recordings was also crucial. He remembers the transformative impact of Coleman’s music as follows:

It happened pretty quickly that we played a piece by Ornette Coleman for the first time. That was in the year of 1962, I believe. At that time the first compositions surfaced in Europe, probably through musicians and through word of mouth. We played that, started to listen attentively, and it became clear to us pretty quickly that this music affords European musicians a possibility, a space in which to realize and expand one’s own music concept that was, after all, bound substantially closer to European traditions of music in order to seek and find an individual mode of expression. (9)

Both Schoof’s and Schlippenbach’s experiences attest to the centrality of African American experimentalism, which in a seemingly paradoxical fashion would become an enabler for the emergence of a distinctive pan-European concept of “free jazz.” At the same time, as Ekkehard Jost has argued, “free jazz has brought European musicians not only freedom from traditional standards of jazz improvisation, but also freedom from the tutelage of American jazz.” (10)

Of great significance for Schlippenbach’s aesthetic and historical self-placement was his intellectual engagement with early twentieth-century modernism, especially the music and thought of Schoenberg. As Schlippenbach has related: “We listened to string quartets by Bartók. ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ affected us like a drug. The term ‘atonality,’ objectionable in a Schoenbergian sense, was the magic word. A veritable pandemonium of new sounds, forms, and rhythms had opened up and afforded those who snapped at the chance, and were lucky to find likeminded people, an overabundance of creative possibilities.” (11)

The significance of Schoenberg’s thought on Schlippenbach’s ideas were also raised in a 1978 interview, in which the latter stated, “For instance, I am a big follower of Schoenberg. I studied his theory of harmony and frequently listened to his works, and read his texts, which impressed me greatly and which certainly influenced me in my practical work.” (12)

Arguably one of the most significant ideas Schlippenbach borrowed from Schoenberg was the notion of what Peter Watson has referred to as “inherent historical necessity.” (13) Drawing upon a pervasive trope of nineteenth-century philosophy of history, Schoenberg had utilized this idea strategically in order to legitimize his innovations, such as his breakthrough into the realm of free chromaticism between 1907 and 1909. For instance, in a foreword to a concert that took place on January 14, 1910, in which Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder (Songs of Gurre) were performed alongside the song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten (The Book of Hanging Gardens), the composer anticipated the resistance towards his newest work: “I feel how hotly even the least of temperaments will rise in revolt, and suspect that even those who have so far believed in me will not want to acknowledge the necessity of this development.” (14)

It was precisely Schoenberg’s evolutionary notion of historical inevitability that Schlippenbach would transfer to the context of 1960s jazz by construing the moment, in which European improvisers found themselves, as analogous to that of Austro-German modernist composers during the early twentieth century. In a 1979 article written for the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Schlippenbach elaborated on the notion of an assumed evolutionary logic underlying jazz history:

Free jazz is not, as frequently and willingly asserted, a transient style of the Sixties. In fact, its origins at the beginning of the past decade mark an evolutionary turning point for jazz that is of the highest importance, comparable for instance to the significance of the Viennese School for the further course of the development of occidental art music since the beginning of our century. The comparison is permissible since similar processes from, as the phrase goes, ‘tendencies of the material,’ have led to those evolutionary processes, and not a rebellious stance, as is often prematurely assumed with regard to the contemporaneous worldwide emerging student movement. (15)

By invoking the aesthetic authority of Schoenberg and Adorno, whose notion of the “tendency of the musical material” had been instrumental in arguing for a single line of development in terms of the musical modernism represented by the Second Viennese School, Schlippenbach sought to legitimize not only the historical validity of “free jazz” as such but especially the European “free jazz” movement. Given Adorno’s well-known antipathy to jazz that had been known to jazz fans via the 1953 Merkur debate between Adorno and Berendt, Schlippenbach’s reference to the former’s line of thought was not devoid of a certain irony.

The construct of “free jazz’s” historical emergence as analogous to the emergence of the Second Viennese School’s atonality also allowed Schlippenbach to disavow the music’s discursive framing as oppositional in a socio-political sense. In doing so, he was moreover able to distinguish himself aesthetically from Wuppertal-based improvisers, such as Brötzmann and Kowald, who emphasized free music’s socio-political implications. As Schlippenbach has remarked in this regard:

We actually didn’t want to destroy anything. That is not what we were about. We didn’t think of ourselves as revolutionaries, as opposed to our friends from Wuppertal, for whom that played a totally different role. With us everything evolved from the situation itself. We dutifully studied music at first and then there were these new impulses. There was something in the wind. That didn’t only happen in Germany. At any rate, we weren’t aiming to do anything that was necessarily revolutionary. It was more a result of our previous work and also the influence of our role models. At the same time, through encounters with the so-called new music back then, we got new ideas about sound; we also experimented, but always actually in a constructive way. (16)

Furthermore, Schlippenbach’s reasoning with regard to an inherent historical necessity for the emergence of “free jazz” also opened up the possibility for white European musicians to insert themselves into the historical narrative of a music, in which they had been deemed marginal at most. At the same time, his ideas also exemplified what scholar Heike Raphael-Hernandez has denoted as “a black American/black diasporic, European/white European hybridity” that provided a way for European improvisers to reaffirm their place in European intellectual and cultural history despite their adoption of a perceived “foreign” music. (17)

For Schlippenbach, the harmonic innovations associated with the bebop and cool jazz movements had already prefigured the sounds of 1960s “free jazz.” Bypassing musical elements, such as melody, rhythm, and timbre, he maintained that with bebop “through substantially strengthened chromaticism, the notion of harmony was altered,” a feature, for which he viewed Bud Powell’s frequent use of tone clusters as emblematic. (18) Schlippenbach regarded Lennie Tristano’s 1949 recording “Intuition” as an “early monument of a language emancipated from functional harmony, keys, and meters.” (19) He also asserted that with Tristano’s 1953 solo recording “Descent into the Maelstrom,” “everything is already there that eventually unfolded so stunningly with Cecil Taylor.” (20) The emergence of Coleman’s “sensational quartet” on the music scene signaled that things “had come full circle for the first time.” (21)

 

  1. “Die wir damals, stoned wie die Raben, unzählige Male gehört haben.” Alexander von Schlippenbach, “Free Jazz,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 3 (May-June 1979): 244.
  2. “Offenbart sich auf dieser Platte als das neue, große Jazztalent.” Eric T. Vogel, review of Ornette Coleman recording, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Jazz Podium 9, no. 1, January 1960, 22. See also Joachim-Ernst Berendt, “Die New Yorker Vorhut des Jazz,” Jazz Podium 10, no. 11, November, 1961, 266–267.
  3. “Vielleicht als den wichtigsten, jedenfalls soweit es die dramatische Intensität seiner Aussage angeht.” Teddy H. Leyh, “Kritisches Mosaik,” Jazz Podium 12, no. 4, April, 1963, 81.
  4. Rainer Blome, “Ornette Coleman,” Jazz Podium 11, no. 9, September, 1962, 207–208. According to Blome, during the summer of 1960 Atlantic Records sold 25.000 copies of The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century in a little more than a month.
  5. “Verzicht jeglichen Harmonieschemas im Jazz.” Kurt-G. Mühle, “Quo Vadis? Das Bei- spiel Ornette Colemans,” Jazz Podium 9, no. 6, Juni, 1960, 137.
  6. “Musik ohne fundamentale Ordnungsfakten [...] andere weltliche Ordnungen als sinnlos und überflüssig, ja als behindernd”. Ibid.
  7. “Ornette Colemans Töne bergen in sich die Gefahr, als musikalische Brücke zum Nihilismus zu dienen.” Ibid.
  8. “Wir haben das gehört und haben dann ziemlich bald festgestellt, dass das, zumal bei Ornette Coleman auf den alten Atlantic-Aufnahmen, wenn es auch formal manchmal noch in diesen Perioden sich bewegte, es doch mit der konventionellen Harmonik, die den Standards unterlegt waren, allenfalls mal bedingt was zu tun hatte, aber nicht im eigentlichen Sinne. Das war schon eine neue Art, die Dinge freier zu behandeln. Und das hat uns natürlich schon automatisch von der Imitation dieser Standard Changes weggebracht und gab uns mehr Raum auch für eigene Ideen. Vorher haben wir immer irgendwo versucht, das Jazzklischee so gut zu bedienen, wie wir konnten. Wir haben den Pulse also beibehalten, den rhythmischen, aber konnten uns freier bewegen und kamen auf ganz andere Ideen. Erstmal waren es diese kurzen Themen, die Coleman machte. Wir haben auch selber mal versucht, die zu erfinden. Wir nannten das immer eine Initialzündung. Von dort aus weitergehen, von einem starken Motiv oder einer Bewegung, einem Tempo, was auch immer, ein Thema also im alten Sinne, aber nicht einer Stilistik im alten Sinne verpflichtet unbedingt.” Alexander von Schlippenbach, interview with the author, Berlin, March 3, 2011.
  9. “Dann ging es aber doch ziemlich schnell, dass wir zum ersten Mal ein Stück von Ornette Coleman gespielt haben. Das war im Jahr 1962, glaube ich. In dieser Zeit tauchten die ersten Kompositionen wahrscheinlich über Musiker, über Mundpropaganda, in Europa auf. Wir haben das gespielt, wurden hellhörig und ziemlich schnell wurde uns klar, das ist eine Musik, die für die europäischen Musiker eine Möglichkeit bietet, Raum, das eigene Musikverständnis, das ja doch wesentlich stärker noch an europäische Musiktraditionen gebunden war, zu realisieren, zu erweitern, um eine eigene Ausdrucksmöglichkeit zu suchen und zu finden.” Manfred Schoof, interview with the author, Cologne, November 26, 2010.
  10. Ekkehard Jost, Free Jazz (New York: Da Capo Press, [1974] 1994), 12.
  11. “Streichquartette von Bartók wurden gehört, der ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ wirkte wie eine Droge. Der im Schönbergschen Sinne unzulässige Terminus ‘Atonalität’ war das Zauberwort. Ein wahres Pandämonium neuer Klänge, Formen und Rhythmen hatte sich aufgetan und bot denen, die zufaßten und das Glück hatten, Gleichgesinnte zu finden, eine Fülle schöpferischer Möglichkeiten.” Schlippenbach, Free Jazz, 244.
  12. “Ich bin z. B. ein großer Anhänger von Schönberg. Ich habe seine Harmonielehre studiert, seine Werke sehr oft gehört und seine Texte gelesen, die mich sehr stark beeindruckt haben, die mich sicherlich auch in meiner praktischen Arbeit beeinflußt haben.” Ilse Storb, “Fragen an Alexander von Schlippenbach, Jazz Podium 27, no. 10, October 1978, 5.
  13. Peter Watson, Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), 322.
  14. Joseph Auner, A Schoenberg Reader: Documents of a Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 78. As Schoenberg scholar Joseph Auner has asserted: “Schoenberg justified the revolutionary elements of his music in part by arguing that he was driven by historical necessity to synthesize the two paths in nineteenth-century music represented by Brahms and Wagner, and thus to bring about the next stage in the Austro-German tradition. He identified the Brahmsian features in works like his String Quartet No. 2 in F♯ Minor, Op. 10 (1908) as the use of traditional forms and an emphasis on polyphony and contrapuntal devices. Most important was the technique he called ‘developing variation,’ which implies a logical process by which the components of a theme or motive are elaborated to produce both unity and variety, with each transformation building on the previous stage.” Joseph Auner, Music in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2013), 46.
  15. “Free Jazz ist nicht, wie häufig und gerne behauptet wird, ein vorübergegangener Stil der 60er Jahre. Seine Anfänge zu Beginn des vergangenen Jahrzehnts markieren vielmehr einen für den Jazz entwicklungsgeschichtlichen Wendepunkt von höchster Bedeutung, vergleichbar etwa der Bedeutung der Wiener Schule für den weiteren Verlauf der Entwicklung abendländischer Kunstmusik seit Beginn unseres Jahrhunderts. Der Vergleich ist erlaubt, weil ähnliche Vorgänge aus den, wie man so schön sagt, ‘Tendenzen des Materials’ heraus zu den evolutionären Prozessen geführt haben und nicht etwa eine Protesthaltung, wie oftmals im Hinblick auf die gleichzeitig weltweit entstehende studentische Bewegung voreilig angenommen wird.” Schlippenbach, “Free Jazz,” 244.
  16. “Wir wollten eigentlich nichts zerstören in dem Sinne. Darum ging es uns überhaupt nicht. Wir empfanden uns auch gar nicht als Revolutionäre im Gegensatz zu den Freunden aus Wuppertal, bei denen das noch eine ganz andere Rolle gespielt hat. Bei uns hat sich das alles aus der Sache selber entwickelt. Wir haben erstmal brav Musik studiert, und dann kamen eben diese neuen Impulse. Es lag in der Luft. Es war ja auch nicht nur in Deutschland so. Wir hatten jedenfalls nicht die Idee, etwas Revolutionäres in dem Sinne zu machen, sondern bei uns hat sich das aus der Arbeit davor, aus der Beschäftigung mit Vorbildern auch, ergeben. Wir haben auch gleichzeitig mit dem Kennenlernen der sogenannten Neuen Musik damals neue Klangvorstellungen bekommen, haben auch Experimente gemacht, aber immer in einem konstruktiven Sinn eigentlich.” Schlippenbach, interview with the author, March 3, 2011.
  17. Heike Raphael-Hernandez, “Introduction: Making the African American Experience Primary,” in Blackening Europe: The American Presence, ed. Heike Raphael-Hernandez (New York: Routledge, 2004), 3.
  18. “Wesentlich verstärkte Chromatik der Harmoniebegriff gewandelt.” Schlippenbach, “Free Jazz,” 244.
  19. “Frühes Mahnmal einer von Funktionsharmonik, Tonarten und Metren befreiten Sprache.” Ibid.
  20. “Ist schon alles da, was später bei Cecil Taylor so überwältigend zur Entfaltung gekommen ist.” Ibid.
  21. “Sensationellen Quartett […] hatte sich der Kreis zum erstenmal geschlossen.” Ibid.

© 2020 Harald Kisiedu

 

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