Trombonist Johannes Bauer is a member of the second generation of European improvisers, a group that took its inspiration less from American jazz than from the work of first generation predecessors such as Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, and Alexander von Schlippenbach. Hence Bauer thinks of himself as not playing jazz, but rather “improvised music,” a broad genre that often includes elements of jazz, rock, classical music, and noise. Over the course of his 20 years of performing, Bauer has extended the technical capabilities of the trombone enormously, coaxing sounds from his acoustic instrument so well that a listener believes at first that those sounds must be coming from a synthesizer. Bauer’s dedication to improvisation is so immense that since 1980, he has not performed any other music.
Johannes Bauer grew up in the Thuringian town of Sonneberg. He had almost no exposure to jazz and other popular music during his boyhood. Bauer’s father was a minister and the only music heard around the house was Baroque church music. However, Bauer’s brother Conrad was a musician who played varieties of both rock and jazz. By the time Johannes was ten Conrad was twenty-one and playing trombone and guitar professionally. Being a musician looked exciting to the ten-year-old Bauer and he decided to take up an instrument, too. His selection of the trombone was dictated more by the realities of life in the rural German Democratic Republic (GDR) than by any personal preferences. His brother Conrad had tried a number of instruments before he realized the importance of a good teacher. There was only one good instrumental teacher in Sonneberg, Hans Baake, a classical trombonist, and both Conrad and Johannes got their start with him.
A deeper interest in music was awakened when he encountered free jazz—being played in the GDR by his brother and a few other musicians—in the late 1960s. Bauer was fascinated by improvised music from the first time he heard it. He was drawn, in particular, to the fierce intensity which free jazz possessed in abundance over most other music. He was able to hear a good deal more of it, and play it with other musicians, after he was accepted into the music college Musikhochschule Hanns Eisler in East Berlin in 1971.
In light of his interest in improvisation, Bauer could hardly have moved to the East German capital at a more opportune time. The early GDR free jazz scene was reaching an apogee, and the movement had attracted the interest of musicians in West Berlin. Thanks to declining tensions between East and West, Free Music Productions, a West Berlin label that specialized in the new European jazz, was able to organize the first concerts with musicians from both East Germany and Western Europe. Johannes Bauer was able to hear the cream of the musical crop in performance: Westerners such as Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Alex van Schlippenbach, Fred van Hove, Peter Kowald and Han Bennink, as well as easterners such as Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Günter “Baby” Sommer, Ulrich Gumpert, Friedhelm Schönfeld and Connie Bauer.
Bauer performed in various dance bands that played covers of popular American soul music. His primary interest remained improvisation, however. He played in the jam sessions that took place weekly in East Berlin clubs. His first opportunity to play improvised music professionally came when he joined the Manfred Schulze Bläserquintett in 1972. The Bläserquintett was a five-piece horn band that played the austere compositions of its leader baritone saxophonist Manfred Schulze, whom Bauer called “one of the important musical thinkers of the East.” Utilizing only a few tones of those possible in the musical scale, playing without a rhythm section or any “groove,” with both composed and improvised sections, Schulze’s music was difficult to perform and far from the current tastes.
According to Bauer, at the beginning he did not believe he could play Schulze’s music; he maintained it took him nearly ten years with the group before he was able to come to grips with Schulze’s music, until he was really there when he played it. The effects of his time with Schulze continue to influence his musicianship. “From Manfred Schulze, I learned how to deal very strictly with musical ideas,” Bauer said. “His pieces are made up of only a few tones, five tones, four tones, six tones. Or else no tones, only noises, particular elements,
Born on July 22, 1954, in Halle, German Democratic Republic (GDR). Education: Attended Musikhochschule Hanns Eisler in East Berlin.
Began playing trombone at age ten, 1964; attended music school in Berlin, 1971-77; performed with Manfred Schulze Bläserquintett, 1972—; played in army marching band while doing his compulsory military service, 1978-79; began working exclusively as a freelance improvising musician, 1979; made first tour with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, 1980; formed Dop-pelMoppel with brother Conrad, 1981; began working regularly with pianist Fred van Hove, mid 1980s; formed trio with van Hove and French singer Annick Nozati, 1987; formed Slawterhaus, 1987; joined Cecil Taylor European Orchestra, 1988; collaborated with composer Helmut Zapf, 1990s; began working with Alan Silva, 1992; joined FOURinONE, 1997; became member of Barry Guy New Orchestra, 2000.
Addresses: Record company—FMP, Postfach 100227, D-10562, Berlin, Germany.
but which he works with very constructively over the course of a piece. I think, in this sense I learned something from him: very clear, structural thinking.” By 1990, however, Schulze was seriously ill and unable to perform. Johannes Bauer and a few other veterans of the Bläserquintett continued to perform and keep Schulze’s music alive.
In the mid 1970s, Bauer completed his studies at the Musikhochschule and enrolled at another school in order to qualify for the license necessary to work as a professional musician in East Germany. After that, he began his compulsory military service where he encountered another intense music, one of “monstrous intensity,” as he described it to Mike Heffley—the Prussian march he had to play in the army marching band, playing individual pieces for as long as it took to march through a pattern. “It was the time in which I really played a lot of trombone, developed myself as a strong, intense player,” he told Heffley. He was stationed in East Berlin for the 18 months of his service; at his post, he was able to continue to jam regularly with other improvisers.
After he left the army in 1979, Bauer plunged into improvised music with a vengeance. Because of his regular participation in the East Berlin jam sessions, he knew everyone playing improvised music in the East. Fresh out of the service he began playing with those same musicians. One of his significant encounters around this time was with the free jazz saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Brötzmann was preparing a tour of East Germany with bassist Harry Miller and pianist Ulrich Gumpert and asked Bauer to join the group. Since then Bauer has worked with Brötzmann a number of times, in a number of different line-ups, including Brötzmann big bands, the Alarm Orchestra and the März Combo, Peter Brötzmann Clarinet Project, and The Wild Mans Band.
The 1980s were a productive time for Johannes Bauer. Bauer was eventually permitted to perform outside the GDR by the East German authorities. He maintained, “I was an export article.” He was able to work with a large number of European improvisers, including Evan Parker, Cecil Taylor, Irène Schweizer, Tony Oxley, and Paul Lovens. He began a fruitful collaboration with Belgian pianist Fred van Hove that has morphed through different incarnations, in particular a trio with van Hove and French vocalist Annick Nozati that was only ended by Nozati’s death in mid 2000. He played with a number of large free jazz orchestras during the 1980s, groups like Tony Oxley’s Celebration Orchestra, the Cecil Taylor European Orchestra, and Fred van Hove’s t’Nonet. Bauer valued the work in these agglomerations. “They start with a more rigid structure, as groups of sound,” Bauer said. “I play a different role in a big group. I think that’s good.”
In 1981, Bauer and his brother Conrad decided they wanted to form a band together. They asked each other which musicians they might like to play with. Conrad was interested in playing with Uwe Kropinski; Johannes wanted to play with Helmut “Joe” Sachse. The group released its first LP, Round about Mittweida, in 1982 under the name the Conrad Bauer Quartett. However, the Bauer brothers both play trombone; curiously both Kropinski and Sachse play guitar. Shortly afterwards the group’s name was changed to DoppelMoppel, a wordplay on the German expression “doppelgemoppelt” which means “repeated redundantly.” DoppelMoppel has proven remarkably resilient and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2001.
Bauer has been fortunate. For more than twenty years, he has been able to support himself exclusively from his improvising. That became more difficult after the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989, when the extensive cultural subsidies of the GDR government came to an end. There was a break during which few concerts were held in the East. Bauer was able to survive on gigs in West Germany and elsewhere until the scene in East Germany recovered somewhat in the mid 1990s. He considers himself lucky. “For me not so much changed,” he said. “The world changed but I didn’t.”
Besides being an imaginative player and a sensitive sideman, Johannes Bauer is one of the great trombone innovators, and he has significantly extended its range. On the 1997 CD In the Tradition, for example, he goes head to head with Alan Silva and shows that his lowly, unaltered, acoustic instrument is capable of just as broad and imaginative a sonic palette as Silva’s electronics. “The trombone has an unbelievable range of sound possibilities,” he said. “It’s something you can never exhaust. You can do an unbelievable amount with just the sounds used in classical trombone playing. A tone blown softly sounds completely different, for example than one blown very loud. And then there are all the noise possibilities. It’s a mind-blowing spectrum of sound.” He says he does not deliberately experiment with the trombone, looking for new sounds or noises. “Things develop on their own.”
What is performing like for Johannes Bauer? When he and his musical partners take the stage, they’re going on cold, without composed pieces, without previous discussion or planning. Everything they play is improvised; it comes out of their own heads in the moment, in response to each other, to the audience, to the acoustics of the room. Nonetheless, he doesn’t consider improvisation—his own at least—totally spontaneous creation. A musician has to take some ideas onstage. “There are a few moments every year when everything just falls together,” he said, “and there are others when nothing works. The rest just depends on hard work. And knowing what you want is an important part of music. If you’re free to do whatever you want, it only works when you know what you want.”
The forms of traditional jazz—statement of a theme, variations, then resolution back to the original theme— do not interest Bauer at all. In fact, he doesn’t care for the whole virtuoso-soloist mentality in much of jazz. “I play virtually no solos. I don’t like playing solos,” he said. “What I find interesting is the give and take between musicians on the stage.” The characteristics he most values in music are intensity, clarity, and structure, interests that can be traced back to his early experiences with Manfred Schulze. Is it strange that a free player would value structure? “I have fun working with strict structures,” he said. “But it can also be fun wrecking those structures!”
In addition to his regular gigs, Bauer frequently plays at exhibition openings, venues he likes because they bring him before audiences who would not normally come to his concerts. He has also worked with German composers of contemporary classical music such as Hermann Keller, Hans Rempel, and Georg Katzer. He has performed on recordings for trombone and tape by composer Helmut Zapf. In 1996, he performed on a CD by the European Chaos String Quartet, an avant-garde classical ensemble. Despite a long discography, however, Bauer believes improvised music should be heard live, not on record, and most of his recordings have been done in concert situations.
With Manfred Schulze Bläserquintett
Nummer 12, FMP, 1985; reissued on CD, Viertens: Nummer 12, FMP, 1997.
Viertens, FMP, 1986; reissued on CD, Viertens: Nummer 12, FMP, 1997.
Choral-Konzert, Amiga, 1988.
Kozertino, FMP, 1995.
(Conrad Bauer Quartett) Round about Mittweida, FMP, 1982.
Reflections, FMP, 1996.
Aventure québécoise, Victo, 1999.
Live à Victoriaville, Victo, 1991.
Monumental, Intakt, 1993.
With Peter Brötzmann
(Peter Brötzmann Alarm Orchestra) Alarm, FMP, 1981.
(Peter Brötzmann Clarinet Project) Berlin Djungle, FMP, 1984.
(The März Combo) Live in Wuppertal, FMP, 1993.
(Peter Brötzmann, Peter O. Jøgensen, and Peter F. Nielsen) The Wild Mans Band, NWM, 1998.
With Fred van Hove
Johannes Bauer, Annick Nozati, and Fred van Hove, Amiga, 1989.
(Annick Nozati and Fred van Hove) Organo Pieno, FMP, 1993.
Pijp, WIMprovier, 1997.
(Fred van Hove t’Nonet) Suite for B… City, FMP, 1997.
(Helmut Sachse/Hannee Zerbe) Helmut Sachse Group, Amiga, 1982.
(Heinz Becket Group) Pan-Vielleicht Tau, FMP, 1982.
(Radu Malfatti Quartett) Formu, Nato, 1983.
(Tony Oxley Celebration Orchestra) Tomorrow Is Here, Dossier, 1985.
(Jazz Orchester der DDR) Leitung Conrad Bauer, Amiga, 1989.
(Szabados György)A Szarvassá vált fiak, KREM, 1989.
(Michael Sievert & Orchestra) L’affaire Fibustier, 1989.
(Cecil Taylor European Orchestra) Alms/Tiergarten Spree, FMP, 1989.
(Klangbrücke Bern) Selected SoundScape No. 1, For 4 Ears, 1991.
(Jochen Berg and Ulrich Gumpert) Die Engel, vier Kurz-Opern, Steidl Verlag, 1991.
(Hiby Bauer Mattos Blume) Live in Bremen, AufRuhr ART, 1992.
(Helmut Zapf) Elektronische Musik: Wandlungen II fur Po-saune und Tonband, Buschfunk, 1992.
(G. Christmann) Sometimes Crosswise: PO-SAU-NE 3, Moers Music, 1993.
(Katzer/Fuchs/Bauer) Improvisation Wittener Tage fur neue Kammermusik, Live Dokumentation 1992, Witten, 1993.
(Helmut Zapf) Wandlungen-für Tape und trombone, Wergo, 1995.
(Houtkamp Beukmann Prins) Metslawier, X-OR, 1995.
(Conrad Bauer) BAUER BAUER-The Concert at Völker-schlachtdenkmal Leipzig, Intakt, 1995.
(European Chaos String Quintet), Linien, For 4 Ears, 1996.
(Tony Oxley Celebration Orchestra, featuring Bill Dixon) The Enchanted Messenger, Soul Note, 1996.
(Alan Silva and Roger Turner) In the Tradition, 1997.
(DBNN, Luc Houtkamp Quintett) The Field Recordings 4, X-OR, 1997,
(A. Silva, P. Thomas, P. Durrant, P. Friis, and P. Jørgens) Sweethearts In A Drugstore, NWM, 1997.
(FOURinONE) Stehlen, RA, 2000.
Snapshot, FMP, 1979.
(DoppelMoppel) “für Dietmar,” in Uazzrage der DDR, Amiga, 1985.
Alternate Cake, Nato, 1986.
(Guus Janssen) “Et on t’a fait douter,” in October Meeting 1, Bimhuis, 1989.
(Gerry Hemingway) “Second Line Ratoon,” in October Meeting 2, Bimhuis, 1989.
(Ernst Reijseger) “Cruise Button,” in October Meeting 2, Bimhuis, 1989.
(Szabados György) “A szarvassá vált flak,” in Az események titkos története, FONO, 1999.
Musik in Deutschland 1950-2000: Freejazz In Der DDR, Deutscher Musikrat, 2000.
“The Five Horsemen of the Post-Millenium, “http://mheffley.web.wesleyan.edu/almatexts/almamusicosophy/(March 3, 2001).
Additional information was obtained from an interview with Johannes Bauer on November 7, 2000.
—Gerald E. Brennan
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